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Design Thinking: A Beginner’s Guide

Design Thinking: A Beginner’s Guide

In a world where nearly everything has already been invented, many still dream of becoming innovators. But when you need to create something new, the usual methods do not work. 

This is when you need to change your mindset. Design thinking will help you achieve this goal or find a new approach to solve old problems. It promotes cooperation and makes you think differently. 

Let’s take a closer look at what design thinking is, how it works, and its benefits.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a method of creating non-standard projects, products, and services, which aims to solve specific problems of a potential user.

Typically, design thinking is based on the search for insight – an unexpected solution to the target audience’s problem after in-depth interviews with its representatives or other qualitative research.

Despite the name, this way of thinking can be used not only by designers but also by anyone who needs to develop a new approach to a common problem. 

The Origins of Design Thinking

Guide To Design Thinking

John Arnold was one of the first to mention design thinking in his book “Creative Engineering”. 

Ten years later, Herbert Simon wrote “The Sciences of the Artificial”, in which he formulated the basic principles of design thinking. 

Over the following decades, design thinking has become increasingly embedded in various areas of life. That’s why the CareerFoundry community of experts identified four basic rules for design thinking: 

  • The human rule. Regardless of the context, any activity is ultimately social. Innovation must be people-centred.
  • The ambiguity rule. To look at things in a new way, you need to experiment, going beyond the boundaries of your knowledge and abilities.
  • The redesign rule. The basic human needs remain unchanged. We aren’t creating something new but only modernising the existing means.
  • The tangibility rule. It would help if you embodied ideas in the form of prototypes to understand better how to manage tasks more effectively.

Industries That Have Been Lifted By Design Thinking

With the development of new professions, more and more people at work are faced with the need to stand out and develop innovative ideas. This is where design thinking has proven to be highly effective, as it has revolutionised multiple industries.

Website Design

To make a valuable website for the target audience, you need to understand the behaviour and needs of your customers.

UX designers use design thinking principles to build a convenient and coherent website structure, while UI designers use the same approach to create a clear site. 


Marketing communications are based on customer problems and desires. PPC and targeted ads, social media posts, and email newsletters all start with finding insight. 

You can use design thinking to add or complement texts visually. Thus, if you want to create an internet banner, you must understand what attracts and motivates the target audience. 

Graphic Design

Visual communication is an exciting yet complex process that helps to tell a story without words. Small graphic elements or colour schemes can change the mood of an entire packaging or logo design. For example, different shades of red are responsible for appetite and anxiety.

To find these associations and make the right choice, it is essential to use design thinking principles.


Both commercial and advertising photography requires much creativity from the photographer. You have to be able to impress all of your customers.

Depending on your interests and source of inspiration, you can choose to specialise in event, staged, or product photography. However, no matter what you decide to do, you need to apply design thinking. 

To understand which photos will attract the attention of potential buyers, it is necessary to recognise their goals.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

Design Thinking Steps Diagram

1 – Empathise

Human-centred design requires an in-depth study of the target audience. You need to understand the mindset of potential users, the emotions that guide them, find out their problems and pain points, and understand what is valuable to them. 

To achieve this goal, you need to understand your customers, keep in touch with them and immerse yourself in their world.

2 – Define

During this phase, you need to organise all received information, analyse the observations, and highlight the user’s fundamental problems. The problem should be specific and meaningful, and the objectives should be realistic. 

3 – Ideate

Arrange a brainstorm to find original solutions to a previously formulated problem. For more efficiency and a variety of approaches, assemble a creative team. 

It can include your business colleagues, customer employees, or even your family and friends.

Follow the brainstorm rules:

  • State its purpose in advance.
  • Write down all the proposed ideas.
  • Do not criticise or interrupt each other.

Brainstorming is a creative process, like all design thinking. When you have collected as many unique ideas as possible, you can move on to the next stage of the brainstorm – evaluating and refining concepts.

4 – Prototype 

A prototype is needed to test your ideas and see how good they are in practice. Having created its physical embodiment (it can be a layout, script, presentation), you will be able to determine all of the strengths and weaknesses.

5 – Test

You can make changes to the project even at the final stage. To gain a deeper understanding of the product, it is also worth observing and interviewing customers during testing.

At this stage, you can use an empathy map template to understand how users feel when using the prototype, how much it meets their expectations, what seems inappropriate or unnecessary, and what, on the contrary, is worth adding.

Testing prototypes at any stage allows you to ensure that development is moving in the right direction. Redesigning a prototype is much easier and cheaper than reworking a finished product.

It doesn’t matter who you are – marketer, copywriter, or designer, because anyone can benefit from design thinking. And its most significant advantage is that it doesn’t require any special skills. 

Read a few books on design and creativity, jot down your ideas, let your imagination run wild, and start creating innovative solutions to everyday problems.

It doesn't matter if you are an engineer or an artist by profession – everyone has an inner designer within their hearts.

Being a designer is far more than just creating intricate logos or visuals for a business or a start-up.

It englobes a whole process of creation and complex problem-solving, all centred around the user.

We believe that a simple guide with actionable steps can help out anyone to think like a designer.

It all comes down to breaking down complex thoughts into comprehensible steps that anyone can follow and create personal works of art.

Design thinking and marketing go hand-in-hand.

Writers are unable to create good content for designers without understanding the thought process behind it.

Let's get right to it and see how you can guide your thinking towards creativity.

The Principles of Design Thinking

What Is Design Thinking

Before breaking down the whole process of design thinking, it is worth having a look at the four principles that all design activity should follow, as described by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer, from Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Stanford University, California:

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“The human rule: no matter its purpose, all design activity is social in nature. This means that any social innovation will ultimately bring you back to the human-centric point of view.

The ambiguity rule: Meinel and Leifer believe that ambiguity is inevitable and that designers must preserve this ambiguity, by experimenting at the limits of their knowledge and ability, to see things differently.”

The redesign rule: because basic human needs remain unchanged, no matter how much society changes. This means that all new design is, actually, redesigning the way people fulfil these needs.

The tangibility rule: prototypes are a way of making ideas tangible, for designers to communicate them more effectively.

Following these principles, the design thinking process can be broken down into a few different steps: deconstruct, ideate and create.

Below, you will find a detailed analysis of these steps.


Design Thinking Definition

Designers often have to deconstruct things around them when they create new design pieces.

It doesn't matter if you are interested in poster design, book covers or industrial design – everything starts with deconstruction.

Find your favourite logo, your childhood picture book or any other item at your disposal.

Try to break it down into its primary components by following a few simple thought processing steps:

  • What is the item made of?
  • Is it made out of wood, out of pixels, or maybe even paper with printed colour?
  • What are the common geometrical shapes, curvatures, and angles that repeat all through your item? If there are none, why is your item asymmetrical?
  • Why is it made in this way in particular?
  • What did the original designer think while they made this item?

Keep in mind that you should write down any thoughts and solutions you come up with in your deconstruction.

Briana Baird, a blogger and content contributor at Canada-Writers, spoke about constructivism in content recently:

“Every good article started as another already-existing article. Learning from our past experiences as content creators is just as important as focusing on the future. We can find inspiration and lessons both in our own work and the work of our peers.”

Designers often look at works of other creators, marketing agencies, popular brands in search of inspiration.

Creativity and originality are simply combinations of existing components that no one thought of yet.

Don't be shy to get silly with your responses and findings, because those are the most valuable ones you will come up with.


Process Design Thinking

Ideation can often be paralleled with brainstorming.

There are different ways in which you can brainstorm ideas based on the first step of your design thinking process.

For example, try to put all of your deconstructive findings onto a piece of paper.

Add in any elements that are relevant to your own project and try fitting them together.

You can do this in several ways, and some of these include:

Mind mapping – Place your keywords and phrases onto the centre of a paper. Start mapping out different branches that correspond with their keywords. Once you have sufficiently branched out from the centre, start combining your newly found words into even more creative solutions.

Brainwriting – Look at your deconstruction findings and grab a piece of paper while you're at it. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind while observing those findings. Brainwriting is often called a “brain dump” for a good reason – there are no rules for right or wrong answers.

Coach brainstorming – Find a friend or a colleague that is willing to help you out. Coaching is a process in which someone asks you rapid questions in regards to an issue you face. For example, this can be the creative process you are currently working on. Tell someone to ask you questions in regards to your design thinking, the project you are working on and the terms you are brainstorming about. It usually takes around 3-5 questions for someone to come up with an “a-ha” solution to creative issues, so don't give up prematurely!


Brand Design Agency

Many professionals will tell you that the creation process of your creative design thinking is the easiest step to follow.

You will need to use software such as Adobe Photoshop, online tools such as Canva or even your favourite notebook for a start.

Combine everything you have come up with, sketched and ideated about in previous steps.

Choose the technique you will use according to the later application of your design project.

For example, if you are creating for the sake of creation, notebooks, sketchpads and other drawing materials will suffice.

Design software is needed for any creations you want to print, publish, distribute and retouch afterwards.

Creation is the most exciting and most rewarding part of design thinking, which is why it will make you want to go back to step one and create something else entirely.

Why does Design Thinking matter?

Simply following the process of Design Thinking is not enough to deliver quality content.

For this, you must understand why Design Thinking is so critical and why this approach brings so many benefits.

To begin with, Design Thinking encourages creativity and sparks innovation.

Humans rely mostly on knowledge and experiences and, in time, they create patterns to help them solve certain situations.

These patterns can limit the way you see things, especially when it comes to problem-solving.

Design Thinking helps break those patterns and consider alternative solutions.

To some, it often seems like the healthy, neutral ground of problem-solving, as it combines both analytical thinking and science, with intuition and emotions.

Design thinking has a way of putting humans first, by focusing on empathy and encouraging businesses to focus on the real people, the consumers who use their products or services.

This leads to creating more meaningful user experiences, which can only attract consumers even more.

In other words, it can be viewed as a win-win situation.

Consumers benefit from more useful products that actually have a strong impact on their life, while businesses can maintain customers happy and attract others along the way.

When it comes to shaping the products or services that a business puts on the market, including Design Thinking into the process can bring tremendous value and benefits to the company:

Reduced time-to-market: having a new approach to problem-solving can reduce the amount of time spent on developing the product

Cost savings: successfully bringing products to the market faster also cuts costs and improves ROI

Improves customer retention: by following a user-centric approach, you can boost user engagement and develop a loyal customer base


Design Thinking Definition 1

Everyone should nurture and practice their design thinking.

Just because there are professionals who work in the graphic design and art industry doesn't mean you don't have anything to contribute.

Larry Allison, an independent journalist, and editor for TheEssayTyper had this to say on the matter:

“You never know when the next creative spark might go off. It's important to follow through on your ideas no matter what background you come from. The chances are that you have a lot to say that others might find interesting.”

Many successful freelancers often work in seemingly unrelated niches as a means to pay the bills, only to come back home and design for a living.

Follow this simple guide to design thinking and try to apply it daily – soon you will notice the improvements in your results and will want to pursue the matter further.

Photo of author

Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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