November 5th, 2020

What the hell is Design Thinking anyway?

In its simplest form, Design Thinking is the act of using the ‘creative process’ as a problem-solving methodology. What makes this useful, is it’s especially good at traversing uncertainty. When applied to business strategy, things get really exciting—and predictable.

How things used to be

Our protagonist has a grand vision for an extraordinary digital product. He’s left the tedious confines of safety and routine and taken the initial few steps into the unknown. He’s done his research, has some funding, and is now approaching the first obstacle. It’s time to commit. That dreaded leap of faith…

We don’t need to do that anymore

Fear not! There’s an alternative to this all-or-nothing approach. Instead of leaping, why not first casting a line across. And if that holds, then another. And before we commit to building that glistening Golden Gate Bridge, let’s send a scout over there to see if the other side is even what we hoped it’d be.

Metaphor aside, the strategy sounds familiar, right? A natural descendant from the scientific method we learned in school. Start with a set of hypotheses, a clear definition of success, and then engineer a simple test.

So you mean an MVP?

Not exactly. The ‘Build Measure Learn’ cycle and its associated MVP, have been around for a while now. Minimum Viable Products are great, and sometimes they’re exactly the right tool for the job. But it’s important to understand that they’re not the only way. Or more precisely, they don’t need to be the first step.

At the start of a big project, most people agree that compromises will be required. But once the discussion begins on exactly what gets the cut, the room can get a little tense. We’re fans of the MLP (Minimum Lovable Product). This framework is a little more precise than its predecessor regarding what gets cut out, and more importantly, what’s retained.

The culling of a bad idea this early up the build stream, can savehundreds of design, product and developer hours.

So you mean an MLP?

Well, eventually… Building something lean to test in its natural environment will always be a fundamental step in product design, but there’s an essential step before this that we often see overlooked. It’s also where we think Design Thinking comes into its own. Prototyping. Why not run that same famed ‘build measure learn’ cycle in a fast, inexpensive simulation?


Exploring various elements of a design through quick mockups has been an integral part of physical product design for eons now. Rapid prototyping isn’t just quick, it’s inexpensive too. Having real users interact with a prototype early on provides an invaluable feedback loop, and it’s not just the things that work where the savings are made. It’s the ones that don’t. The identifying and culling of a bad idea this early up the build stream can save hundreds of design, product and developer hours. It’s also much healthier for morale. Showing an ambitious team of makers a prototype that users have said, “I want this, when is it live”, is a very different story from telling your team, “I’m sorry guys, last month’s work didn’t get the traction we hoped for, we’re killing the feature”—or worse still, letting it live unmaintained.

Prototyping today

For a long time digital prototypes lacked the interactive fidelity to accurately mimic the real thing. Consequently, user feedback was always distorted through this lens. Testers would find themselves saying things like, “actually this would…” and “imagine if…” While the user feedback that emerged was still valuable, the doubt always lingered whether it was truly representative. In this environment, an MVP makes a lot of sense. But fortunately for us, we’re not in that environment anymore. Of course, the real thing will always be the real thing—but modern prototyping tools are bringing us very, very close.

Tools like Framer, now allow a plethora of sophisticated interactions that, when skilfully combined, make for a very real experience. This, in combination with existing lower fidelity tools, means that constant user feedback throughout the entire design process is now a possibility.

When implemented, this makes for a very very tight feedback loop. One that can be operated with a fraction of the manpower. The ‘build measure learn’ cycle remains essential, but exactly how we build and how we measure continues to evolve.

So what?

So… what exactly is Design Thinking? Many experts have written on the subject (which we encourage you to explore) and there are almost as many definitions out there as there are applications themselves. Yes, it’s a buzzword. Yes it’s a problem-solving methodology. But what it means for you as a digital product maker is a surefire way of traversing uncertainty. Constant validation, at a fraction of the cost.

Jeremy Lefèbre

Jeremy Lefèbre

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