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Design thinking in 2019

Getting back into the swing of things in January can be a bit of a struggle, so we're using this time to reflect on how creative thinking can help us look towards the year ahead.

Design by nature is ever-evolving, and developing your creative thinking skills is not something easily done with just a new year’s resolution. One way we like our designers to start afresh at the start of the year is to spend some time exploring how we think about design and the design process.

The way we think about design, find inspiration and process information creatively differs from person to person. If you are finding yourself stuck in a rut, there are some prompts you can use to get yourself back into your creative space.

Design thinking is somewhat hard to define but we see it as creative problem solving. The Harvard Business Review explains in this short video that the foundation of design thinking is ‘applying tools from the world of design and shifting the focus to human behaviour’. This video is based on the idea of there being three major stages of design thinking; invent a future, test your ideas, bring the product to life. However, within this there are layers and layers of creative exploration to be done.

To get those creative cogs turning it might be useful to consider the five stages of the design thinking process as outlined by David Kelley, founder of Stanford University’s Institute of Design.


1. Empathise

The basics of this is understanding your audience and this comes from observation, research and engagement. This is a hands-on experience that involves interacting with your audience to understand their culture, values, motives and individual needs.

2. Define

What does the information you have collected tell you? Establish your point of view. This should provide clarity in relation to the needs of your audience.

3. Ideate

This is creative brain storming. Bouncing ideas back and forth, with no idea too big or too small.

4. Prototype

Don’t just try one thing – try a few. Creating a few prototypes will highlight areas to improve and is likely to clarify the problem further.

5. Test

It’s important to test your design, whether that be on your audience, client or other team members, and this may lead you back to any of the previous stages.

We believe the key to this process is teamwork; focusing not just on how our designs will apply in the real world, but also how we can use human behaviour and collaborative thinking to solve those design problems. There is no doubt that it is through effective creative thinking that we find the most innovative solutions to problem solving, and therefore produce the most innovative work.

If you want to take a more hands-on approach to refreshing the way you think about design, the General Assembly is running a design thinking workshop on the 16th January that will explore human-centred design and creative problem solving. You can find out more and buy tickets for the workshop online here.

In the meantime, we will be putting some of these ideas into practice and will have some new design work to share with you soon. Happy New Year everyone, from all of us at 400.