Design Thinking in software development

2021/ 24/09

What does design thinking mean? To sum up, it is a framework that puts user needs at the heart of product development. Customers are usually unable to define their hidden and anticipated needs. Design thinking therefore also means the interplay between analytical expertise and intuitive originality, so that product and software developers, with the help of design thinking, can develop solutions that can effectively meet customer's needs. 


The Design thinking process   

The design thinking process is about iterative and non-linear prototyping with continuous feedbacks. Each idea is tested to see if the solution fits the customer's problem. But first: what exactly is the process of design thinking? 

1. Observe: This phase is dominated by the analysis of customers’ needs, a process whereby designers go out and observe users engaged in activities that provide information about the design area. This may involve mere observation or even interviews.  

 2. Understand: Analysis of data collected through observation, an attempt to understand the deeper motivations, feelings and values of the user.  

3. Define: This phase is about identifying the problem to be solved. What difficulties do users face? What is the biggest user problem? What do users really need?  

4. Brainstorm: This phase is about figuring out how to solve the identified problems with your product. The product development team, designers and software engineers brainstorm and generate more ideas.  

5. Prototype: The fifth stage is about implementing ideas. By creating prototypes, we can test the suitability of our ideas. 

6. Test it: Put the prototypes in front of users to get feedback so we can revise and modify the prototypes as needed. 

Design Thinking in software development  

Design thinking brings together the business goals of the customer and the needs of the end user, and embeds them into a perfectly tailored solution that addresses the problem as efficiently as possible.  

The emergence of design thinking in software development has many potentials, for example, when designing the colour of icons and buttons in an application. "But that's just a small detail!" you might say. In practice, however, it's a significant factor, as it determines to a large extent whether our customers will use our product or not. Sometimes users can't find the button they're looking for straight away, so in these cases there are two scenarios: 

  1. They close the window of our application in annoyance.
  2. Spend a lot of time trying to find the button that takes them to the desired function. 

Both cases are unfavourable, since both mean that the user mindset was not taken into consideration at the design stage.  

Another software development example could be the development of a webshop. When you are on the go, it is much more convenient to use a mobile app to shop online than to wait for a page to load in a browser. The problem is that many webshop apps are misleading: to find the product you want, you have to wander through endless sections and scroll through long pages.  

Through design thinking, developers go through every stage, from empathy to testing, and aim to provide users with a solution that makes the search between products as fast and convenient as possible. They carefully consider all the elements, arrange them in a logical way and do their best to make the customer journey as comfortable as possible. 

The benefits of design thinking in software development  

Feasibility check  

Design thinking allows software development companies to test the feasibility and functionality of a future product at an early stage. It allows them to keep end-user needs in mind, clearly define all requirements and translate them into product features.  

Continuous improvement  

The product can (and sometimes should) be modified after release if user feedback is available. It is then crystal clear which features work and which don't; how the product can be improved and what suggestions need to be integrated. This leaves room for continuous improvement and makes the software development process flexible and smooth.  

Clarity and transparency  

Design thinking allows software developers to see and clearly understand the end goals, the problems and have a detailed vision of the solution they have to implement. 

Brain storming techniques  

A commonly used method of design thinking is brainstorming, with post-it notes, sketched boards and diagrams. Some of the "brainstorming rules" are:  

1. Quantity over quality: instead of trying to come up with the BEST idea, just write down whatever comes to mind.  

2. Encourage bold ideas : write down everything, even those ideas that seem crazy at first, that we think would never work.  

3. Build on other people's ideas: one basic idea can spark off many other ideas in someone else. Keep the useful ones!  

4. Visualise: Put the emphasis on drawing rather than writing.   

5. Provide focus: it is important that brainstorming provides the basis for relevant and focused idea generation. 


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” (Alan Key) 


Sources: Goodworklabs, Sumatosoft, Innovationmanagement

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