Using Design Thinking to Solve User Experience Problems


User Experience (UX) Design presents ample challenges that we can’t blindly diagnose. How can we solve problems using Design Thinking?

Too often we fall into the trap of self-diagnosis because of our proximity to the problem, and any resolve tends to focus exclusively on a single or narrow point of view. Inconclusive answers arise, and we know something is missing that we can't see. There are many methods used to problem solve, but I will focus on Design Thinking because of its ability to stay human-centered while fostering innovation.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
— Tim Brown

Design Thinking has been used by different disciplines and industries to solve problems, but as I write this article, I am thinking of how the role of designers has shifted from just creating to adding significant value to the process of creation.

Design Thinking is a designer's tool, or for that matter any problem solver willing to use it, and involves five stages uncovered below.


Empathic Design: Identify needs that customers themselves may not recognize.

Customers are a potent source of fast innovation and can guide the improvement or development of new products and services, but their feedback is only the beginning. Users are one dimensional and focus on the current experience and are not motivated to imagine a new or improved paradigm. They share what’s essential to them or what they think marketers want to hear and are prone to overlook details they don't consider crucial or worse think they are asking for the impossible.

So how do we get the right insights? Empathic Design is used to mitigate the chance that consumers will provide false information. This method relies on experiencing the world through others by observation and documenting participants using product and services as opposed to traditional market research which relies on consumer inquiry that yields biases in surveys and questions.

Discovering customer's unarticulated needs through keen observation and interpretation often leads to breakthrough innovations and design. I would be remiss not to mention that traditional market research has its place, especially where customers are familiar with a proposed solution and marketers are looking for perceived needs and not innovation.


Define: Find the problem to solve.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” This might seem ridiculous, but the prominence is given to figuring out the right problem to solve.

The classic idiom of putting the cart before the horse plays out when we build products and services before we fully understand the real problem we think we are solving. Before implementing a good solution, there needs to be a good understanding of the problem. Why you may ask; to drive customer satisfaction which increases the bottom line and to gain competitive advantage through innovation. Otherwise, you are shooting in the sky and hoping to hit something by chance

During the Define stage, all the Information gathered from the field through the Empathic Design process is aggregated, and the focus shifts to finding the right problems to solve. Attention to user needs, business objectives, innovation awareness, is required to sift through the feedback and identify the critical issues to address.

Success here begins with narrowing the focus of the problem to solve. When describing and framing the issue, the tone has to establish a human-centered problem rather than expressing a business proposition.


Ideate: Come up with ideas to solve the problem

Now that we know what the problem is, the Ideate stage focuses on brainstorming and coming up with human-centered solutions to address the issue. Participants are encouraged to note apparent solutions and then gradually progress to thinking out of the box and unearthing areas of innovation. The leading question of this stage is: “How Might We ....?”

This stage thrives on asking questions and challenging the status-quo. Don Norman suggests that by questioning the obvious, we make significant progress. Many times questions merely reveal a lack of knowledge and every so often; the question sparks a necessary and vital reconsideration.

There are two conventional thinking methods used during Ideation meetings:

I- Divergent thinking focuses on exploring as many ideas as possible, and the quality of ideas is not essential at this stage. Use the problem as the focal point and derive as many solutions as possible.

II- Convergent thinking is the editing stage and involves sifting through ideas, categorizing them, Identifying common patterns and deriving the right answer to the problem.


Prototype: Explore options and test assumptions

Save yourself a lot of headaches and over-investing in the wrong ideas by prototyping. After identifying the solution to the problem, it's time to build a high-fidelity product to be tested. Alternatively, you may contain the prototyping to a specific moment of customer experience that has the most significant risk. Then test it in the context of real markets and customer situations. The goal here is to observe and understand how users think, react and behave while interacting with the product or service.

Prototyping allows designers to get immediate feedback from users, validate product features, understand the problems and limitations, know where to make necessary improvements or remove what’s not working. While running prototypes seems like a dispensable step, the stakes are much lower than launching a flawed product or service.


Test: Fine tune the product or service by fixing any issues and bugs.

The final stage of the Design Thinking method. Rigorous testing ensues after a fully functional product is built. Nothing is ever perfect, and no product will ever be. There will always be gaps and room for improvement. Testing allows design thinkers to uncover any underlying issues through observation, use, and feedback and devise solutions

Iterative Process

Design Thinking is a non-linear and adaptable human-centered iterative process where insights are tried and tested to reframe problems and guide us in finding innovative solutions that are most likely outside the box.

Product and Service development is never a one and done deal. With the ever-changing user needs, competition and technology advancement, success is measured in adapting, innovating and improving the experiences we build to keep customers satisfied and engaged.

Ed Kimbowa

As founder of Rephraze, Ed enjoys helping brands connect emotionally with their audiences through great experiences, beautiful stories, and brilliant design. Connect with him on Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram.

About Rephraze

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