The 1-2-3 Guide to Design Thinking in 2023


October 24, 2023

Great ideas aren’t exclusive to naturally creative people. They can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

What sets great innovators apart from others isn’t just that they come up with ideas, but how they nurture and develop them into something that makes a difference. They tweak and evolve their process until they can turn something that inspires them into something else that applies in the real world of business. 

One process that guides people through the creative journey is called design thinking. This method works hand in hand with its user, and is the secret weapon of many successful people, helping them find their way from an initial idea to tangible outcome. 

The beauty of design thinking is that it’s not just for specific people with special titles. It’s a process that anyone can learn, apply, and benefit from. 

Quick Takeaways

  • Design thinking is a problem-solving method that involves empathy, experimentation, and iteration. 
  • The design thinking process involves brainstorming ideas, making them tangible by creating prototypes, and then testing them with real people to gather feedback and make improvements. 
  • Sharing your idea’s story is the key to inspiring people, moving them to action, and even changing their minds. 

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a problem-solving process that involves empathy, experimentation, and repetition. This approach combines three important parts:

  1. Desirability 
  2. Feasibility
  3. Viability
 graphic shows three key components of design thinking

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Imagine you’re designing a new phone. You can’t just make something that looks cool but costs a fortune to produce and takes a rocket scientist to use. 

With design thinking, you start by figuring out what people really want in a phone. Maybe they want a bigger screen, a better camera, or a battery that lasts longer. This is a desire.

Next, you look at what’s actually possible. Can you physically make a phone with a bigger screen, a better camera, and a longer-lasting battery?

Finally, you have to consider whether your idea is usable. Can you make this new phone without breaking the bank? Will people be able to afford it? 

By balancing these three things–what’s desirable, feasible, and viable–design thinking helps you come up with ideas that are not only innovative, but also practical and user-friendly.

Why you need to know about design thinking 

Understanding people 

Design thinking is about coming up with ideas that prove you understand people and what’s important to them. It’s having real-life conversations in face-to-face situations to see the world from a different perspective–theirs.

Whether you’re a business owner, a product manager, or a financial analyst, understanding people is a big part of what you do. With design thinking, you can tap into a deeper understanding of others and tailor your best ideas to meet their needs. 


The design thinking process is practical. It’s not just about coming up with big, complicated ideas. It’s also about making sure your ideas would actually work in the real world. Design thinking can help if you ever have a great idea but are struggling to make it happen.

Learning by doing

Design thinking is also about learning by doing. You don’t just sit around and share theories about what could work. Instead of just planning, you actively test your ideas, face setbacks, and then give it another shot. It’s a hands-on approach that can make problem-solving more valuable and enjoyable.

The design thinking process

graphic depicts steps to the design thinking process

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1. Frame a question

The start of your design thinking journey begins with a question that makes you curious and eager to find the answer. This step sets the direction for the rest of the process, so rather than jumping to a conclusion, focus on understanding the problem at hand. 

In this phase, adopt a beginner’s mindset and ask “why?” over and over again. This will help you dive deeper into the problem and find the real challenge or opportunity.

Think about the concept of carpooling. Someone asked, “Why can’t we share rides to save money and reduce traffic?” This led to the idea of a few people sharing one car for similar routes, chipping away at the number of vehicles on the road.

When you’re framing your question, make sure you thoroughly understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Once you have a solid understanding of the problem, then you can start to brainstorm potential answers.

2. Gather inspiration

This is where you get to play detective. You’re going to look for clues that will help you answer your question.

In design thinking, you draw inspiration from what people really need. You can do this by:

  • Observing people
  • Interviewing
  • Conducting surveys

The goal is to understand the people you’re designing for. You want to step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective. This is how you build empathy for their world and what they experience every day. And it’s a big part of design thinking.

When you’re gathering inspiration, keep an open mind. Look for sparks in different places and from different people. This is a chance to think outside the box and come up with some really creative ideas.

One way to pick up new ideas is by looking at similar situations or problems in different fields. This is called analogous inspiration. For example, if you’re trying to improve the checkout process in a grocery store, you might look at how airlines or hotels handle check-ins.

3. Generate ideas

In design thinking, you start by brainstorming as many ideas as possible. Don’t worry about whether they’re good or bad, realistic or far-fetched. Just get them all out there. 

Once you have a list of ideas, start narrowing them down. Take a look at your wild ideas and start picking out the ones that seem most promising. 

Remember, it’s okay to go back and forth between generating ideas and narrowing them down. This is a normal part of the process. You might come up with a great idea, then realize it’s not quite right and go back to brainstorming. That’s all part of the design thinking process.

graphic shows that the idea generation, prototype, and test stages of design thinking can be repetitive

Image Source

4. Make ideas tangible

This is where you bring your ideas to life with prototypes. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form–a sketch, a model, even a role-play. It’s a way to see your idea in action. 

Creating a prototype helps you understand your idea better and makes it easier to share your idea with others. You can show people your prototype and say, “Here’s what I’m thinking.” It’s a lot more effective than trying to explain your idea with words alone.

Once you’ve made your idea tangible, you can start getting feedback. Show your prototype to other people and ask them what they think. Do they like it? Does it make sense? What could be better?

5. Test to learn

Testing your idea is about learning how to make it better. Share your prototype with real people so you can watch them, listen to their feedback, and learn from what they have to say.

This can give you all sorts of useful information. It can tell you if your idea is easy to understand, if it’s useful, or if it’s enjoyable to use.

It’s okay if your tests show that your idea isn’t perfect. If anything, it means you’ve learned something valuable. Take what you’ve learned, make your idea better, and then test it again.

6. Share the story of your idea

Sharing your idea’s story is a big deal. It’s not just about explaining your idea, but rather connecting with people. You’re not just telling them what you did, you’re showing them why it matters.

When you’re sharing your story, focus on the big idea before you get down to the nitty gritty details. Make sure your audience is at the center of your story by asking yourself:

  • What’s the main point you want people to take away? 
  • How does your idea affect them?
  • Why should they care?

Your story is a powerful tool that can inspire people, move them to action, and even change their minds. It will help you connect with your audience and let them in on your creative journey. 

Start your design thinking process today

Design thinking is more than just a process, it’s a mindset. It’s about understanding people, being open to new ideas, and always being willing to learn and improve. Through this process, you can come up with creative answers to everyday problems. 

Ready to start your own design thinking journey? As the world’s leading Innovation Architect, I can help. Read more on my blog page now, or email me today to learn how you turn your ideas into reality. 

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.