How to Solve Complex Problems With the Design Thinking Process

Thomas Etter
March 18, 2022

How to Solve Complex Problems With the Design Thinking Process

Design thinking solves problems by connecting with the user experience and testing solutions. Let’s go through the stages of design thinking.
notion image
Used by companies like Apple, Microsoft, Nike, and Samsung, design thinking is a way to create or change products and services that precisely meet customers' needs, wants, and expectations.
Businesses also use design thinking tools to update their company policies and procedures to achieve:
  • Greater sustainability
  • More innovation
  • Better use of emerging technologies
Design thinking can also lead to better-organized offices, factory floors, and showrooms. Plus, staff have higher levels of job enjoyment and satisfaction. The work employees do is faster, easier, and cheaper, meaning higher levels of productivity and higher profit margins.
In this article, we’ll share the five stages of the design thinking process as well as a selection of the design tools our clients find the most useful.

The 5 Steps in the Design Thinking Process

notion image
There are five distinct steps in the design thinking process, according to Stanford
However, design thinking is more fluid than you might expect — it’s an iterative process, which means you don't have to complete one step before you start on another. You might often be engaged in two or three steps at the same time.
The discoveries you make from user testing at the final prototyping stage may require you to go back one or two steps or even right back to the beginning of the product design or service design project you're working on.
So, what are the five steps?

1. Empathize

When you fully understand your customers' point of view and the root cause of the challenges they face, you can begin to create better products, services, and experiences for them.
An example might be an e-commerce website. You might sell thousands of different types of clothing but, in comparison with your competitors, your conversion rate (the percentage of visitors actually making a purchase) on the same range of products is low.
As you troubleshoot, empathizing means focusing on potential customers’ experiences of using your website. How intuitive is the layout? How much focus is there on your products? Understanding their experience is key to identifying any issues.

2. Define

From the insights you've gathered from the first step, you now have what you need to create "problem statements", a very important component of the design thinking toolkit.
Problem statements describe the gap between where things are now with where customers, employees, and others and where they should be.
Let’s say on our e-commerce website from the above example, there isn’t enough structured data against your products. Someone looking for a “denim blue 4XL women’s winter jacket” will get hundreds of irrelevant results back because not enough data is stored on each product for the database powering the website to accurately find them.
Other customers might tell you that, even if they do find what they want, the keyboard on a mobile phone appears over the form fields on the purchase page making it near impossible to buy.
You take each problem statement forward to the next stage looking at it from the point of what the user finds challenging now and how to turn that into a positive experience..

3. Ideate

At the “ideate” stage, encourage your team to think outside the box for novel and innovative solutions to overcome the issues outlined in each problem statement.
There must be no judgment passed on the ideas which arise at this stage. The focus here is on the number of ideas and not the quality.
Ideas at this stage might be to use AI to provide initial classification for each item of clothing’s structured data. Others may be to increase the categories of clothing so that people can drill more deeply into the ranges of clothing on offer.
How would a different screen layout help make purchasing easier? And can users store their payment and address details by creating an account?

4. Prototype

At this stage, you create experimental prototypes from the best ideas from the ideation stage.
Often, prototypes are simply presented on paper as discussion documents. Other times, they may be scaled-down models of a new product or service.

5. Test

The prototype and test stages often take place at the same time. Prototypes are tested on end-users from whom you get continual feedback and data.
While the functionality of a product or service is being evaluated, the focus in design thinking is actually on the customer experience or employee experience.
From user feedback, even better and more intuitive versions of a product or service can be created.
The tests are carried out in conditions that closely match the conditions in which they'd use a product or service.
Sometimes, the possible solution may go back to the ideation stage if it becomes clear that the prototype doesn't adequately address user needs. Occasionally, the process may go right back to the first stage if one or more user needs were not recognized at the beginning of the process.

Design Thinking Tools to Use at Your Business

To give you an idea of the design thinking tools teams can use on product, service, and process development projects, we've included some of the most important below.

Stakeholder Maps

As companies and organizations get larger, interdepartmental communication becomes more difficult.
Stakeholders are not just the end users — they include the marketing team, investors, customer services, technical support, assembly line staff, and more. All these stakeholders need at least some involvement in the design process, which requires some organization.
Stakeholder maps allow project leaders to map whose voices should be heard in the process as well as the relative weight given to each voice.
Many companies start building their stakeholder map by drawing concentric circles on a whiteboard.
They then place sticky notes with stakeholder group names written on them onto the board. The closer a sticky note is to the center, the more important that stakeholder is in the process.
This exercise often uncovers unexpected relationships between stakeholders which may otherwise have been overlooked. For example, if design thinking is used to create a brand new product, there would be benefits in including advertising teams in the process so they can hone their promotional material when the new product reaches the market.


Personas are user research documents contain details of a typical yet fictional customer or employer meant to represent the typical customer for whom a product is being created,
As a design thinking tool, persona templates help team members understand the goals, behaviors, experiences, and needs of product/service users.
Contents of a typical persona template include information on a user’s lifestyle, their education, job title, life goals, values, goals, pain points, attitudes, and desires. Persona templates are often given names (to make the persona more real).

Empathy Maps

Empathy maps are extensions to persona documents that help team members to understand the users being described on a deeper level.
Empathy maps contain information on what a user says and does during research sessions as well as assumptions on what they're thinking and feeling.
For example, many staff can resent the extra work created for them by cybersecurity and IT teams. An empathy map to understand why there is this resentment and how to overcome it could be helpful in this case.

Customer Journey Maps

As a design thinking tool, customer journey maps are used to generate a much wider picture of the user's experiences with a company over time with specific reference to their feelings and thoughts during and after every point of interaction.
Both empathy maps and customer journey maps give insights into clients' perceptions of the quality of your products and services and any after-sales care provided.

The 5 Whys

The "5 whys" is an interrogative technique designed to explore why certain things happen. It helps you find the root cause of a problem instead of describing the symptoms of a problem.
Each time you ask “Why?”, you should get progressively closer to understanding the root cause.
For example, the first question could be “Why has this happened?” The person being questioned might answer “it’s because of A”. Then, the questioner would ask “Why did A” happen?” and continue in this manner until the root problem has been identified.
By examining why performance failures happen and introducing mechanisms to stop them, the scope for businesses to lose customers or be subject to bad reviews greatly decreases.

Brainstorming Sessions

In brainstorming sessions, design research team members come up with as many ideas related to a problem or issue as possible.
Creativity is not a tap that can be turned on or off for many people. In addition, some people are more naturally vocal than others which may deter others from participating.
To help everyone along, practitioners use various different approaches (including gameplaying) to get participants to open up. Techniques vary from going around the room allowing one person at a time to speak to offering prizes for the wildest out-of-the-box suggestions.
The greater the level of participation, the greater the number of ideas a team will have to talk through to get to the next stage.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a design thinking tool designed to help sort related ideas into separate categories.
For example, ideas shared during the "define” stage may include concepts related to user needs, the definition of project success, the roadmap to the end product or service, and problem statements.
Instead of putting all ideas together in one long list, ideas are grouped together into larger concepts so they appear as separate but interrelated groups on a whiteboard or computer screen.
Mind maps help team members to prioritize work and to better see trends and themes across a project.


notion image
Wireframes bear a visual resemblance to the storyboards created by directors when making television programs or feature films. That's where the similarity ends, however.
With wireframing, an idea is presented as a series of elements in blocks drawn on a piece of paper or computer screen.
The more important ideas are given bigger blocks, and these blocks contain spaces for other team members to add notes and other information to flesh out the idea.
Wireframes are useful in helping teams to decide if the concepts that were originated during the ideation part of the process are worth following up to the prototyping stage

Rapid Prototyping

As a design thinking tool, rapid prototyping is a way of creating proof-of-concept models which look reasonably close to the final product and offer similar usability.
In recent years, 3D printing has provided many manufacturers with a way to create rapid prototypes without having to invest in expensive machine setup and tooling.
Users are given rapid prototypes and they then feedback their positive and negative experiences to the design team.
With this approach, teams can create incrementally better versions of the prototype.
This level of testing and refining means that a product or service has the best chance of succeeding among its target audience..

Design Thinking vs. Design Sprint

A design sprint is a time-constrained version of the design thinking process. Originally created to enhance teamwork at Google, there's a lot of cross-over between the two approaches.
Like design thinking, it involves a five-step process. Unlike design thinking, projects are normally completed within five days, often following a period of up to two weeks when team members must first frame and define the problem before the sprint takes place.

How Does Innoveto’s Design Sprint Work?

Our focus when conducting a design sprint with clients is to identify the hidden needs of your customers or users and take you all the way to an MVP (minimum viable product) by the end of the week.
This MVP will contain all of the characteristics of the finished product or service which may eventually make it to market.
Innoveto design sprints consist of the following three parts:
  • Exploration: Using the online tools contained in the web-based Pliik™ app, you and up to 15 participants discover in real-time what motivates your customers and explore customer insights via our intuitive research dashboard. At the end of this section, you get our Key Insights Report containing the most important discoveries as well as our recommendations for your next step.
  • Speed creation: This is a two-day design thinking journey for your team including ideation, prototyping, and storytelling. At the close of this section, you will have four or five concrete ideas to work with.
  • Validation: After continuously checking that the project is heading in the right direction and making any necessary adjustments to the value proposition, we test using high-end prototypes and real customers.

Level up Your Business With Design Thinking

Design thinking is an iterative process that involves relating to the user, clearly defining issues, and testing their effectiveness. It can also involve a number of tools to help you visualize the customer experience, stakeholder relationships, and more.
Innoveto is here to encourage innovation in new products and services. We offer our clients the full range of design thinking tools to help you achieve the outcome you're seeking.
We’ll help you connect better and more deeply to your customers to take their experience with your products and services to the next level with design sprint.
When you partner with Innoveto, you’ll work with process facilitators, technology and digitization experts, UX specialists, CX and facilitation consultants, experienced strategists and innovators, design thinkers, developers, and strategic advisors.
To start your Innoveto Design Sprint, please call +41 43 205 21 73, email, or click here for our contact form.

What are we waiting for?

There are many reasons to speak to us. Maybe you would like to talk to someone about your newest project? Or do you have questions about innovation topics and our formats? We're always willing to listen and looking forward to meeting you. Here you can schedule an appointment online.