Design Thinking Tools and Methods Complete Guide

There are several design thinking tools and methods out there. At the beginning of my learning about these tools, How can we formulate these methods in a clear design thinking methodology to solve different design challenges? Understanding the nature of design thinking helps us identify where and when to use the design thinking tools and methods. For example, in the Double Diamond Process, we can determine which design thinking methods are suitable for each stage of the four-stage process. Additionally, we can find design thinking tools that can be used in more than one stage while considering the aim of the tool deployment, which will dictate how the tools are used.

This article will explore the different design thinking tools and methods and how they are used in each Double Diamond process stage. Basically, design thinking methods refer to the practice we use, such as brainstorming the Six Thinking Hats, while the design thinking tools refer to tools we use while applying these methods. In this article, I will discuss both based on the flow of the four stages of the Double Diamond process.

Also read:

The Design Thinking Process

It is crucial to understand the different tools and methods and when they are applied during the design thinking stages. So, it is vital to determine the design thinking process we need to follow. As highlighted earlier, the main principle behind design thinking is the ability to think as a design, including a creative mindset, focusing on human needs, adopting a reflective practice approach and problem-solving attitude. Several design thinking process models have been introduced based on these principles over the last few decades. 

The Double Diamond design thinking process (Adopted from the Design Council).

The design thinking process is more like multiple intersected arenas of thinking than systematic linear stages. However, understanding it in the form of stages helps us explore each stage’s nature separately. In this guide for the design thinking tools and methods, The Double Diamond Design Thinking Process and How to Use it, I would like to follow the Double Diamond Design Process’s four main stages: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver.

Design Thinking Tools and Methods

They’re two types of resources for the practice during the Double Diamond Design Thinking Process: methods and tools. The Design Thinking Methods refer to individual or group practice to research problems, explore solutions, and test proposed solutions. Both methods and tools discussed below will be based on the Double Diamond Design Thinking process. However, some tools can be used in different stages with changing the aim of each method or tool. 

Discover

The Discover stage, also known in other Design Thinking Processes as explore or inspire, aims to explore the problem or situation. This aim gives this stage a divergent nature where inspirational and research methods are used to discover all the available information related to the problem. So, the methods below will be divided into design research and idea generation methods.

Design Research Methods

The research methods here are similar to both desk (secondary) and field (primary) research methods that aim to understand situations where people are involved in the research. 

Secondary Research:

This is where the designer looks into previous information such as previous projects, competitive clients and different types of data already there. This type of research is helpful early as it helps designers build a vision of the situation and determine the type of research needed. The disadvantage of using secondary research alone is that every design challenge has its unique situation. So, the secondary data won’t sufficiently provide you with the accurate information needed to solve the design challenge. As the secondary data are essential to understand the problem at hand, we need to decide if the issue needs to have primary data or not.

Primary Research:

In this type of research, the design team collect the data themselves. IN the majority of the design thinking practise, the primary data collection refers to field research where designers meet with the client sample and observe how they communicate with the problem at hand in real-life situations. However, using available research tools such as surveys can be helpful in different cases. We must define the appropriate method to understand the problem and provide the proper solution. 

Qualitative Methods:

The qualitative methods refer to the research tools that collect nominal descriptive rather than numerical data. These types of data are crucial as it helps us to understand ulna needs and feelings, which can’t be described in numbers. 

Interviews:

Interviews are very common when trying to understand the client or the user. It allows you to see their impressions, listens to their experience directly and be able to ask more questions if needed. There is the type of interviews based on how we prepare for them:

  • Structured: We start the interview questions with no intention to change, modify or add to the interview questions. It can be useful if there is a limited time for the interview, but it is not good from the perspective that the answers can ignite more ideas and questions during the discussion.
  • Semi-structured: This type solves the fixed nature of structured interviews. It allows us to modify our questions and add questions to elaborate the discussion as more ideas and data are shared. It is the most convenient tool as it allows us to learn more and be flexible for the project’s benefits.
  • Non-structured: In this one, the conversation evolves the questions. It is not a recommended method, but sometimes, it can be a method, especially when the interview happens without prior planning.

Focus Groups:

The difference between interviews and focus groups is that focus groups include more than one person, and they answer the questions and discuss it together. This helps to see more ideas during the discussions. However, it has its weakness as many people feel shy to express their thoughts in groups or get influenced by others’ answers.

Observation:

Observation is the most commonly used method in most design projects. We observe the users’ context of use. The observation could be through taking notes or participating with the users to practice their experience. Usually, this method is underestimated, especially when we use it all the time. Understanding the importance of observation allows us to open our eyes and see the user practice as valuable data to use in the next stages of the design thinking process.

Interviews and Focus Group Tools:

While it is helpful to have physical meetings to build a broader understanding of the context of the use of the product or the service, it can be hard sometimes due to several reasons, including the travel cost, time difficulties and the Covid-19 pandemic. Online tools can provide virtual meetings with users, and there are several meeting tools such as the following:

Quantitative Methods:

While the qualitative methods are commonly used, we can’t underestimate the quantitative methods, and the top is the surveys. While surveys tend to get numerical, ordinal or categorical data, they can work very well as an early step before the interviews; it helps users know helpful information that can be used to build discussions or face group questions.

For the survey tools, there are seven online tools such as:

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow a one-question poll which can be helpful to get quick answers to general questions as a starting point. 

The Consumer Journey Mapping

The consumer journey maps aim to observe the consumer interacting with the system and record their different experience. For example, consumer journey mapping can map the consumer experience when visiting a physical or online store to make a purchase or file a complaint. Following each step as the consumers progress in the process helps us gather information about the pain points facing them while using a product or service. 

Consumer journey mapping
Consumer Journey Mapping (Source: Pexels)

My article, Visual Guide to the Customer Journey Mapping, includes how to use consumer journey maps in the Develop step. We will use the consumer journey mapping to test different prototypes and ensure that the developed prototype achieves the aimed target when used by consumers.

Starbursting

The Startbursting technique explores the problem or situation by asking specific questions. These questions allow us to see the problem based on the different parts of the problem, such as:

Who:

  • Who will use this product?
  • Who are the stakeholders?

What:

  • What is the problem?
  • What are its dimensions?

How:

  • How does the problem happen?
  • How does it affect the consumer?

Where:

  • Where in the process does this problem occur?
  • Where does the consumer face the situation?

When:

  • When does the problem happen?
  • When is the consumer’s pain point?

Why

  • Why does this problem happen?
  • Why do we think this is a problem?
The Starbursting diagram.
The Starbursting design thinking method.

In the article, Starbursting Technique: Evaluating New Ideas, you can find more details about the Starbursting and how to apply it in practice.

Define

The Define stage of the Double Diamond Process is concurrent, meaning that the ideas collected from the previous step are analysed to define the problem that needs to be solved clearly. The practice in this stage’s tools is based on the findings of the previous stage’s collected data. The nature of this stage is to reflect on the collected data rather than rigour analysis of the data.

Mind maps and brainstorming

 The mind maps allow us to explore ideas and the connection between these ideas. Each idea or a bit of information is added in an oval or circle shape; then, we build the connection between ideas in a tree branch form. Identifying the connection and the ideas that have a significant impact by being connected with the majority of the ideas can help us define the challenge and its characteristics. 

Reversed Brainstorming

When the ideas are stuck and we face a dead end in defining the problem (or the possible solutions), the reverse brainstorming method aims to solve problems rather than solve them. Through this radical change in directions, ideas can evolve and subsequently reverse the direction of the thing to define the problem (or solve it) based on the new findings. Reversed brainstorming is one of the tools that can be used in box defining the issues and solutions. Check (Design Thinking Tools: Reverse Brainstorming).

5WHYS

Defining the root cause of problems is crucial to finding a sustainable solution that provides a solution for the core problem in the given situation. The 5 WHYs is one of the root-cause problem-solving tools based on a simple principle: asking the question (Why?) around five times. By repeating the questions multiple times, we can reach the core cause of the problem. The number of questions depends on the depth of the problem until reaching the saturation point. How to Apply Root Cause Analysis Using 5 Whys includes details on applying the 5WHYs in practice.

5 Whys example application as a design thinking tool
Fig.1 Applying 5 Whys to problems

Cause Effect Diagram (Fish-Bone Diagram)

The Cause Effect Diagram (also known as the fishbone diagram) explores the root cause of problems by investigating the possible causes related to three main categories:

  • Manufacturing industry (5 Ms): Machine, Method, Material, Man Power, and Measurement
  • Marketing industry (7 Ps): Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process, and Physical Evidence
  • Service industry (5 Ss): Surrounding, Suppliers, Systems, Skills, and Safety
Ishikawa Diagram or the cause effect diagram.
Cause effect diagram step 3

By exploring the problem through the highlighted areas, the team can clearly define the core problem that needs to be solved, as demonstrated in the Problem-Solving Using Cause and Effect Diagram article.

Affinity Diagram

Unlike the tree nature of the mind maps, the affinity diagrams organise data in categories and then rate the organised sat based on its importance. The data are represented with keywords arranged in groups based on similarity. Then, these keywords are measured based on their relation to each other. There are three methods to measure the importance of each element in the Affinity Diagram, as discussed in detail in the article Using the Affinity Diagram to Organise Ideas.

The affinity diagram application as a design thinking tool
Step 6. the final look for the affinity diagram

SCAMPER

Similar to the Cause-Effect Diagram, the SCAMPER explores problems from seven main opportunities that can be used to solve the problem:

  • Substitute: Change part of the problem and replace it with another that may solve or improve the system.
  • Combine: Merging two ideas that may produce an improved system.
  • Adapt: Adjust or tweak a product or service to solve the problem.
  • Modify, minify or magnify: Chang the process in a way that solves the problem or inspires new ideas.
  • Put to another use: Put the current product in another service aiming to solve problems.
  • Eliminate or elaborate: Identify the parts of the process that can be eliminated to solve the problem.
  • Reverse: Reverse or rearrange technique aims to explore the innovative potential when changing the order of the process.

Find more about how to use the SCAMPER technique in A Guide to the SCAMPER Technique for Creative Thinking.

Develop: Design Thinking Tools

Once the main state of the problem or the challenge to address is clearly defined, we move to the second part of the Double Diamond Process, where the solution is formed. The first stage in this part is the Develop, where we start to develop solutions’ prototypes and evaluate them. To achieve this goal, several tools can be used in this stage.

Rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping or 3D printing is one of the evolving technologies that help us develop prototypes with different levels of the qualities, which depend on the type of the 3D printer used and its accuracy. Mainly, there are three types of 3D printers:

  • The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), 
  • Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printing and
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

The first type (FDM) is the most common and affordable. There are drawbacks to the 3D printing prototypes, such as the long time required to complete the model and the cost required to create several prototypes. Guide for 3D Printing Technologies includes more details about these types.

Drawing, Clay and Cardboard Prototypes

Several materials could be used in prototyping. While their quality is lower than that of 3D printing, it could be used in quick, low-fidelity prototypes before 3D printing. This practice reduces the cost because the early prototypes are tested using the low fidelity prototypes before moving to the high fidelity ones. The advantage of these materials is that they are easy to form and change, making them affordable for the team members to use regardless of their creative skills.

Lego Serious Play

Lego Serious Play is a commonly used tool by managers and executive boards to encourage creative thinking when it comes to addressing challenges. Lego Serious Play is an effective tool as it drives the team to think in a modular type and try to visualise their ideas through metaphoric characters. Compared with the Lego Serious Play, it is more effective than the materials prototyping because it doesn’t require experience in sculpturing or drawing. It is a simple tool that many of us use grown playing them. Another advantage of the Lego Serious Play is that it can be used for visual services and products. Check Using Lego Serious Play as a Design Thinking Tool for detailed steps on how to use the tool.

Using Lego Serious Play.
Lego Serious Play is a design thinking tool for both adult and young learners.

Delivery: Design Thinking Methods

The final stage is where the product is tested and delivered to the consumer. After the prototyping stage, the team tries the product to reach the final delivered solution to the consumer. Several methods are used in testing and evaluating based on the product and how it is doing the testing. The evaluation is a professional practice (mainly the development and testing team). The consumers or users themselves conduct the testing. Evaluation and testing determine if the product can be delivered to the consumer or iterated and modified. Several tools could be used for evaluation and testing.

Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats is a simple tool that allows professionals to evaluate the product from five perspectives based on six metaphoric hats. It will enable the team to focus on one direction of thinking at a time. These hats address the problem as follows (Check What Are The Six Thinking Hats? And How to Use Them?):

  • Blue hat: This hat is usually owned by the facilitator who manages the feedback or meeting session where the Six Thinking Hats method is implemented.
  • White hat: The team discusses the information and facts related to the problem or situation.
  • Yellow hat: This hat reflects positive ideas about the situation. The stakeholders think from an optimistic point of view about the problem.
  • Green hat: the green hat aims to discuss the positive and creative ideas that can be used to solve the problem.
  • Red hat: This hat refers to the feelings related to the problem. 
  • Black hat: This hat represents caution and negative thoughts about the problem.
Design thinking tools: The Six Thinking Hats
Figure 1. The Six Thinking Hats and their description.

By discussing each of these perspectives separately, the team can have the opportunity to address the situation rationally and in a more organised way. Check this article for a step-by-step example to apply the Six Thinking Hats: What Are The Six Thinking Hats? And How to Use Them?

Using the appropriate design thinking process tools and methods in the related stage helps reach an effective outcome of the design process. However, there is confusion in determining which is the most effective tool to use. The above design thinking tools and methods guide the different stages and examples of the appropriate tools and methods to use in each stage. 

Bibiliography

Dorst, K. (2010). The nature of design thinking. In Design thinking research symposium. DAB Documents.

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part IDesign and culture3(3), 285-306.

Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part IIDesign and Culture4(2), 129-148.

Lewrick, M., Link, P., & Leifer, L. (2020). The design thinking toolbox: A guide to mastering the most popular and valuable innovation methods. John Wiley & Sons.

Liedtka, J., & Ogilvie, T. (2011). Designing for growth: A design thinking tool kit for managers. Columbia University Press.

Meinel, C., & Leifer, L. (2012). Design thinking research. In Design thinking research (pp. 1-11). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Stickdorn, M., Hormess, M. E., Lawrence, A., & Schneider, J. (2018). This is service design doing: applying service design thinking in the real world. ” O’Reilly Media, Inc.”.

Summary

What are the stages of design thinking?

The Double Diamond Design Thinking process consists of four stages:
Discover: The design team explores the problem or the challenge at hand. This practice may involve doing field research.
Define: In this stage, the team develops a clear understanding of the problem.
Develop: The team develops several prototypes and ideas to solve the problem.
Deliver: The team tests the different prototypes and reaches the final product that must be delivered to the client.

What are the design thinking tools and methods?

Design thinking tools and methods are the different practices conducted in each stage of the design thinking process to solve problems or address challenges. The tools and methods differ based on the stages:
Discover: Field research and desk research methods (interviews, focus groups, observation, and surveys)
Define: mind mapping, reversed brainstorming, affinity diagram, 5 Whys, Cause-effect diagram.
Develop: 3D printing, online prototyping, clay and cardboard models.
Deliver: Testing, validation, A/B testing, and six thinking hats

Post main image copyrights: Collaboration vector created by vectorjuice – www.freepik.com

Designorate Team

Designorate team are authors and editors behind this website.

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