Marian Abio



May 22, 2023

Design thinking: A comprehensive guide for beginners

Marian Abio
May 22, 2023

Design is everywhere.

It's not just about aesthetics; it's a process of creating solutions. Design influences our daily experiences and behaviors, from physical products to digital interfaces. It plays a critical role in shaping the world we live in.

But design is not limited to professionals. Anyone can use design to create solutions and improve the world around them. How? Through design thinking.

In a nutshell, design thinking is an out-of-the-box approach that puts people at the center of problem-solving. It redefines solutions to pressing issues, no matter what field they are in.

Why design thinking?

In today's rapidly changing world, businesses and organizations face an ever-growing list of complex challenges. Many of them are turning to design thinking to overcome these obstacles. Here are some of the benefits of this approach:

  1. It accurately identifies stakeholder needs, resulting in solutions that better answer stakeholder expectations and needs. 
  2. It provides a strong framework for problem-solving focused on stakeholders' needs and preferences.
  3. It promotes teamwork and collaboration, fostering a shared purpose and direction toward a common goal.
  4. It provides a strong framework for problem-solving that is focused on the needs and preferences of stakeholders.
  5. It is a non-linear approach that emphasizes constant improvement, iteration, and adaptation.

What are real-life examples of impact innovations using design thinking?

Through design thinking, the potential for workarounds is boundless. Check out these innovations for examples:

1. Netflix
Logo of streaming service, Netflix. Photo from PC Mag.

Starting as a service that delivered films to doorsteps, Netflix used design thinking to improve its business model and become a renowned streaming site amidst competitors. One leverage they used was artificial intelligence, which made the experience unique for each user based on their viewing habits. By recognizing the demands of their customers through empathy, they could meet the market's expectations in the long run.

2. Airbnb
Logo of homestay rental company, Airbnb. Photo from Digital Ink.

In 2009, Airbnb faced financial struggles and was close to bankruptcy. However, they employed design thinking principles, specifically empathizing with user preferences, to transform their business. Their innovative solution involved enhancing the presentation of their services by posting higher-quality photos of their listings to attract more rentals. This strategic move proved highly effective, resulting in a doubling of their weekly earnings.

3. #DigiTalino
#DigiTalino toolkit and training launch. Photo by Limitless Lab.

Limitless Lab, a global social innovation company based in the Philippines, co-designed #DigiTalino, a curriculum to tackle the challenges associated with fake news. 

Using design thinking, the team created a toolkit that promoted critical thinking and media literacy skills to combat the spread of misinformation in the country, used by master trainers all over the Philippines.

4. Digital Farmers Program (DFP)
Digital Farmers Program workshop. Photo by Limitless Lab.

With the low tech adoption rate in the Filipino farming community, Limitless Lab, together with DA-ATI and PLDT-Smart,  co-created a three-tiered training program that teaches farmers about different tech tools. 

The team conducted a full-day design thinking workshop to understand the challenges and needs of the farming community, then designed practical and bite-sized modules highlighting the different tools farmers need to increase farm productivity and income. 

How to get started with design thinking?

Getting started with design thinking means understanding its 5-step process. Understand, however, that design thinking is not linear. Organizations can decide on which step is best for them depending on where they are in the innovation process. 

  1. Empathize and understand the needs and perspectives of the stakeholders who are affected by the problem. Conduct interviews, observations, or surveys to gain insights.
  2. Define the problem statement, as well as the goals that you want to achieve.
  3. Ideate a wide range of potential solutions. Encourage free thinking and collaboration among team members.
  4. Prototype your ideas. These can be physical representations or digital.
  5. Test and gather feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions. Use these to further refine and improve your designs.
  6. Iterate continuously and refine the solution based on evaluation.

A good way to begin these steps is by conducting a design sprint. It is a time-limited, collaborative process where a team works intensively to solve problems, generate ideas, create prototypes, and test them quickly. Limitless Lab employed this method and obtained valuable insights that inspired their objective of creating #DigiTalino, a solution tailored to the Filipino audience. Here are some ideas to get you started on your design thinking sprints:

Mind mapping

This is a visual tool that helps brainstorm, organize, and connect ideas around a central theme in a structured and engaging way.

Mind mapping for website creation. Photo from Pexels.

This is a technique for generating a large number of diverse ideas quickly, encouraging the free flow of thoughts without criticism or judgment.

A business team brainstorming. Photo from Pexels.
Affinity mapping

This is a process that visually groups ideas, data, or information based on their relationships or similarities to identify patterns and insights.

Affinity mapping for website creation. Photo from Pexels.

This is a visual representation of a storyline, usually in the form of illustrations or images arranged in a sequence.

Storyboarding for a music performance. Photo from Unsplash.
User Personas

These are fictional characters that represent a group of users, based on research and data, to help you understand the needs and behaviors of your target audience.

Example of a user persona. Photo from Konrad.
Customer Journey Maps

These are visual representations that illustrate the steps customers take to engage with a company, highlighting their pain points and opportunities for improvement.

Customer journey map for product purchase. Photo from iStock.

Who can facilitate a design thinking sprint?

The facilitator of a design thinking sprint must have ample knowledge of the process, strong facilitation skills, and excellent communication abilities. While subject matter knowledge is beneficial, it is not mandatory. They should be open-minded, adaptable, empathetic, and patient, considering the iterative nature of design thinking.

Preparing for a design sprint involves several key steps to ensure a smooth and successful session:

  1. Define the goal and scope: Clearly articulate the problem you want to address during the sprint. Define the desired outcomes to focus your activities.
  2. Assemble a diverse team: Bring together individuals from different departments, roles, and levels within the organization to foster creativity and collaboration.
  3. Conduct pre-sprint research: Gather relevant information, data, and insights related to the problem such as user research.
  4. Create a sprint schedule: Establish a well-defined schedule for the design sprint, including specific dates, times, and duration for each phase. Allocate sufficient time for each activity, ensuring the sprint stays on track.
  5. Gather necessary materials and resources: This may include whiteboards, sticky notes, prototyping materials, and any other resources specific to your sprint activities.
  6. Prepare the sprint space: Set up a dedicated physical space conducive to collaboration and creativity.
  7. Familiarize the team with design thinking: Provide introductory materials to ensure everyone understands the principles, process, and goals of design thinking.
  8. Define specific sprint activities: Plan and outline the activities to be conducted during each phase of the design sprint.
  9. Set expectations: Clearly communicate the purpose, goals, and expectations of the design sprint to all participants.

By following these steps, you can effectively set the stage for a productive and successful collaborative problem-solving process.

Where else to apply design thinking?

Whether it's developing products and services, driving business innovation, addressing social issues, or even improving everyday life, design thinking can help generate creative and effective solutions.

Here are six ways that design thinking can be applied in various contexts:

  1. Product Development
  • It can lead to more innovative, user-friendly products that are more likely to succeed in the marketplace.
  1. Service Design
  • It is also applicable in designing the intangible experiences that customers have with a service.
  1. Business Innovation
  • It can provide a structured framework for generating and testing new ideas, understanding customers' needs and pain points, and creating solutions.
  1. Social Impact
  • It can be used in areas such as healthcare, education, environmental sustainability, and poverty alleviation, among others.
  1. Education
  • It can help in designing user-centric curriculums, developing engaging learning experiences, and improving the overall learning environment.
  1. Everyday Life 
  • It can also be applied to everyday life by using its principles to solve personal problems, improve relationships, and enhance overall well-being.

To effectively apply design thinking, it is essential to start with empathy, embrace ambiguity, experiment with ideas, and collaborate with stakeholders. By adopting these key principles, teams can develop innovative, user-centered solutions that address real-world problems and create positive impact.

In the Philippines, the approach is already gaining traction. Limitless Lab, a global design and social innovation agency that co-creates innovation with governments, NGOs, and corporations, is pioneering the use of design thinking. Since 2018, they have collaborated with organizations and individuals, including The Asia Foundation, Smart Communications, and Microsoft.

Interested in learning more about design thinking or co-designing a social innovation? Hit us a message!

Our Latest Updates

Let's co-design a better future together!

Book a Free Consultation