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What is Design Thinking: Definition, Career & Scope

Design Thinking has emerged as a human-centric way of developing solutions for contemporary users. This concept has many use cases across diverse industries, from Information Technology and services to education and entrepreneurship. If you are wondering what is design thinking and how it works, read on to dispel your doubts! 

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking differs from the traditional design process as it is not linear but iterative in nature. Teams use it to understand the end-users, question hard-set assumptions, and redefine problems. This way, they can create innovative solutions and test them for tackling complex, unknown challenges.  

The keyword here is “unknown” as design thinking is especially useful for highly ambiguous problems that do not have a definitive solution in sight. Theorist Horst Rittel coined the term “wicked problems” for such issues that do not have a stopping point. Instead, they require an ongoing process to address them. 

Ever since Nobel laureate Herber A. Simon first mentioned design thinking in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial (1969), professionals from diverse fields have contributed to the literature. Today, we can witness its application in engineering, architectural, and industrial fields. Besides this, most future-oriented organisations adopt this process to design user-oriented products and services. With it, teams can perform better UX research and uncover new approaches through prototyping and usability testing.

We have broken down this information into easily digestible chunks for you below! 

Stages of Design Thinking Process

Now that you know what design thinking means, let us take you through what it entails. The entire process can be divided into five stages, namely: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. These are not sequential steps but different means of approaching design projects. As a practitioner, you should aim to gain deeper insights into users’ needs throughout the process. 

The five stages of design thinking are discussed in detail below:

  • Empathise 

The research phase of the design thinking process is guided by empathy. You need to understand the user’s perspective and further apply the insights to solve the problem at hand. For this to happen effectively, you need to to set aside your own assumptions and find new and more intuitive ways of gathering data.

  • Define

It is best to define the problem and categorise user needs before you start analysing the issue. Your efforts should focus on accumulating observations and synthesising information, thus constructing problems statements from the user research. The definition phase also involves developing personas to represent different types of users who would actually use the product, service, or brand. Such portrayals enable human-centred design based on the goals, experiences, and behaviours of real-life users. 

  • Ideate

This phase places emphasis on out-of-the-box thinking. You have to come up with alternatives for viewing the problem as well as for solving it. A brainstorming method is considered particularly helpful for gathering diverse outlooks. It offers a free-thinking environment and challenges assumptions and everyday thought patterns that humans unconsciously rely on, creating room for fresh and distinctive ideas. 

  • Prototype 

This is the experimental stage where designers begin trying their hand at their solutions. Here, the objective is to produce a scaled-down version of the product and investigate whether specific features work for the audience. Teams may sketch or print a sample (also known as paper prototyping) to realize and test their concepts before large sums of money are committed to a project.  

  • Test

Testing is concerned with evaluating the prototypes rigorously and iteratively. This means design teams keep improving upon the product or solution by redefining problems and identifying new ones. Apart from making alterations and refinements, this stage also includes ruling out alternative courses of action.

A critical takeaway from the above synopsis is that design thinking digs deeper into the consumers’ psyche and incorporates co-creation as an essential element throughout the process. 

Design Thinking at Work

Apart from design thinking, modern-day boardrooms are filled with catchwords like “lean” and agile”. Let us elucidate the functioning of the design thinking process in alignment with these business methodologies. 

  • Design Thinking: A methodology used for exploring and solving problems.
  • Lean: A framework for testing beliefs and finding the right way to reach outcomes. 
  • Agile: A discipline for adapting to the constantly changing conditions with software.

You will observe that lean principles take over once you have established a suitable solution for your problem. Designers continuously test their ideas and gather feedback to see what works. To do this, they must overcome departmental silos and collaborate with cross-functional teams. The agile methodology finally ties all of this together. It divides the project implementation into short sprint cycles that can be built upon incrementally. This way, a business can deliver maximum value to the customers and boost its overall performance. 

When used together, these three approaches can reap great benefits for an enterprise. Design thinking, in itself, brings the following advantages:

  • Reduces time-to-market: Collaborative problem-solving cuts the time spent on design and development.
  • Cost savings and greater ROI: Faster rollouts help businesses save money. Design thinking practices can yield an ROI of up to 300% as per IBM’s experience.
  • Customer retention and loyalty: User-centric approaches improve customer success in the long run.
  • Innovative organisational culture: Design thinking fosters innovation and extends the tenets to all stakeholders. 
  • Company-wide application: It is not just for designers but also for encouraging cross-team collaboration at the company or industry level.

Due to the above advantages, design thinking specialists are highly demanded across multinational companies, tech giants, startups, and independent agencies. 

Career Opportunities in Design Thinking 

Professionals familiar with the concept and practice of design thinking can prove to be a driving force for organisational success. And future-oriented organisations understand the possibilities. Today, you can find several job positions that mention “knowledge of design thinking” under the desired skills section. Here are some examples of the posts available:

  • Strategist, Brand Experience Design
  • Lead, Innovation
  • Design Researcher
  • User Experience (UX) Designer 
  • Head of Product Design
  • Service Designer

Here are some standard tasks noticed across these roles:

  • Interacting with clients and defining their challenges. 
  • Experimenting to get behind hard-to-access information. 
  • Using hands-on methods to extract ideas and find answers. 
  • Building business plans, service design, product roadmaps, etc. 
  • Testing the solutions before they are launched in the market.
  • Innovating upon existing practices to create scalable solutions. 

From global powerhouses like Apple, Google, Amazon and Airbnb to leading Indian companies like PayTM, BookMyShow and MakeMyTrip, organisations are wielding the merits of design thinking to a notable effect. 

So, we have established that design thinking professionals are popular in the job market today. But how much do these occupations pay? What qualifies you for such work? Let’s find out.

Salary, Eligibility & Future Scope

Design thinking jobs typically have a handsome remuneration attached to them because the industry has a shortage of experienced professionals in this domain. According to Glassdoor, a Design Thinking Strategist earns an average salary of ₹14,39,216 in India. Payscale India estimates the mean pay for UX designers at ₹6,63,093. 

Like any other sector, the pay structure is also influenced by factors like educational qualifications, skill profile, years of experience, job location, and company growth stage. 

If you are a fresh graduate or an entry-level professional interested in learning more about design thinking techniques, you can upskill with courses like upGrad’s Design Thinking Certification Programme. This three-month certificate from Duke CE is making global education accessible via online sessions, videos, case studies, and projects. You can also attend live interactions and get personalised student support. 

Such specialised programmes are excellent for those looking to start their innovation journey of leading and driving design-led projects. In particular, product specialists, social entrepreneurs, management professionals, and marketing managers can transform their working style and deliver better results. All you need in terms of eligibility is a valid bachelor’s level degree in any discipline. 

Moreover, design thinking is for everyone and for every level of the organisation. Whether you are a creative designer, a freelancer, or a team leader, it helps you infuse meaning and relevance into business and social solutions.

Let us close this discussion, let us leave you with a few rules that capture the essence of the design thinking process.

  • Human rule: Design is a social activity that must bring us back to the “human-centred” viewpoint. 
  • Ambiguity rule: Ambiguity can never be eliminated completely. And experimenting with the limits of the ‘known’ allows us to look at things differently. 
  • Redesign rule: Technology and circumstances keep evolving, but the basic human needs remain unchanged. Thus, all design must include a component of redesigning the “means of fulfilling needs” or “ways of reaching desired outcomes”.
  • Tangibility rule: Making ideas tangible (prototype) facilitates better communication between design teams and across the organisation. 

It is clear from the above points how rational and analytical strategies coupled with humanistic intention are beneficial for all stakeholders.

With this, we have covered what is design thinking, simplified the design thinking process, and made you aware of some emerging career prospects. We hope you use this knowledge to add value to your profile and generate ground-breaking solutions!

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