Curagami Notes In Blue

Find our notes in blue. Find the full What Is Design Thinking and Why Does It Matter  post at

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative process challenging assumptions and redefining problems. At the same time, Design Thinking wants to solve problems.

Design is so material to everything from product development to digital marketing we would argue the wall between “Design Thinking” and “marketing” is thin and eroding as we write.

Design Thinking develops empathy with people using our designs. It questions the problem, our assumptions, and the questions their implications. It re-frames problems in human-centric ways. Humans, those who use our designs, sit large and in charge in the middle of “Design Thinking”.

Thinking of design as a working process, a collage, is a critical success factor (CSF). Assign design to a tiny group in an outer office and you’ll pay with the most valuable currency you can’t purchase – brand equity. Empathy with the all-important “them” (customers, users, and advocates) is beyond crucial in a smartphone-enabled social media controlled world. Read our Online Reputation Economics post for more on why empathy is so important. Do you have a Chief Empathy Officer? You should.

Design Thinking’s Phases

First described by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial in 1969 all design share similar principals and ideas. We focus on the five-phase model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford,

  • Empathize – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – solutions

It is important to note that the five phases are not always sequential. They do not have to follow any specific order and often occur in parallel and repeat iteratively.

Rinse and Repeat apply to the five phases of Design Thinking. We like to rush to prototyping since testing can happen faster. Best way to empathize is to ASK FOR HELP and then LISTEN. Getting an early and ugly test out there creates conversations. Our users, customers, and advocates teach us how to create winning designs.

The Power of Storytelling

Telling stories inspires opportunities, ideas, and solutions. Stories focus on real people, specific events, and they provide concrete details. Customers project. They become part of your stories.

The Indian saying is right. Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

We design to win hearts, minds, and advocacy. Stories are collaborative, instructional, and emotional. Why do we avoid discussing emotions?

If a design doesn’t arrest (stop your inchoate motion), engage, inspire, and hit you in the heart why do it? Does the world need more boring stuff? Not so much, so sharing stories with vulnerability and emotion is a tentpole within Design Thinking.

The Design Process

The design process often involves different groups in different departments; for this reason, developing, categorizing, and organizing ideas, problems, and solutions can be difficult.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, shows in his successful book Change by Design how Design Thinking is based on generating an empathic understanding of the problems people face. Design involves ambiguous or inherently subjective concepts such as emotions, needs, motivations, and behavior.

“Design thinking taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It is not only human-centered; it is deeply human in and of itself. Design Thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as functionality, to express ourselves in media other than words or symbols. Nobody wants to run a business based on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an overreliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as dangerous. The integrated approach at the core of the design process suggests a ‘third way.’
– Tim Brown

At Curagami we like to say because a measurement is possible doesn’t mean measuring is the right thing to do. In a world where five bad reviews may kill a long established brand what key performance indicators (KPIs) matter? Answer that question win a billion bucks.

Marketers must be an unusual mix of intuitive empaths capable of engineering and analyzing with the best quants. Let’s learn more about design thinking as the “third way”.

Holistically Understanding Humans

Design Thinking seeks a holistic and empathetic understanding of the problems people face. Science and art are necessary actors on Design Thinking’s stage.

Design involves ambiguous and subjective concepts such as emotions, needs, motivations, and behaviors. Design Thinking is sensitive to and interested in context. How will users operate and interact? Design Thinking is an Iterative and Non-linear Process.

The chaotic jumble of idea, tests, humans, and designers is the tumult we’ve become, the discord and disorder we need. Every design promotes or diminishes conversations. There is no neutral. Standing still doesn’t exist anymore. You gain or lose every day with every design you publish, think about, or share. Passive consumers are gone. Wild, emotional humans are here. Your designs must move, inspire, and thrill the buzzing bees required to thrive in digital online pandemonium. And that is why Design Thinking is beyond important.


We shared a FAUNA showcase on our Must Design Flipboard featuring the turkey.