top of page

Design Thinking + Innovation Strategy

Design Thinking is a mindset. It's also an approach to problem-solving that puts PEOPLE at the center of the process.

Design Thinking recognizes that the best insights often come from the users themselves.

This page is focused on the WHAT, WHY and HOW of the Design Thinking process. For ideas, lesson plans and facilitation tips visit Design Thinking: Teaching + Facilitation

To read more about my recent projects using Design Thinking please visit User Experience Research + Design

There are many different Design Thinking Process Models...but they have a lot in common!

There are lots of Design Thinking process models out there, and each company seems to want to create their own spin on it. From the "Double Diamond" to the Stanford model, to the IBM Design Thinking model, each visualization has the same core ideas in common:


People come first, and empathy is everything


Design Thinking embraces the unknown,

and challenges us to ask "Why" 


Don't expect to "get it right" on your first try.

Embrace "mistakes", "fail fast" and improve

each time!

1. Empathize

It all starts with EMPATHY...

Empathy is the key to discovering the true needs and desires of your users (and stakeholders), and the secret recipe for ground-breaking innovation and exceptional design. 

The best way to build empathy is to "do as they do" and immerse yourself in the users' environment! Experience what they're experiencing, shadow them, take pictures, and ask questions!

Other methods of ethnographic research (a.k.a. field research) are helpful too. Interviews, Surveys, and Cultural Probes can help you gain a better understanding of the thoughts, wishes and desires of the users you're studying.

2. Define

Problems are tricky. Sometimes we might think a problem is straightforward, but upon further examination, we discover it's a multi-faceted SYSTEMIC PROBLEM...or even a "Wicked Problem"

Solutions that only address one part of a systemic problem are essentially only "Band-Aid" fixes, meaning they only last a short while, and don't actually SOLVE the problem.

Tackling systemic problems is extremely challenging, and difficult to do correctly without causing unintended consequences. However, Design Thinking (with the help of additional Systems Thinking) empowers us to truly solve these challenges.

One of the best ways to make sure you're truly understanding a the "root" of a problem is to ask "Why" a lot. When interviewing people, ask them to explain WHY something is happening, or why they are frustrated etc. You'll be surprised by the results, and how much clearer the "big picture" becomes.

You can also use a "zoom in, zoom out" method of thinking, and mind map the system of the problem and how it relates to other problems.

Once you are confident you've discovered some of the causes related to your original problem, you're ready to write some "How Might We" statements!

"How Might We" statements are a great way to frame your project and define your goal. If you aren't familiar with the How Might We approach, start by reading the Harvard Business Review article, "The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use"

3. Ideate

Let the brainstorm begin...soon!

It may be tempting to jump right in to ideating solutions after defining the problem...BUT you may want to consider revisiting the "Empathy phase" to make sure your How Might We statements and understanding of the problem(s) are correct.

Also, before beginning ideation, you should take time to affinitize ALL of the data you have collected so far! After affinitizing, the insights from the data will emerge. This is the exciting part!


The affinitization process helps you "read between the lines" and discover the true meaning and underlying insights among the chaos and complexity. Never affinitized before? Read this guide to get started:

Design Thinking Methods Affinity Diagrams

After the set of insights have been extracted from the data, it's time to truly start ideating! 

There are several methods of ideating a.k.a "coming up with ideas", but one of my favorites is the Crazy 8's technique. You can read more about the Crazy 8's technique HERE, but essentially it goes like this:

  1. Take your paper and fold it into 8 sections.

  2. Set the timer for 8 minutes.

  3. Sketch one idea in each rectangle.

  4. When the timer goes off, put your pens down.

This technique is even more powerful in groups because at the end of the activity you will have eight ideas from each person! 6 people = 48 ideas!

10 people = 80 ideas! Still have ideas? Do another round! The fast pace of the activity suppresses judgement and encourages you to just put your ideas out there, no matter how CRAZY they might seem!

With so many ideas to choose from, you need a method of determining which ideas are worth pursuing further. You may have project deliverables established already, but the most useful method for evaluating ideas is plotting them on a 2x2 diagram with the criteria of FEASIBILITY and IMPACT. 

IMPACT addresses how meaningful the idea would be to the users/stakeholders if it were fully implemented. This can be somewhat subjective, but try to imagine the potential market size for the idea, or how many people it would benefit.

FEASIBILITY addresses the overall complexity and difficulty of making the idea into a reality. Budget and resources should be considered.

In theory, you should choose the ideas that are "quick wins" in the HIGH Impact and HIGH Feasibility section. This means these ideas will be easy to implement, and will be very meaningful (and useful) to the users/stakeholders.

BUT before you throw out the rest of your ideas...

Are there any ideas that could be combined to make them even "stronger"? Are there any ideas that are especially innovative, or potentially meaningful? Keep these ideas on the "back burner" to use in the future.

4. Prototype

If you build it...

Prototyping is a powerful method of bringing your concepts to life. All products (and other innovations) are prototyped in some way, usually multiple times, before the final version is created.

This is one of phases of the Design Thinking process where iteration really comes in. 

The way you prototype your idea with depend on what the idea is. Generally, you should first prototype you ideas on a small scale, using cheap materials. This allows you to see a 3D version of your idea, without investing too much time or money. For example, fashion designers don't "wing it" using silk and leather; they first create a rough draft using muslin and other inexpensive materials.

5. Test (and Iterate!)

After you have prototyped your ideas, you should test them by interacting with the prototype and asking for feedback from the users and stakeholders. The prototyping + testing process is iterative, as well as the entire process! You may find that your prototype isn't what the users/stakeholders want (or they wouldn't realistically use it) so it's necessary to revisit the Empathy and Ideation phases to gather more data and correct some flaws. In some ways, everything is always a "work in progress". Don't be afraid of challenging yourself to constantly revise...and innovate! Happy designing!

For ideas, lesson plans and facilitation tips visit Design Thinking: Teaching + Facilitation

To read more about my recent projects using Design Thinking please visit User Experience Research + Design

bottom of page