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Design Thinking: How to Create Valuable Products

Design thinking is a human-centered approach for designing products, services, and solutions. It helps you empathize with users, understand their needs and problems, before considering technological capabilities or business goals.

Let's break down what the "Design thinking" term means:


Design thinking is a problem-solving and innovation methodology that places a strong emphasis on understanding and empathizing with the needs and perspectives of the end users or customers. It's a human-centered approach to problem-solving and is often used in fields such as product design, user experience (UX) design, and business strategy, but its principles can be applied to a wide range of challenges and industries.

Why Design Thinking Matters for Products

Design thinking can be applied in any field, but it's most commonly used in developing digital products, specifically for designing website and app interfaces. The methodology helps product managers to:

  • Find solutions based on real user experiences and research, not assumptions.
  • Quickly formulate and test hypotheses.
  • Create valuable products and increase customer loyalty.
  • Avoid wasting time and money on baseless ideas.


The pioneer of design thinking was the American scientist and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon. In 1969 his book "The Sciences of the Artificial" came out, where Simon claimed not only natural sciences should be studied, but also man-made, "designed" systems.He didn't use the term "design thinking," but was the first to discuss design as a way of thinking. Importantly, Simon came from the natural sciences, where hypotheses are tested through experiments and constant trial and error. 

He brought this approach to inflexible businesses that would plan and work on large projects for a long time. Simon touched on the topic of rapid experiments that allow you to study the system in action - and make your way through the unknown in the right direction. Today the method has become so popular that it seems like everyone has already worked with it, from Nike to Airbnb.

Stages of Design Thinking

The methodology consists of stages, usually 5-6, but there can be more or fewer. Let's look at a 6 stage process:

  1. Empathy
  2. Focusing
  3. Ideation 
  4. Choosing ideas 
  5. Prototyping 
  6. Testing

A key feature of the approach is that a different type of thinking is applied at each step - from creative to critical. First, we generate ideas in a creative burst, then strictly choose only valuable ones based on research results. Let's look at each step:

1. Empathy 

At the first stage it's important to stand in the shoes of customers and understand what they really need and what problems they face. Conduct user research to do this. For example, you can use an empathy map. Interview users and find out what they like, dream about, fear, and more - specifically in relation to your product. This map will be your compass to check as you develop the product.

Empathy Map is a tool often used in the early stages of design thinking. It's a visual representation of the user's feelings, thoughts, and experiences related to a particular product or problem. It helps teams synthesize user research findings and create a shared understanding of the user's emotional and cognitive journey.

2. Focusing

Structure all the information received at the "Empathy" stage, process and analyze it, and highlight the most important problems. This doesn't mean you should discard everything else - you can return to it in later cycles. It's important to focus on 3-5 problems or even just one, if it's large and significant. By the end of this stage, clearly formulate the problem from the user's perspective.

Example: The customer takes a long time to find the cart in the interface, switches to other tabs, and ultimately does not complete the purchase.

3. Ideation

Turn on divergent thinking and generate solutions to the problem.The more ideas the better. Ideas can even be crazy - don't reject or criticize them. There are many brainstorming techniques. One is called "Origami" and consists of six stages:

  • Preparation. Take markers, stickers, a timer. 
  • Clearly formulate the task. "Let's come up with something new" doesn't work. 
  • Explain the rules. There are eight 40-second intervals. You need to come up with one idea per interval and write it on a sticker. 
  • Generate ideas. 
  • Present ideas. The participant sticks the sticker and briefly explains what they meant. You can't criticize ideas, but you can ask questions. 
  • Silent voting (can be used in the next cycle - "Choosing ideas"). Each participant has a limited number of votes, for example if there are 30 ideas - give each person 3 votes. Record the results at the end.

4. Choosing Ideas

Gather all the ideas and choose with the team which ones best meet customer and business needs. Selecting ideas in design thinking involves gathering diverse concepts, prioritizing those aligned with customer needs, business viability, and feasibility. It's a collaborative process that sets the direction for prototyping and testing, with the flexibility to iterate if needed.

5. Prototyping

At this stage you need to create a rough version of the product that should solve the user's problem. Don't try to make it "pretty" right away. A good prototype has three key characteristics: it should be fast, cheap, and interactive. 

For example, how in the 90s the company IDEO developed a prototype of an innovative shopping cart in just four days. The team cobbled together a prototype from whatever they had on hand: tape, ropes, wooden bars and metal hoops. Watch the video.

For digital products, services like Miro or Figma are great - you can assemble a layout without code and show it to users.

6. Testing 

Show the esulting prototype to users: see how they interact with the product, what they like, what they don't, and why. Record this in a table or map: 


The feedback will help determine if the problem has been solved. Based on testing results, you can return to previous stages:

  • If the problem was identified incorrectly - go back to the "Empathy" and "Focusing" stages.
  • If the prototype needs adjusting - return to the "Prototyping" stage.

Don't Fear Experiments

Embracing experimentation is a core tenet of design thinking. It encourages continuous testing and learning, even if experiments don't yield the desired results. This approach saves resources, involves users, and fosters innovation. By not fearing experiments, you mitigate risks, adapt to changing circumstances, and make informed decisions, aligning with design thinking's user-centric and iterative ethos.

What to Read About Design Thinking

"The Sciences of the Artificial" by Herbert Simon

  • Author and Background: Herbert Simon was a Nobel laureate in Economics and a pioneering figure in the field of cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence. This book is considered a seminal work in the realm of design thinking.
  • Key Insights: In this book, Simon explores the concept of design as a fundamental aspect of human intelligence. He delves into the idea that design is not limited to the aesthetics of an object but extends to the very process of problem-solving and creating artifacts. He introduces the concept of "satisficing," which means finding solutions that are satisfactory rather than seeking the optimal one. This idea has influenced the practical and iterative nature of design thinking.
  • Significance: "The Sciences of the Artificial" laid the theoretical foundation for design thinking by emphasizing that design is not limited to physical objects but also extends to systems, processes, and problem-solving methods. It highlights the importance of understanding and satisfying real human needs in design.

"Design Thinking for Business" by Tim Brown

  • Author and Background: Tim Brown is the CEO of IDEO, one of the most renowned design and innovation consulting firms globally. IDEO has a strong reputation for its application of design thinking to various business challenges. 
  • Key Insights: In this book, Tim Brown provides practical insights on how design thinking can be applied to business. He outlines how this approach can help organizations generate innovative solutions and uncover new opportunities. Brown offers real-world examples and case studies of how IDEO and other organizations have used design thinking to identify and implement successful business ideas. 
  • Significance: "Design Thinking for Business" bridges the gap between the theoretical underpinnings of design thinking and its practical application in the business world. Tim Brown's experiences at IDEO and his discussions on integrating design thinking into corporate culture make this book a valuable resource for those looking to implement design thinking in a business context.

These two readings complement each other well. Herbert Simon's work provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the concept of design thinking, while Tim Brown's book offers practical guidance on how to apply design thinking principles to solve real-world business challenges. Reading both can help individuals and organizations gain a comprehensive understanding of design thinking and its potential for innovation and problem-solving.