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Brain Power

How Design Thinking Leads You To Creativity (The Complete Guide)

Written by Jim Burgoon
Founder of The Everyday Leader
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What do you think about when you think of a product that had a great design and purpose? My mind goes to products like Apply and Alexa. The sleekness and simplicity of their design combined with the functionality create a winning product.

Great designs are developed from a simple yet eloquent place. Great designs draw us in. Then, once the design hooks us, the product shows us the problem created to answer.

People like you and I are attracted to high-quality designs that serve specific purposes. We want the best product that can make our lives simpler. That is why companies invest millions of dollars into developing the next big thing that will enrich our lives and help us look good in the process.

You may not be a company like Apple or Amazon, but you are someone who may be looking to create something that will help a lot of people. Even though you may not be an extensive organization able to throw millions of dollars into product development, you can still walk the same style of the process that they do and create a winning product.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking related to the creative problem solving centered around the human aspect of the process. Design thinking is about developing the mindset that allows you to solve problems creatively. It aids teams in finding the delicate balance between what makes sense, what is technologically feasible, and what is commercially viable.[1]

Design thinking is about placing a focus on “encourage companies to concentrate on the audience they are targeting.” When these companies focus on their target audience, it results in better goods, services. It is essentially about creatively designing a product or service in which the user can significantly benefit. The creative process used to get to this place is called design thinking.


You may not have been consciously exposed to the official process of design thinking. However, we have been taught this process since the early days of our school journey. In elementary school, we are introduced to discover the problem and work hard to find a solution to that problem. In middle school, the emphasis is placed on taking the process to the next step. You are to discover the answer and are encouraged to find several applications for that solution in various contexts. When we get to high school, we are pushed beyond our limits. In high school, you are not encouraged to find solutions for problems that may not exist yet. In high school, it is all about conceptualizing the problem and creating a process to solve it. In essence, we have been on the design thinking journey since we were young.

The Foundational Principles of Design Thinking

A brief web search will reveal 100s of different thoughts, theories, and versions of the design thinking process. Pouring over all the views while trying to decern what is right for you can be overwhelming. I want to help you collapse time and remove the overwhelm by introducing you to the building blocks of design thinking.

Let’s start with a short rundown of Design Thinking’s foundational principles:

1. Begin with Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When applied to design thinking, we discover that everything begins with a connection. It is a connection that produces a deep human focus to obtain perspectives that could uncover new and unexplored ways of seeing. Seeing the problem from a new angle allows us to find solutions we would have missed. We begin with empathy because our perspective shifts occur after we connect on a deeper level.

2. Rephrase the Perceived Problem

New perspectives provide new ways of thinking about things. When we begin thinking about the problem in a new way, we acquire new insights. A principle of Design Thinking is that learn to rephrase the perceived problem.

Rephrasing the perceived problem accomplishes two things:

  1. It places the problem in a new light
  2. It forces us to think about the problem differently

We see the world through the lens of our experience. When we change the lens, we change the way we see. Changing the lens is the heart of rephrasing. If I can state the problem differently, it will bring light to new challenges found within while forcing us to think differently about the issue.

3. Use Different Thought Styles to Investigate Multiple Possibilities

The most significant way to solve a complex problem is by inviting others into the process. Design Thinking is not meant to be a solo event. Creativity happens best when others are involved. With that said, design thinking offers an incredible platform for collaborative communities to conquer complex challenges.

It may take only one person to solve a simple problem, but it takes many people to solve complex problems. The beauty of having a collaborative community built around solving complex issues is that it brings together different people with different thought processes and perspectives, all from different walks of life. If leveraged correctly, the power of this creative conglomeration of people can be explosive. Challenging problems become simple. Complex issues are moved from high levels of complexity into manageable segments.


There is little creativity happening if everyone on the team thinks the same. Deferring judgment and providing an open ideation space allow for the most significant number of ideas and points of view to emerge.

Change and transformation are inevitable when a collaborative community joins together to overcome complex issues through the design thinking process.

The Fundamental Concepts of Design Thinking

Tthere are 3 key pillars support the design thinking mindset:

1. Connection

One of the principles of design thinking, as mention above, is empathy. Empathy fuels authentic connection because it is rooted in the heart. Conceptual thought doesn’t connect with people. It logically thinks through everything possible, but it leaves out feeling. For something to transform someone, both parties have to feel it. In other words, if it doesn’t move me, it won’t move you.

The other dynamic of connection is understanding that design thinking leverages the creative process to create a solution or product for someone. How can I know a person, their desires, or what they need unless connected to them? The greater your empathy, the greater the level of insightful connections you can make. Design thinking is established through empathy because it brings a deeper relationship between the creator and the ones we create for.

2. Ideation

Ideation is at the core of creative activities in the design thinking process. However, the design thinking process is not only about creating more ideas. The design thinking process is about placing those ideas against one another. When numerous ideas are pitted against one another, imagination and innovation are unleashed!

Ever since I started building businesses and organizations, I have had an important principle I have lived by, which is very applicable to this subject. I often tell my team, “Best Idea Wins.” The idea we use doesn’t have to be my idea. However, it does have to be the best idea. This simple commitment to the process has given freedom to my team. Instead of fearing that their ideas do not matter, they are invited to create ideas that work, knowing that their idea could be implemented.


The challenge with many organizations is that the leader believes their idea is the best. Powerful things happen when you create a team of talented professions, empower them to make decisions, give them the right to speak up, and ensure the group that the best idea wins.

3. Testing

Are you sure your conclusions are correct? Have you hit the mark with your product? What do users have to say about it? Don’t just guess – test it!

I think this is the part of the process a high percentage of people leave out. Trying an idea one time over a short period isn’t testing it. Commit to a more extended period to test. The process of design thinking allows us to implement an idea and tweak it along the way. When we set hard time frames and give ample time, we better understand why the idea worked or didn’t work.

Design thinking requires us to test, test, test, and test some more. Experimentation is the mother of invention. There isn’t a successful product out globally that didn’t have many tests over extended periods. An interesting thing to note, some of our greatest inventions came out of accidents during the testing of other products. Things like sticky notes were a product of other product tests!

What is essential in this process is that you test and continue to test your ideas until something works! Then you work on making that idea better!


The 5 Stages of Design Thinking

Let’s take a closer look at the 5 stages of Design Thinking:[2]

Design Thinking Stage 1: Empathy

This stage’s objective is to pick up a profound understanding of the clients you’re creating for. You have to take a deep dive into what moves them. You start asking questions like what inconveniences them and how do they go approximately their day? Then you will want to know what causes tension for them. It is a process of discovering their real issues and what they truly desire out of life.

Originators sit down with genuine individuals at this level to create considering techniques and assimilate their focuses to observe from their perspective, their worldviews, and introspections without preference.

Connecting to these deep views and values is why empathy is the first step. When it comes to tackling human-centric issues, creators confront a tough fight if they do not have empathy. Empathy is a vital step within the plan. We have to connect to the buyer’s thought processes and recognitions if we hope to create on their behalf. It’s nearly impossible to fathom and connect a client issue without going through the empathy level.

There is a straightforward methodology when it comes to the discovery process of stage 1.

1. Immersion

To immerse yourself in a physical environment that mimics your clients. This will allow you to feel, see, and experience (on a smaller level) what they experience daily.

2. Market Analysis

There are several companies in existence that do a market analysis of your client. They search the web, go to local establishments, and get to know all the patterns of the people you are targeting. Then they write up an excellent description showing you as much data as you have requested about your client.

3. Client Interviews

By far, this is the number one way of learning about your client. Interviewing your client allows them to give you their answers directly. Instead of receiving interpreted data, you get direct data from the source.

Design thinking always starts with empathy. Empathy helps us connect the creative process from our minds to their hearts. Empathy provides the direction that our approach should take.


Design Thinking Stage 2: Define

Businesses and brand engaged in the design thinking process must articulate the problem they are tackling in words that accurately depicts the actual situation they are facing. In essence, you will never know if you have accomplished your goal until you know how to score. In football, we know what a touchdown is because someone defined how to score. The person who invented the rules of football explained the problem. The problem was that ball has to move down the field to the other end. Then they defined the solution. They explained that players would move the ball down the field. They know that they have accomplished their goal when the ball is moved into the endzone.

The same understanding must be applied to the design thinking process. The design thinker must clearly define the problem if they hope to discover a solution. By explicitly defining the problem, we understand what we are dealing with to create a solution that works.

To define the problem, learn to ask great questions like these:

Answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem, or problems, we are trying to solve?
  • Who are we trying to solve the problem for?
  • What are the different methods we can attack the problem?
  • Who is experiencing the problem?
  • Where is the problem happening?
  • Is the problem physical, mental, or digital?
  • What’s the context the problem fits in?
  • Why is solving this particular problem significant to our audience?
  • Will the user get a higher amount value out of that problem being solved?

Designers can reference their discoveries from the empathy stage and focus on synthesizing the knowledge in this stage. From this place, one will create a problem statement that will guide the rest of your process.


Design Thinking Stage 3: Ideate

This stage in the design thinking process focuses on creating an innovation based on the ideas put forth. Design thinkers who have grasped the client via the empathy stage and defined the problem are now ready to enter the ideation state.

At this point, design thinkers should have a workable understanding of their audience. It is within this stage where we will push beyond limited thinking and into creativity. Thinking outside the box becomes our focus. Unconventional ideas can birth innovative solutions. The challenge is not to allow your thought patterns and limiting factors to hold you back from pushing you into what is possible. During this stage, design thinkers fight the temptation of worrying about budget or scalability. Do not fall into temptation. Worry kills creativity. Instead, focus on what could be instead of the limiting factors around you.

An incredible method use during this phase is a mind map. Mind maps are excellent visual brainstorming tools. You start with a central circle that contains the problem. Then you begin spiderwebbing your thoughts out from the center. The focus on creating solutions. One idea leads to another and another. Then, before you realize it, you have created a web of ideas that contain a possible solution to the problem.

In this stage, the more ideas the design thinking team can create, the more opportunity the team will have to find a real solution. Once the design thinking team has a working list of solutions to test, they can move into the last two stages.

Design Thinking Stage 4: Prototype

Innovation happens when an idea comes to life. Creating a small yet inexpensive prototype is key to testing your solution. Whether it be a physical or digital product, having a working model you can explore is key to finding the solution that works. As I mentioned earlier, the best idea wins. At this stage, you create a model that will test the idea to determine how good the idea was. At this stage, the prototype of an idea is required, but the details are still flexible. Prototypes can be schematics, models, or digital renderings of an idea.

At this stage, the goal of great design thinking is the intersection between workability, usefulness, and viability. In other words, you want to create the MVS (The most viable solution) with the least amount of initial investment. By creating a prototype, we get an inexpensive way of testing our solutions out in the real world.


The key to prototyping is using the KISS (keep it simple silly) method. The more complexity that goes into the prototype, the less of the desired outcome will be produced. The most significant innovations were usable yet straightforward. Don’t invest too many resources (Time, talent, emotion, or finances) into it. The goal isn’t to make the best toy. The goal is to create a working prototype that will test your idea.

Design Thinking Stage 5: Test

The last stage of the design thinking process is testing. The testing stage of the design thinking process requires real people to generate actual data. This stage is where you bring in people, who you’ve created the solution, and have them test it.

Remember, the final design thinking stage is not necessarily the last thing the design thinkers will do. It is the stage where the design thinker will determine the viability of their solution. It is easy to forget that the innovation will only be the first rendition of the product design. The design thinking team may produce multiple versions of a winning idea, with each one being better than the previous.

Without a comprehensive testing stage that shows us how the user may interact with the solution, the design thinking team will be challenged when creating a desirable and usable product. If the workable solution isn’t desirable, then it isn’t scalable. Part of the design thinking process is knowing that you may have to go back and recreate until you get it right. It is not uncommon to start over and create a new prototype or several.

Final Thoughts

Let me close with this thought. Whether you are a large organization or a new business just starting, it is worth the time and effort to learn about design thinking. Design thinking will give you a systematic way of thinking that will help you simplistically conquer complex problems.

If you are an organization or business looking to impact large numbers of people with your product or service, then the design thinking process is the way to go. Putting in the time and effort on the front end will save you heartache and money on the backend.


Do it right the first time. Don’t allow yourself the mistake of moving so fast that you miss out on a real opportunity to provide authentic solutions to the audience you are trying to reach.

Featured photo credit: Jr Korpa via unsplash.com


[1]Wikipedia: What is design thinking?
[2]Interaction Design Foundation: 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process
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