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Design Thinking = Capturing the World Like a Designer

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  This article is part of the series: Ethical Product Developer

Everyone loves design thinking, a systematic way of problem-solving, and, in practice, the approach suggests non-designers to undergo the following steps to efficiently and effectively build valuable solutions:

  1. Empathize with users.
  2. Define problem to be resolved.
  3. Ideate solution (by brainstorming).
  4. Prototype the ideas to give feedback.
  5. Test prototyped idea with users.

Real-world problem solving is more complicated

Here is a question — Can we really capture and resolve essential problems by this simple step-by-step procedure? I can easily imagine the answer is NO.

To give an example, a talk "Design Thinking Is Bullsh*t" argued that our world is not that simple as it can be summarized by the pieces of Post-it paper. According to the speaker, a designer's way of problem-solving is more like a back-and-forth process of improvements based on iterations of creating, validating, and criticizing. Thus, the widely known high-level definition of design thinking approach is somewhat different from the reality, and, in the context of product development, it is important for the developers to carefully understand what design thinking actually means and how we can build successful products on top of that.

On that point, I strongly believe that one of the most important lessons the framework tells us is how capturing the complex, beautiful world as is is difficult but crucial work.

Having a designer's eye, not brain

As I understand from the materials and my personal experiences, having the human-centric mindset and exercising the methodology of brainstorming is not the core of design thinking, and we need to practice how to observe like a designer rather than how to think like a designer. Eventually, the designer's eye enables:

  • Empathize — Accurately capturing user needs without bias.
  • Define — Finding out an essential problem that meets the needs.
  • Ideate — Producing effective ideas by integrating diverse inputs.
  • Prototype, Test — Collecting feedback of ideas and determining directions for improvement.

By holistically running these activities in an unstructured manner, we become able to build an innovative solution that nicely meets user needs. I know it is not intuitive and easy to practice for non-designers including me myself, but, as I summarized in How to Produce Ideas, collecting as much information and experiences as possible in our daily life would be a reasonable first step to see the world as a designer.


To sum up, "design thinking" in our common understanding simplifies the process of problem-solving too much, and I feel the framework implicitly tells us the necessity of more precisely capturing the things in this messy world. In practice, there are many factors taken into account during the process, and product development is not unidirectional flow. Hence, design thinking is harder and more complex than we imagine from its basic definition in the textbooks, and the non-designers need to practice more to have a designer's eye for better observations, rather than a designer's brain just to change the way of thinking.

  This article is part of the series: Ethical Product Developer



Design Business

  See also

What I Think About When I Talk About ML Product
The Hardest Part of 2020's Strategic Ideation
How to Produce Ideas


Last updated: 2022-09-02

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information, or contact at [email protected].

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