Tag Archives: design

Design Thinking, an introduction, or What is Design Thinking all about?

A guest post by Iliana Guzman, design champion and practitioner

Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on people, and merges creativity with innovation. The concept was first published in the beginning of 1980s, and during the last decade it has become widely used. According to different sources (Brooks, 2010, Cross, 2006, Johansson-Sköldberg et al, 2013, Lawson, 2011, Martin 2009) Design Thinking has been used by a wide variety of disciplines including: Information Technology (IT), Philosophy, Psychology, Architecture, Design, Education, and more recently Management and Business.

A general misconception of the meaning of Design Thinking is to directly relate it to an early meaning of Design. Which was originated back in 1540 from the Latin words designatus and designare, to “designate” and “to mark out”. Copious research and published articles show that the concept and practices of Design continue to expand, and are more vast and pertinent than ever before.

Trying to provide a unique definition of Design Thinking is almost unattainable, giving its rich content and wide range of applications, consequently this task continues to raise controversy. Nevertheless this article introduces the reader to the subject, presenting expert views on Design Thinking.

Richard Buchanan (1992) refers to Design Thinking as a problem-solving activity. His article on “wicked problems” has become a key reference on the subject, and presents a creative way of thinking to deal with very open and complex problems. This “wicked problems” are a class of social problems that do not have a single solution, and states that much creativity is needed to find solutions, and were first used by Rittel and Webber in the late 1960s.

Diverse organisations have adopted Design Thinking as a tool that broadens its repertoire of strategies to address complex challenges (Stacey, Griffin & Shaw, 2000) and IBM is among those organisations.

For IBM, (IBM, 2014a) at its core Design Thinking focuses on understanding people’s needs and creatively discovering the best solutions to meet those needs. IBM has expanded upon the traditional Design Thinking approach, in order to build better products that meet user needs, and based on the experience of thousands of users. The company has a specialised department called IBM Design Thinking, aiming particularly at meeting the complex needs of large-scale enterprises without sacrificing the personal focus of Design Thinking.

In words of Doug Powell, Program Director for Education & Activation IBM Design (IBM, 2014b): “Design Thinking is rooted in three key thought models:

  1. Empathy for the user, the person who is using a product or service.
  2. Rapid Prototyping, the building of an idea.
  3. Radical Collaboration, where are different disciplines engaging in this Design -Thinking Approach to address this open problems.

And we focus on three core practices: Hills, Playbacks and Sponsor Users.

IBM is an organisation that delivers experiences to the market for people to use, and Design Thinking enables the company to deliver this experiences”.

Tim Brown, the president and CEO of IDEO, an innovation and design firm, considered one of the most relevant companies who both apply and champion Design Thinking states:
“Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.  It is best thought as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. And the three main spaces to keep in mind are inspiration, ideation, and implementation” (Brown, 2008).

Lawson (2011) and Cross (2006) conducted an extensive research on the practices of design thinking during more than three decades. They were both trained architects and acknowledged the “designerly ways of knowing” (Cross, 2006) which is closely related to the current practice of Design Thinking. Their work includes a series of articles on design strategy (2011) and two models of the design process, based on observation, and a deep ethnographic research that started with a set of design thinking workshops at Delft University of Technology in 1991.

Krippendorff (2006) provides a philosophical and semantic perspective on the work of designers and design meaning. For Krippendorff Design Thinking is articulated by designers and creates a text that becomes part of the discourse of the design community.

For Professor Jeanne Liedtka (2014), Design Thinking is about having a systematic approach to problem solving, its roots are away from the talents of designers, as it focuses on business growth. The systematic process of design thinking includes tools and techniques that can be certainly taught to managers.

Jeanne’s Liedtka is a member of the Strategy, Ethics, and Entrepreneurship area at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, formerly the executive director of the school’s Batter Institute and among her wide expertise on business she leads research on design thinking and organic growth.

Now that you know what Design Thinking is about, let me encourage you to discover more about it and try this approach in the future. There are a wide variety of resources on Design Thinking both printed and online. As disclosed on the paper article Design Thinking: Past, present and Possible Futures (Johansson-Sköldberg et al, 2013), the literature on Design Thinking includes books (31), academic and conference papers (55), magazines and newspaper articles (39), and web blogs, (15).  I suggest you to visit the IDEO official website, there you can find clear information on Design Thinking, study cases, articles and also download some free Design Thinking toolkits to use right away.

To conclude this article I would like to share a list of my top five books about Design Thinking, which I highly recommend and are widely reviewed.

  1. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown, published by Harper Business in 2009.
  2. Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience and Brand value, by Thomas Lockwood, published by Allworth Press in 2009.
  3. This is Service Design Thinking: Basics-tools by Mark Stickdorn and Marc Stickdorn, published by Bis Publishers in 2014.
  4. Design Th!nking, by Gaving Ambrose and Paul Harris, published in by AVA Publishing SA in 2010.
  5. Designing for Growth, a design thinking tool kit for managers, by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, published in 2011. If you are a manager or are looking for practical ways to apply Design Thinking you may find this book very useful; it provides straightforward systems that you can apply immediately, it also includes simple project management aids and templates to start applying design thinking, highly recommended.

Let’s finish with one of Jeanne Liedtka’s insights:

“design thinking does not require supernatural powers, it is the kind of design that can be absolutely safe to try at home”.

As always, thanks for reading, I would like to know your views on this article and about Design Thinking, so please share your comments below this post. If you have a specific question or a burning comment that requires a quick answer, write directly to my twitter account @ilimx, I will be more than happy to receive your comments, and continue the conversation about Design Thinking.

Iliana Guzman
Design Manager, creative business coach, entrepreneur, and mostly Design Champion.

Twitter account: @ilimx

Email: hello@ilianaguzman.com




Brooks, F.P. (2010) The design of design: essays from a computer scientist. Addison-Wesley Professional, NJ.

Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, 84-92.

Buchanan, R. (1992) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 5-21.

Cross, N. (2006) Designerly Ways of Knowing. Springer Verlag, London.
Cross, N. (2011) Design Thinking. Berg, Oxford.

IBM (2014a). IBM Think Academy team on “How It Works: Design Thinking” [WWW video] URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXtN4y3O35M [accessed on 08 March 2015]

IBM (2014b). IBM Think Academy team on “Why IBM Design Thinking” [WWW video] URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkPItRSZcpM [accessed on 11 March 2015]

IDEO (2015) [WWW document] URL http://www.ideo.com/about/ [accessed on 05 March 2015]

Johansson-Sköldberg, U., Woodilla, J. and Çetinkaya, M. (2013) Design Thinking, Past, Present and Possible futures. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22:121-145. Doi: 10.1111/claim.12023

Krippendorff, K. (2006) The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design. Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL.

Lawson, B. (2006 [1980]) How Designer Think: The Design Process Demystified, 4th Edition. Architectural Press, Oxford.

Liedtka, J. and Ogilvie, T. (2011) Design for Growth, a design thinking toolkit for managers. Columbia University Press, New York.

Martin, R. (2009) The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Press, Cambridge MA.

Rittel, H. and Webber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 155-169.

Stacey, R., Griffin, D., Shaw, P., (2000) Complexity and management: Fad or radical challenge to systems thinking?. Routledge, London.

User Experience (UX) Design Boot Camp – a lean approach to mobile app development (1 of 3)

ITaaU/ustwo UX Bootcamp – 11th February 2015.

This is the second of three posts on the recent UX Boot Camp that ITaaU and ustwo organised on the 11 February, 2015 written by Alix King.

Part two

To experience the methodology and processes behind user centred design when developing new apps, the groups were given a task for the day; to design an app.

The design brief

The design brief was to develop a mobile app for a gym in East London. The gym would like to attract young people via a digital platform that would also benefit the company.

The day was set out into six sections:

  1. User Testing
  2. New Assumptions and Hypothesis
  3. Sketching
  4. Prototyping
  5. User Testing
  6. A pitch to others in the workshop.

First, the groups had to set out their vision: what was the vision, and what was the overarching goal of the product?


Ustwo introduced the group to the Persona technique – a tool to help understand users’ needs. They are fictitious characters, based on real data, to create a profile. This introduces to the developer an audience, and in more detail, a person that the app is to be created for, helping to keep users in mind during a project, focusing the developer on the ultimate target user.

Draw a box

The groups were then asked to ‘draw a fictitious box’; a box-shape with the goal of cementing the idea of what each groups’ service is. After the groups drew the box, they were to give it a name, image and tagline. The idea was then to create three benefits that the service would have for the consumer. One group described the benefits from downloading their gym app:

  • To be healthier
  • Getting/making more friends
  • To enable the user to switch off from work.

Merging ideas

The groups were then given 10 minutes to share their ‘fictitious box’ ideas and to merge each idea into one service/product that they liked the most.

Declare assumptions.

Then the groups had to ‘declare assumptions’. They were to write on post-it notes what the group thought to be true about the business and the user. The assumptions were differentiated by blue post-its for the business assumptions and yellow for the user. Examples were given as ‘We assume that the business has good connections with surrounding football clubs and other sports organisations’ and ‘we assume that the user would be interested in exercising along with people they don’t know’.

Prioritise assumptions

With these assumptions, the groups were then asked to set their priority based on their level of risk and how much faith they attached to the assumptions. These were plotted on a graph of high risk to low risk, known and unknown. This was to make the group members think about what would jeopardise the proposition if that assumption was wrong.

Develop hypothesis

The next step was Developing Hypothesis. In 10 minutes, the group was tasked to transform an assumption statement into a testable hypothesis. This was completed using the following template:

“We believe [doing/creating/providing] …. for [these people/personas] …. through [this feature] …. will [achieve this] …. we will know this is true when we see [this user feedback] ….”

This hypothesis was given as an example:

“We believe that offering the opportunity to connect with other people to exercise together for young people under 25 in Shoreditch through geo-location will increase the user base of our service. We will know this is true when during user interviews the majority of participants express a positive attitude towards this feature”

The next goal was to visualise the group’s chosen hypothesis. This was done using a screen sketch template, with the team sketching images of the app screens onto paper to show a simple screen design that will be shown to users.

User Testing

The groups were then given a user to test their screen design on. Georgios and Isabelle gave the groups directions on what to ask the user, such as not to direct them and therefore gain more subjective answers.

The points were:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Build rapport
  • Ask them to speak out loud
  • Don’t ask leading questions
  • Ask open questions
  • Ask what, why, when, where
  • Take notes
  • Playback learnings to the team.

The goal for user testing was to validate if it was a desirable proposition, and to gather the user’s subjective view of the proposed app. The groups were given two users, who were chosen from the staff at Ustwo, with no prior knowledge of the app development so far.

Test one

Groups were given 20 minutes to go through their screen landing page and vision for their app with no leading questions to gain the user’s opinion of the app. Did it seem easy to use? Did the app provide the user with everything they expected to gain from the vision that the groups were offering?

The groups were told to put down their findings, one by one on an individual post it note.

Updating assumptions

From the opinions that the groups ascertained from their users, Georgios and Isabelle instructed the groups to then update the assumptions that they had gathered previously, now that they had subjective opinions from the users.

Create and test a prototype

The groups were then asked to get creative – using an app (frequently used in the industry) called ‘Pop’, the task was to draw each screen of their app idea, to take pictures of each screen, and upload onto the Pop app. When uploaded, this digital tool allows the user to see the finished app idea, with pages on a digital platform. Groups were told to think about:

  • Navigation
  • Text/copy
  • Button placement

This was a great task, as the groups could visualise their ideas in the format of a useable application.

User test 2

The idea was to test the ‘useable app’ on three different people. These were now members of the other groups. One of each of the team would go to another to ‘test’ the app, while the remaining two would stay to run the test app on the visiting user. This was circulated so every member of the team experienced being the tester and the user.

This exercise showed completely different opinions than the first user test. The groups then made notes of changes and improvement ideas that they would implement before further advancement of their app idea.

To be continued…

User Experience (UX) Design Boot Camp – a lean approach to mobile app development

ITaaU/ustwo UX Bootcamp – 11th February 2015.

Part one

This is the first of three posts on the recent UX Boot Camp that ITaaU and ustwo organised on the 11 February, 2015 written by Alix King.

Taking place in Shoreditch at top digital product company ustwo, this one-day UX boot camp was aimed at people from all sectors with the aim of providing them with a unique insight into digital development. The accelerated workshop enabled attendees to experience the innovative approaches used by ustwo for User Centred Design when developing apps. These include a ‘lean’ approach, meaning one that ensures the best possible use of agile and start-up thinking with no coding involved as well as established paper prototyping techniques to speed up the initial development of mobile apps.

ustwo – the hosts

ustwo is a global digital product studio whose vision guides them in launching products, services and companies that make a measurable difference to the world. Recent successes have included: Monument Valley, Whale Trail and Blip Blup as well as cutting edge applications for some of the world’s leading brands. Ustwo has held previous successful workshops similar to this User Experience Design Boot Camp and has gained very positive feedback from attendees.

The day was run by two UX (User Experience) Designers at ustwo, Georgios and Isabelle. After the ‘meet and greet’ session for the attendees who came from a diverse range of backgrounds, Georgios and Isabelle asked everyone to attach a name badge with the words ‘My name is … and my favourite thing is …’. A great way to break the ice; favourite things ranged from wine, to films and great coffee.

Georgios explained that as a company, ustwo were involved in digital product design and has a diverse range of clients as well as a number of joint ventures, including one with Dice, ‘the smartest ticketing app on Earth’. The presenters explained how their work has evolved at ustwo and how the lean approach has become more dominant within this process.

Explaining the lean approach

Georgios, in explaining the background and motivation for this transition, said that over time, software development had become complex and required large teams of developers to capture requirements and business processes, produce documentation, project manage and test. This was an enormous financial investment for organisations and other stakeholders. With so many people involved, there was no guarantee that the app would be successful – many software applications came onto the market and were not successful at all. This meant that the expensive process was counterproductive and could be a huge waste of money and resources.

Lean manufacturing originally came from Japan with the realisation that whilst not able to compete in quantity, manufacturers could work in small batches and deliver competitive vehicles to meet a recognised demand. This in turn influenced Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, acknowledged as the principle initiator of the lean startup movement who said: ‘The goal of a startup is to figure out what people want in little time’.

Course presenter Isabelle Bargh, an expert on apps for the health sector, quotes Dr Claudia Pagliari from the Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh.

‘The process of using User Centred Design (UCD) when developing interactive systems is increasingly adopted. The emphasis on determining user needs and the context in which these users will interact with the systems is of great importance in order to deliver and designing a product from the bottom-up instead of the developers, organisations or the technicians’ viewpoint.’

ustwo have brought together all of these ideas and methodologies and used them to shape their own methodology. So for the next step are asked to capture ideas relating to the following:

  • Vision
  • Assumption
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiments
  • Insights

Georgios and Isabelle then split the workshop into smaller groups and presented them with their design brief for the day. The groups were asked to use these User Centred Design techniques to develop an idea for an app based on the brief.

So the work began.