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  • Writer's pictureDiksha Pandey

Human Centered Design Thinking

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

  • What is meant by human centered design thinking?

  • When was Design Thinking Started?

  • What are the 5 stages of Design Thinking?

  • Conclusion

  • FAQ

What is meant by Human-centred Design Thinking?

Human Centered Design Thinking is a non-linear process. The term is used to represent a set of cognitive, strategic, and practical processes by which design concepts (proposals for products, buildings, machines, communications, etc.) are developed.

Business is mysterious and is full of complexity. Value Innovation and Strategic Innovation are the tools used by every business organization to lead the competition. Every individual has millions of thoughts in his/her whole life but not every thought needs to become a successful business plan. It involves several processes and practices therefore Human-centred Design Thinking is also called the process of giving solutions to the end customer through surveys, discussions with clients, and knowing their requirements. Human centered Design Thinking is a non-linear process that organizations use to understand the user, forecast the challenges, and accordingly redefine the problems to create innovative solutions for the end customer.

Human centered Design Thinking is a long process where understanding the problem, getting the solution, and then implementing it after the testing and customer evaluation and survey is very important. Human centered Design thinking results in helping the business to meet its end customer at the right time, right place, with the right strategy and its right implementation.

When was Design Thinking Started?

Human centered Design Thinking is a human centered approach i.e it revolves around humans solving problems in a simpler and planned manner. Thinking of human centered design thinking, the first thought that comes into our mind is when, where, and how design thinking evolved. Why was it required and how does it become an essential tool for every organization?

The first authors to write about design thinking were John E. Arnold (1959) and L.Bruce Archer in 1965. Arnold wrote a book “Creative Engineering” in 1959 where he discussed four different areas of design thinking i.e.

  1. Novel functionality (solutions that are appropriate for a novel need)

  2. The solutions have the ability to higher performance

  3. Minimization of cost

  4. Higher stability

Design thinking was first used by Faste’s Stanford colleague David M. Kelley for business in 1991. In 20018 Harvard Business Review Jeanne Liedtka claimed that Design Thinking works in business.

Big business houses lacked the ability to creativity, which leads to a lack of Strategic Innovation and value Innovation in the organization. In such a case, human centered design thinking had become the most of the business and adapted by almost every small and big business house.

What is the Key in any Design Thinking Process?

Human centered Design thinking is a non-linear process. The key in any design thinking process is the 5 stages of human centered design thinking. It starts with finding out the problem and continues till the problem is resolved, where in-between several things are to be done which are said to be the process of human-centered design thinking. Though human-centered design thinking involves several steps, it is not necessary to follow these steps sequentially. Any step could be used at any time at any stage as required.

Empathize- Empathize step in human centered design thinking starts with understanding the customer's needs through the survey. This is very difficult with human psychology as it keeps on changing from time to time therefore in human centered design thinking one should keep aside own assumptions and gain real facts and choices of the end customer keeping the challenges in mind.

In this step, the team should empathize with users’ needs and the context in which they are to understand the users’ goals that they want to achieve. This helps the team to achieve the best way for the users by using the insights they have gained through empathy.

What points should you and your team keep in mind during this step-

1. By focusing on the questions like “What do they want?”, “How do they want it?”, and “Why do they want it?”

2. Conducting different studies based on video/photos to focus on users’ natural environment or sessions.

3. Using photos/videos journals of users' experiences of approaching the problem.

4. The team should collect adequate data and information, then focus on forming different and relevant questions to interview users in person.

5. Finding solutions that are similar in some way to compare the problem and problems in either field.

6. Create an accurate portfolio of targeted customers and share inspiring stories to users of what you and your team have observed. To learn more study

Define- Define as the process of human centered Design Thinking involves putting together the information you have created and gathered through the empathic stage. Now we can analyze the observations and synthesize them in such an order so that it defines the core problem that we have identified up to this point. This stage helps the designers to develop ideas that define the specification of the problem which further helps to solve it.

The importance of the define stage is that it makes problem-solving an easy task for the team. Defining a problem in a specific way helps in the next stage (Ideation) of design thinking as it motivates the team to generate new ideas and solutions.

A good problem statement should be-

  1. Human centered.

  2. Broader aspect for creative freedom.

  3. Narrow enough to make it manageable

How to define a problem statement?

Tools used for defining problems are-

Empathy Map- Focused on customer thinking or feeling, what they experience and what are the problems faced.

Customer Journey- It focuses on how the customer shops or interacts with the product.

Experience Map- It is what a customer is doing, thinking, or feeling along the given timeline.

Affinity Map- Using common themes or patterns customer feedback is taken.

Point of View- It is based on your insights about users and their needs. To learn more study

Ideate- Ideation in design thinking is generating different ideas for a particular problem by looking at it from different angles and finding alternative ways to solve it is what is ideation. Now you understand the problem and have adequate data related to the problem. Different techniques are used to generate ideas that are based on free thinking and to expand the problem space.

Brainstorming: Building good ideas from others’ wild ideas or interaction between groups of people to create solutions.

Brainwriting: Everyone writes down an idea and passes that to others to add to it before the discussion.

Brain Walking: members walk around the room, adding to others' ideas.

Worst Possible Idea: Here individuals produce a worst/bad idea for a problem and then think opposite of those to create the best solution.

Challenging Assumptions: Challenging established beliefs about problems and acquiring fresh perspectives.

Mind mapping: Using graphic techniques to connect ideas to problems’ major and minor qualities.

Sketching: Using rough sketches and diagrams to express ideas and explore the design space.

Storyboarding: Developing visual stories to explain a situation or a problem and then find possible outcomes of those problems.

Cheat Strom: Using previous ideas as the base of motivation for a new idea.

Bodystorming: Using role-play techniques in the customer journey to find the solution.

Crowd storming: using feedback from targeted audiences generates ideas to provide solutions. To learn more study

Prototype- It allows us to understand our ideas quickly and improves them as quickly as possible. It can be quick and rough, and useful for easy stage testing and learning. Before implementation of an idea planning and testing are done to minimize cost and risk prototyping. Prototyping is done to check whether the solution is satisfactory for the end-users or not. It is an experimental-based model of the solution.

Types of prototyping-

  1. Sketches and diagram

  2. Paper interface

  3. Storyboard

  4. Role-Playing

  5. Physical models

  6. User-driven prototypes

  7. Lego prototype

Why do we need a Prototype?

A prototype helps at different stages of design thinking by-

  • Exploring and experimenting with the problem, idea, and opportunity.

  • Learning and understanding the dynamics of a product, problem, or market.

  • Engaging with end-users and using their experiences in further processing.

  • Inspiring to sell/ accept new ideas.

  • It helps in cost-cutting and less time investment if an idea turns out to be a bad one.

Methods of Prototyping-

  1. Low-fidelity prototypes- Use of incomplete models or less featured products for testing. This helps as-

  • This is a quick and inexpensive technique.

  • Instant changes could be made.

  • Help to gain an overall view of the product with minimum resources.

  • Encourages design thinking.

  • Ideation can be repeated at times of failure.

2. High-fidelity prototype- the prototype looks and operates closer to the finished product. It helps-

  • The stakeholders judge their expectations with reality.

  • Gathering information with high validity and accuracy.

  • Generate more confidence in how people will respond. To learn more study

Testing- Testing itself indicates trying out different solutions created during the process of design thinking to find out their effect on end-users. If a company launches a product without testing, it could be a great failure. This is the final phase but it helps the management to rethink and find further prototype solutions if the testing fails or the solution is not as per the market situation. Even if the testing results are positive, the company can rethink on modification of the product, specialization on a product or service, or its correction according to the changing environment.

The testing stage could reverse the process to defining stage or ideation if the test results are not as per expectation.

Area of test to be considered:

  • The Prototype: The prototype should be designed keeping in mind that you are testing the prototype, not the user.

  • Situation & Future happenings: Recreate the situations so that you can learn more about the feedback or interaction between users, the prototype & the problem that may arise in the future.

  • Do not disturb the user: Observe and collect the feedback in such a way that the user is not disturbed while interacting with the prototype.

  • Interaction with the users: Users should be aware of the prototype and the test. To learn more study

Example of Design Thinking?

India is a tourist place. People travel from all over the world. Different customers search for different hotels depending on their taste and affordability, on the other hand, hotels were searching for their customers.

Empathize: Empathizing on the requirements and problems faced by the targeted customers. Human centered design thinking focused on how to look for solutions for existing as well as future problems with frequent updation on the solutions to remain relevant.

Define: Human centered design thinking believes that customers themselves cannot speak frankly and fluently about what they need which makes problem definition incorrect in the initial stage therefore for defining the problem they focused on the solution rather than the problems.

Ideation: Once the team understood the demand and usability of users different ideas were generated. Brainstorming sessions with all stakeholders are done so that the problem is observed from different points of view and angles.

Prototype and Testing: They focused on prototyping with speedy variety. Initially, the prototype was not well-made workshops but more modest. Before arranging large arrangements of prototypes they focused on repeatedly testing these initial prototypes in a very short period.

Result: The process of human centered design thinking resulted in OYO Hotels which started its operations 3 years ago. OYO became India’s largest branded hotel chain with about 6500 hotels spread across 165 cities in the country. It is the 1st company in the hospitality sector in the world to introduce technology-based solutions to suppliers.


Human centered design thinking is a process of solving problems with continuous learning and customer interaction. It is always a two-way process including five major steps which are not only used one after another but any step can be used at any time at the point of failure. An organization needs to implement human centered design thinking to recreate and reinvent a product, modify a product, feature, or introduce new techniques in order to bring strategic innovation and value innovation to the organization.

Although human centered design thinking is a continuous process due to changing demands and the environment of an organization, implementation can help the organization rethink the solution. Human centered design thinking is based on real-world experiments, not just scientific solutions or based on historical data.


  • Why is human centered design thinking so effective?

Human centered design thinking is user-oriented and provides a structured process that helps the organization in successful value innovation.

  • Is Human centered design thinking the only way to solve problems and be innovative?

Human centered design thinking is not only a way to solve problems and be innovative but also a mindset that can be applied anywhere thinking differently is required.

  • Who can use Human centered Design Thinking?

Human centered design thinking can be used by anyone who wants to solve problems innovatively and creatively, keeping it user-centered.

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