Design thinking framework for life and work

Design thinking for life and work
Design thinking for life and work

Defining design thinking

Design thinking is not just for the designers and makers. It is a problem-solving framework for all of us and applies as much to our work and life. It is a mindset that is not problem-focused but solution-focused. Design thinking as a daily practice will help us create a preferred future, rather than mulling over the current problem state.

Design Thinking opens our mind up to a plethora of possibilities to explore and create the desired outcomes that benefit us, our clients and our communities.

“Design thinking is the search for a magical balance between business and art, structure and chaos, intuition and logic, concept and execution, playfulness and formality, and control and empowerment.” ― Idris Mootee, Author of Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation

Design Thinking process

The traditional innovation process is often thought of in 4 distinct stages – ideate, define, design and develop.

Design process extends the innovation mindset with a 5 stage process. These stages have to be synchronized fluidly into one another to effect innovation.

These are not steps that we follow linearly. Each of these can flow into another and feed back to one another as needed. Because design thinking is an iterative process, we arrive at “interim solutions”. These interim solutions could also redefine your problem statement, just as your solution evolves.

The 5 stages are:
1. Empathize
2. Define
3. Ideate
4. Prototype
5. Test


Empathy is at the heart of design thinking. Design thinking puts people ahead of process or tools. Empathy is: Listening to the needs and wants of our target audience relative to the particular problem. Although tools such as empathy maps exist to structure and record your empathizing as a process, the best way to learn about your audience is through observation, conversation, and engagement with a human touch.


Here we aggregate the insights we gathered using empathy with our audience. This is a combination of the information that we collected, through listening and observation. Armed with first-hand information from our target audience, we frame the right problem with clarity. This gives us the correct “Problem statement”, that we then proceed to solve.


In this step, we get into a creative frame of mind to generate as many ideas as possible to solve the problem. Yes! It’s all about the quantity, keeping all constraints out. It is not about finding the correct solution but about generating as many alternatives as possible, with a fresh mind. Tools like brainstorming, mind mapping, doodling are available to aid you, but the crux of the step is to believe that “more the ideas, the better your chances are, at arriving at the right one”.


Doing is the best approach to learning. So Prototyping is about bringing the solutions to life. The intent is not to make something perfect, but to quickly and inexpensively create a physical/tangible solution. The purpose of our prototype is to check if our solution is beneficial to the problem. If not, quickly change direction (pivot) and make necessary modifications or even create a brand new prototype from scratch.


Here, we test our prototype with our target audience to get their feedback. As with the requirement gathering phase, empathy is also needed while testing the prototype. Listen, observe and gauge whether the solution is right, needs modifications or is not the right fit for your target audience.

In summary…

The 5 steps to the design thinking processes are loosely coupled and flow into one another as needed, with empathy at the core. Once design thinking is ingrained as a philosophy, the applications are limitless. We can apply the design thinking process as much of solving our life problems, as much as building a product to a target market or a solution to a customer.

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Design thinking for life and work
Design thinking for life and work


  1. I think serving your audience by solving a problem that they have is a great strategy! I haven’t heard it framed in this way, but the steps definitely do lead right into the next one. I am going to have to try this!

  2. Although I’m not familiar with this strategy I think it sounds effective. I especially like that it starts with empathy because this is essential to draw people in and show them that you’re on their side and you care about them.

  3. This is interesting. My husband and I were just battling his mom about something political (not going to get into here) and we basically ganged up on her for not having empathy, which meant there was no way for her to ever solve the problem since she couldn’t understand it. So I think you have your order right!

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