Understanding And Using Design Thinking In UX/UI

Angela Huang
7 min readAug 17, 2022


“Design thinking” is a standard industry term used by UX/UI professionals to describe successful and unsuccessful design choices made by other designers. However, novices entering the industry may not be familiar with or confused by the term. This article will dive into what “design thinking” means and its critical nature in developing and applying ongoing design projects.

Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

What Is “Design Thinking?”

Designers and developers focus on creating products, services, and applications that aim to provide the optimal solution for their client’s problems or pain points. With a focus on a design that meets the client’s requirements and needs in the most effective way, “design thinking” focuses on the conceptual framework that happens first in the process. The financial prospects and technical aspects are secondary to the fundamental underpinnings of good design.

There are three critical skills entailed in the design thinking approach, and those are:

  • Thinking in business-oriented terms
  • Understanding the needs of the user rather than from the point of view of the designer
  • Personalized development

The 5 Stages Of the Design Thinking Process

Every approach employed by a UX agency to provide a solution for a problem facing their client operates through 5 distinct stages: empathy, focusing, generation of ideas, prototyping, and finally, testing. Let’s take a closer look at each step of the design thinking process.

Stage 1: Empathy

The user is encountering the problem that the designer is attempting to provide a solution for. Therefore, the user’s perspective must be considered in the development of said solution above all else. That means that to address the user’s exact problem in a way that will give the user a better experience with the product, the designer must put themselves in the user’s shoes. In other words, the designer must empathize with the user’s dilemma and plight.

Having one’s own opinion is essential; just like any other human, designers have plenty of their own. However, every designer would do well to remember that their preference is not what is essential in the design. They must consciously subvert their bias and observe the problem from a user’s standpoint.

The best designers are always in an empathetic mindset. When a designer cares about satisfying the client and understands what the user needs, it simplifies their job significantly. That is not to say that it is not challenging. It is tough to set one’s mindset to the side and serve the needs of others. Such discipline requires a deeper understanding of a customer’s function to a business and the desire to produce an optimal solution for the user engaging with the product.

Stage 2: Focusing

Once a designer can fully immerse themselves in the user’s viewpoint of the product, establishing complete empathy, the next stage takes place, and that is the focusing stage. This involves setting a focal point for the process and making it the final solution the design seeks to reach. To know where the design journey is heading, the designer must figure out what primary question they are seeking a solution for, such as one that pertains to optimizing a client’s experience while serving essential business functions.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Stage 3: Generating Ideas

Stage 1 provided the understanding of the problem needing a solution, while stage 2 was setting the ‘endgame’ for what the final result should be. Now we move on to the third stage, where the designer must generate ideas to reach the goal from stage 2 in the most effective manner decided in stage 1. One of the biggest hurdles in this stage is to steer clear of conventional wisdom. Coming up with ideas is about thinking outside the box to develop a custom-tailored, unique approach to achieving the desired solution.

When it comes to idea gathering, there must be no limits. No matter how ridiculous, impractical, radical, or excessive an idea may seem at the start, it should be retained. There should never be a point where “enough” ideas are generated. When a sizable list of ideas has been compiled, the designer must evaluate them individually and filter out the pragmatic ones from the ‘noise.’

The other vital hurdle to clear in this stage is to avoid the enemy of creativity: criticism. It’s important to remember that there are no ‘bad’ ideas; it’s just that some are better than others. However, their viability and quality are best saved for the filtering process. Criticism of the pictures is only detrimental, and though it is inevitable, it should be avoided as much as possible as it serves to stifle creativity.

Stage 4: Prototyping

Once the ideas have been collected, filtered, and curated down to the most pragmatically viable, it’s time to move on to prototyping. A prototype is a scaled-down version of the design that includes essential functions to drive the product toward the final result. Prototypes are an integral part of any design process since they help designers:

  • Discover the design’s shortcomings
  • Isolate the best ideas from the remaining list or fuse multiple ideas
  • Refining of the product
  • Determining the optimal, final solution
  • Save time and money by performing trials on the prototype instead of launching into full-scale development only to have the product fail and the investment is lost.

Once the prototype is used to fix the product’s deficiencies and optimize areas that require it, designers can move to the final stage: testing. If the product fails, the designer steps back to stage 2 to refocus on their goal and start thinking of the best solutions again.

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash
Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

Stage 5: Testing

Once the prototype has been thoroughly vetted and approved from a designed perspective, the designer moves on to the final stage: testing. While testing is the last of the five steps, it is not necessarily meant to be the end of the process. Testing will reveal previously overlooked or not considered problems when thinking of the product’s practical application. These will need to be addressed, so the process reverts to earlier stages until a proper solution for the issues found during this testing stage can be addressed. Then the product is tested again. If it yields more findings, the process repeats.

But who gets to test the product for its viability? As we are empathetic to the users, it only makes sense that they get to try the product in the most rigorous way possible. The user testing will tackle workflows that would have been tough or impossible for the designer to predict when crafting the product, revealing potential flaws.

The users interact with the product and leave feedback about potential issues or shortcomings. The development team then needs to take that feedback and work on refining the product further to address the feedback’s concerns. The problems will help optimize the product and refine future testing methodologies to account for previously unconsidered issues.

Once the adjustments have been made, the process is again returned to the users. The process continues on a loop as long as users find more issues with the product. Only when they finally provide a good rating can the design and development team consider the product ‘final.’

Application Of Design Thinking

To better understand the design thinking process, let’s consider a real-life example of a food industry designer seeking to produce a new type of microwave. The typical method would be to interview microwave users and compile their feedback, consider what users are not getting from the current version of microwave models, and finally develop a solution that addresses the sum-total of the knowledge collected.

However, with design thinking techniques, a designer would attack the design more creatively by paying more attention to how people use microwaves and their particular habits rather than the product itself.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

Final Thoughts

The most significant benefit of design thinking lies in its ability to craft new, innovative solutions for issues that may not be explicitly obvious from the start, saving designers and developers time and money. The process involves viewing the idea for the product from the customer’s viewpoint, thinking outside of conventional wisdom, compiling many ideas and filtering out the best ones, and ultimately coming up with innovative solutions to address users’ problems, pain points, and preferences based on current behaviors.

More than most others, the UX/UI business requires a deeper immersion into the customer’s mindset when designing a product. By understanding the concerns of the users interfacing with the product, designers can work toward accommodating the pain points in more innovative, practical ways.

Thanks for reading!