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What is Design Thinking?
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What is Design Thinking?

In a changing world where clients have become a lot more demanding and savvier, organisations really need to keep up and design products and services that are relatable and user friendly. One methodology that has gained significant attention for its effectiveness in addressing complex challenges is Design Thinking.

This article aims to unravel the concept of Design Thinking, its principles, process, delve into its real-world applications, tips for implementation, and its future prospects. We also provide some guidance on the core concepts behind design thinking and how it can be applied to product creation, services driven businesses or just thinking through complex challenges.


What is Design Thinking?


Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and iteration. It's a methodology that puts customers or users at the centre of the problem-solving process. So what’s the origin story of the framework and how does it exist today?

Design Thinking originated in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily associated with design consultancy firms like IDEO and Stanford University's David Kelly, the founder of IDEO really pushed the idea that has formed the basis of design thinking as we know it in today’s world.

The central idea behind design thinking is to put the human or the user at the centre of the solution. By doing this, inherently, we reframe the problem in a human-centric way and ultimately create solutions that are practical and user friendly. The process is also iterative in its approach where we go through a brainstorming phase all the way to prototyping and finally landing on a minimum viable product (MVP).


4 Core Principles of Design Thinking


There are 4 core principles behind design thinking and they are as follows:

  1. Human-centred Approach: At its heart, Design Thinking is about understanding and addressing the needs, desires, and pain points of the people for whom a solution is being developed.
  2. Empathy: This principle underscores the importance of putting yourself in the shoes of the end-users to truly grasp their experiences, challenges, and aspirations.
  3. Collaboration and Multidisciplinary Teams: Solving complex problems often requires diverse perspectives. Cross-functional teams with varied expertise come together to brainstorm and innovate. Putting various brains to the test provides a richer option for solutions that are novel and different.
  4. Iterative Nature: Design Thinking is not a linear process but a series of loops. It involves revisiting and refining ideas based on feedback and learning from each iteration.

Design Thinking Framework


The Design Thinking Structure


The below image depicts the design thinking structure:

 5 steps of design thinking



Begin by deeply understanding the people you are designing for. This stage involves conducting interviews, surveys, and observations to gain insights into their needs and pain points. (For more on this stage, you can explore articles like What is Empathy and Why Is it So Important In Design Thinking). In the end, this phase is all about asking and understanding what the customer pain point is all about. The clearer you are in this phase, the better you can define a potential solution.



After gathering customer validation data, define the problem you aim to solve. This stage involves synthesizing the information collected during the empathy phase into a clear problem statement. (To delve deeper into this phase, check out articles such as Defining the Problem: Design Thinking 101)



This is the creative phase where you generate a wide range of possible solutions without judgment. Brainstorming sessions and ideation techniques are often used. There are multiple ways to brainstorm and one of the best articles on this technique is linked here. Ask questions to get the best out of your brainstorming session.

Excerpt from the article from MIT “Hal Gregersen developed it into a methodology: Start by selecting a problem that matters. Invite a small group to help you consider it, and in just two minutes describe it at a high level so that you don’t constrain the group’s thinking.

Make it clear that people can contribute only questions and that no preambles or justifications are allowed. Then, set the clock for four minutes, and generate as many questions as you can in that time, aiming to produce at least 15. Afterward, study the questions generated, looking for those that challenge your assumptions and provide new angles on your problem.

If you commit to actively pursuing at least one of these, chances are, you’ll break open a new pathway to unexpected solutions.”



Create tangible representations of your ideas. Prototypes can be rough sketches, wireframes, or physical models that help in visualizing and testing concepts. This is where you can be really creative to test the boundaries of what is possible. If your brainstorming session was any good, this phase will explore the creative outlets of the team.



Put your prototypes into the hands of users and gather feedback. Use this feedback to refine your ideas and make necessary improvements. This is a phase that a lot of tech startups use to refine their digital ideas early on in their product journey. Getting real time and hands-on experience and feedback from users will allow you to see blindspots and address them early.

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Design Thinking Applications


Over the last 50 years, there has been countless applications of design thinking in so many products and services in our lives.



Airbnb's success story is rooted in a deep understanding of travelers' needs and desires, achieved through Design Thinking. By applying the concepts of design thinking and getting as close as possible to users, they were able to take the organisation from $200 per week profit to a unicorn global icon.

Check out the article here on their process and success using the design thinking framework: How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business



By understanding the importance of design thinking, IBM quickly created an internal design team that utilises the framework and as a result their ROI has seen a 301% return. So much so that IBM has now provided employees a tool kit to use the framework in any business decision.

Check out the article here on how IBM did it: 5 ways IBM Design Thinking Makes You Millions


Bank of America

Another great brick and mortar business that has applied the principles of design thinking is the Bank of America. The bank had a partnership with IDEO, the founders of design thinking to find creative ways for customers to open more bank accounts. They ultimately came up with the “Keep the Change” programme. This highly successful banking initiative came out of the design thinking research the IDEO team helped them with.

Check out this YouTube video that explains the Bank of America case study perfectly: Watch Here

All 3 case studies embrace the user at the heart of change and the results are amazing to say the least. By understanding and empathising with customers, we often can see through to novel and ground-breaking solutions and services.


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We also recommend you take a look at some providers on TalentStore that work in the design thinking space. If you’re looking to drive more innovation and product development in your organisations, these options might be a great place to start to help your employees understand and apply the key concepts of design thinking.

ExperiencePoint Digital Innovation Sims: Click Here

Idea Generation by 95% Sdn. Bhd.: Click Here


How do I apply the design thinking framework?


To really embed the design thinking framework into your organisation, it’s critical to follow a few guidelines so that it does not becoming overwhelming for employees. These are 3 tips to get started:


  1. Start Small: Begin with a manageable project to gain experience and build confidence in the process.
  2. Cultivate a Culture of Innovation: Encourage a culture where innovation and experimentation are valued and rewarded.
  3. Invest in Training: Provide training and resources to equip your team with Design Thinking skills.

 Application of design thinking

 Photo by Startup Stock Photos: Image




Design Thinking is a powerful approach that places humans at the centre of problem-solving and innovation. Its principles and process, rooted in empathy and creativity, have transformed organisations and industries across the globe. By understanding the basics, embracing its principles, and addressing its challenges, individuals and organisations can harness the potential of Design Thinking to drive meaningful change and deliver solutions that truly make a difference.


One more last note: if you’re a Malaysian L&D provider or freelancer, reach out to us at and we can discuss about having you onboarded as a partner on TalentStore! Training success starts with access!

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