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Behind the popularity of Design Thinking

In this article

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving and creativity. The strategy seeks to place users first, by understanding their problems and circumstances, to provide a better user experience. The approach seeks to challenge vague assumptions through actual research, conceptualising solutions that can be tested and iterated.

The design thinking process consists of 5 main stages: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The framework generally starts with first understanding the user’s needs and identifying challenges they face through conducting user interviews, surveys, or ethnographic research. The research results are then used to craft problem statements and identify potential opportunities, which would be addressed in the ideation and testing stage. These few stages of the design thinking process are highly iterative as ideas and prototypes are continually designed, tested, and refined before actual implementation.

The process is often non-linear, iterative, and fast-changing. Even within the same design thinking framework, teams may begin at different stages, or employ different methods within the stages depending on their product lifecycle and needs. For example, during the research stage, in-person interviews are used for reliable, qualitative data. Focus group discussions are less reliable but can provide a more in-depth understanding of social issues.

The key objective of the framework is to identify underlying issues through a detailed understanding of the user experience journey, find underlying opportunities, and craft unique solutions.

However, design thinking is more than just a process. It is a new way to think, to look at the world with a user-focused viewpoint. It transforms the way teams develop products, services, and processes, adding an empathetic perspective to factors such as economic feasibility or technological practicality. It is about embracing mindset changes and taking on challenges with a new, different perspective.

What makes design thinking work?

Design thinking can be considered both an art and a science. The scientific aspect comes from how scientific approaches like qualitative (metrics, surveys, user testing) and quantitative (interviews, focus groups) methods are used to make decisions. These methods investigate and analyses users’ interactions with products under specific, controlled parameters.

The artistic side of design thinking comes from using this research to conceptualise ideas and pinpoint potential solutions that may work. During these initial stages, rationality and experience are important factors in helping teams select the most appropriate solution. Another aspect of this is the creative process itself, where good user interface design principles and design fundamentals are needed in creating digital products such as apps or websites.

As such, design thinking is effective as it takes in the best of both approaches, incorporating analytical, detailed research to break down vague, ambiguous problems while using an artistic flair to pinpoint effective solutions. This makes it very helpful in tackling badly-defined or vague problems, by re-framing it with a more relatable, user-centric perspective.

What makes design thinking so popular?

Design thinking has been gaining traction in recent years as an increasing number of companies realises the value of user-centric approaches. It revolutionises the way top companies create value, with the focus of innovation shifting from engineering to design-driven, and from product to customer-focused.

Top companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft have proven how design thinking can be embraced as a competitive advantage that impacts profitability and drives growth in highly competitive industries. Based on a study conducted by Forrester, IBM’s design thinking practices over a three-year period have presented a return on investment (ROI) of over 301%.

More than that, design thinking is also popular as it is highly applicable in many roles and industries. Design thinking goes beyond just creating products or services, as it can even be applied to systems, procedures, and user experiences. From optimising user growth on a social media app to create a digital website for citizens, design thinking helps develop effective solutions for a wide range of organisations.

A way UberEATS makes use of this framework is by using methods such as order shadowing, where designers would follow their food deliverers and affiliated restaurants in their day-to-day jobs. This opens up the opportunity for the team to obtain unique insights and test designs in a real environment that is nearly impossible to replicate in offices.

UberEATS first launched its app with a simple order tracking interface as shown on the left. After conducting research, the team noted that their users preferred have more visual indicators about their orders on the app, resulting in a newly designed screen with a map, as shown on the right.


Another example is how the Singapore Government’s Ministry of Manpower partnered with IDEO to optimise the process of acquiring new work passes for foreigners. From online interactions (webpages visited by applicants) to physical interactions (actual office space), both organisations worked closely together to re-look at every stage of the user journey, in order to create a better user experience.

Benefits of design thinking in an organisation:

  • Reduces risk in launching new ideas, concepts, or products as proposals would be heavily based on user research and are subjected to user testing with real audiences before release.
  • Create solutions that emphathise and relate with users. Having a relevant product that speaks closely to your users can create a stronger brand and increases metrics such as user engagement, user satisfaction, and user retention.
  • Create ideas and solutions that are not only effective but also highly innovative. Through user insight, the design thinking process can discover underlying issues and identify key opportunities to revolutionise the industry.
  • Obtaining alignment across the company. A huge challenge that most companies face in trying to innovate or pioneer new approaches is to get all employees to be aligned with their vision. An effective way to garner such support is by involving them in the ideation process.


This article provides an overview of design thinking and how it grew to become so popular amongst leading companies. If you find such information insightful to you, be sure to check out our other articles as well. Additionally, if you’re looking to transition into the field of UX, be sure to check out CuriousCore’s 4-month UX Career Accelerator Course, where students get a chance to work with real clients and products through a comprehensive UX design curriculum.