Design Thinking for UX & UI Designers

telescope on a red background

What is design thinking?

If you’re a designer, you’ve probably heard of design thinking many times.

But do you know what it actually means?

Don’t worry if you don’t. We’ll break it down together.

According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, design thinking is

A human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the
  1. Needs of people
  2. Possibilities of technology
  3. Requirements for business success

See how there are three elements?

In the center of those lies design thinking. Here’s a great graphic to show that:

venn diagram of design thinking

Now, you might be wondering

Wait where did these words pop out?

Actually, these are just rephrasing of the three elements we just went through:

  1. Needs of people - desirability for the user
  2. Possibilities of technology - technically feasible
  3. Requirements for business success - Economical viability

But notice the order of these elements: desirability comes first.

People come first.

The core of the design thinking approach is a focus on empathy. We’ll touch upon that more later.

Key concepts/tips

5 principles of design thinking

Before we delve into the 5 stages of design thinking, let’s break down some pivotal principles.

User-centricity and empathy

Design thinking is all about finding solutions that solve real human needs.

People, not technology, are the drivers of innovation. Thus, this involves stepping into the user’s shoes and building genuine empathy for your target audience.


Design thinking encourages collaboration between multidisciplinary teams. A diverse range of perspectives and ideas is what leads to innovative solutions.


As a solution-based framework, design thinking’s focus is coming up with as many ideas and possible solutions as possible.

Experimentation and iteration

But, design thinking is not just about coming up with ideas, it’s about actually prototyping and testing them with real people.

Design thinking is an iterative process, so be prepared to repeat previous steps based on the feedback you receive.

A bias towards action

Design thinking encourages you to get out there instead of guessing what your users want.

It’s a very hands-on approach to problem-solving.

5 stages of design thinking

Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for.

Let’s delve into the 5 stages of design thinking, a framework taught by Stanford’s

Stage 1: Empathize

Empathy is at the heart of design.

Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task (Tim Brown, IDEO).

Using a beginner’s mindset and immersing yourself in the user’s experience are great ways to uncover deep needs and insights.

I love the metaphor used in this article:

Designers need to ‘become the patient’ to build better products.

Let’s say you want to design a medical device.

You should talk with all the stakeholders, all the users of that product, doctors, nurses, and more.

Then, laying down on the bed with the device applied to you, you would feel exactly what it felt like to be the patient.

And at that moment, you might feel:

Aha! That’s really uncomfortable. There’s probably a better way to do this.

That’s empathy, and that’s what pushes a designer to create better solutions.

Thus, the point here is:

Stop guessing, and go out there to understand the users.

Stage 2: Define

The purpose of the define stage is to make sense of the findings and come up with a problem statement.

This is called the point of view (POV), which is composed of three elements:

  1. User - Who is your user? (Be as specific as possible)
  2. Need - What is their deep, unmet need?
  3. Insight - Why is this insightful?

And generally, a good POV is one that:

  • Provides focus and frames the problem
  • Inspires your team
  • Informs criteria for evaluating competing ideas
  • Empowers your team to make decisions independently in parallel
  • Captures the hearts and minds of people you meet

Stage 3: Ideate

In this stage, you will concentrate on idea generation.

It’s important to go wide, meaning you should aim to generate as many ideas and potential solutions as possible.

But, it’s important to remember:

The goal is to give you a mass quantity of ideas quickly... not solutions, but the seeds to possible solutions (At Sandoval, Lunar Design).

For most designers, this is where the fun begins.

Once you have a ton of ideas, try to narrow them down to two or three ideas.

One way to do this is by using three voting criteria. An example may be “the most likely to delight,” “the rational choice,” and “the most unexpected. But they’re really up to you.

Then, bring the two or three ideas into the next stage.

Stage 4: Prototype

This is an iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solutions.

In the early stages, create low-res prototypes that are quick and cheap to make but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues.

After you get more feedback, your questions and prototypes may get more refined.


A prototype is a way to communicate. Not a way to highlight your mastery as a designer.

Stage 5: Test

The testing stage is often considered in tandem with the prototype stage. It’s a back and forth process.

And in this stage, it’s important to remember:

You can’t simply put a prototype in front of a user to test it. You need to think about how to test.

Thus, think about what you’re trying to test and how you’re going to test that aspect.

And don’t focus on asking whether people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “why?”, and focus on what you can learn from the tests.

To get you started

Use the framework for your next project

As I mentioned in my article on interaction design, the best way to get started is to apply what you read.

So, for your next project, try implementing design thinking! Or if you’re now working on a project, consider how you can incorporate certain stages into your current process.

Learn the methodologies

Now, you may be wondering:

Wait, Guo... You didn’t touch much on how exactly to do each stage!

That’s fair. But I didn’t want this article to be too lengthy. Thus, I recommend you do more research into the different methods for each stage.

A great place to start will be IDEO’s Design Kit.

ideo design kit


Design thinking is both an ideology and a process.

If you take one thing from this article, it’s this:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach that focuses on creating solutions that are
  1. Desirable for the user: They meet a real human need.
  2. Technology feasible: They can be developed into functional products.
  3. Economically viable: The business can afford to implement them.

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, or by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

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