There are two ways to consider quality; the product does what the designer intended it to do, or the product does what the customer wants it to do. Design Thinking is intended to close this gap between the designer and the customer through a cyclical process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge our assumptions, and restructure problems in an effort to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. Design Thinking provides a structured approach to solving this design dilemma of being ‘close to the customer’. It is a way of thinking and working, as well as a collection of hands-on techniques. Within the Lean Product Development (LPD) methodology we refer to this as ‘Learning Cycles’ and ‘Manufacturing Customers’ as we cycle through development learning cycles to gain a deep empathetic connection with our customers.

The construct of Design Thinking is a subset of Lean Product Development which revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people for whom we are designing the products or services. It helps us observe and develop empathy with the target user. Design Thinking helps us in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, questioning our assumptions, and questioning the implications. Design Thinking is extremely useful in tackling problems that are ill-defined or unknown which is the basis of most design efforts – particularly the more innovative efforts. By re-framing the opportunity in human-centric ways, creating many idea sets through brainstorming, and adopting a hands-on approach in evaluating alternatives, Design Thinking establishes a methodology by which the customer is brought into the development process as we more effectively ‘manufacture customers’.

Design Thinking is essentially a problem-solving approach specific to design, which involves assessing known aspects of a problem and identifying the more ambiguous or peripheral factors that contribute to the conditions of a problem. This contrasts with a more scientific approach where the concrete and known aspects are tested in order to arrive at a solution. Design Thinking is an iterative process in which knowledge is constantly being questioned and acquired so it can help us redefine a problem in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. Design Thinking is often referred to as ‘outside the box thinking’, as designers are attempting to develop new ways of thinking that do not abide by the dominant or more common problem-solving methods – just like artists do. At the heart of Design Thinking is the intention to improve products by analyzing how users interact with them and investigating the conditions in which they operate. 

Design Thinking offers us a means of digging that bit deeper to uncover ways of improving user experiences. It looks at development from the lens of the customer, rather than the developer.