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Service Design Vol 2: Concept of Design Thinking 

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change by design
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Service Design Vol 2: Concept of Design Thinking 


Written by Seungyeon Shin, Doneé Barendze, and Katrina Cirule




In the previous essay on Service Design, the authors learned the basics of Service Design: what it is, why it matters, the double diamond as a design framework, and divergent and convergent thinking. More importantly, the authors realised that the service design process is almost never a linear process.


In this essay, the authors will go deeper on Design Thinking ideology as it is the core activity of Service Design, and it also shows how to have a user-centric approach to problem solving. The focus points of this essay are the meaning of Design Thinking and what the 6 steps (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, tests, implement) of this thinking approach are.




Design Thinking is a methodology to solve complex problems in a human-centric way. Although this concept was first formulated in 1990’s by David Kelly and Tim Brown, design has been practiced for ages: when building bridges, cars, or any end-products of design processes. (Gibbons 2016)


Design Thinking can be looked at from the angles of ideology and process, and a complete definition of this concept requires both perspectives. Design Thinking ideology states that a practical and user-centric approach leads to innovation, which then leads to gaining a competitive advantage. Meanwhile, the practical and user-centric approach can be defined by the 6 step Design Thinking process. These 6 steps can be visualised with the flow of 3 phases (see Image 1): understand (empathise & define), explore (ideate & prototype), and materialise (test & implement). Although the process might seem linear, it is, in fact, circular and design teams are recommended to visit previous steps to improve on defining the right problem and designing the solution right. (Gibbons 2016)


IMAGE 1. Design Thinking 101. (Gibbons 2016)




3.1 Empathize 


According to Cambridge Dictionary, empathy is “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”. In social contexts, empathy is what often drives humans to take action. For instance, when seeing someone hurt or struggling, we empathise with their situation, and wish to help them. The degrees of empathy abilities vary from person to person, however, in Design Thinking it is crucial to keep developing this skill. Why so? (Stevens 2021)


Design Thinking is based on a human-centric approach, therefore, it is all about understanding the people one is designing the product or service for. The goal of the empathize step is to gather information to truly empathise with the user, their perspective, and needs. To make smart design decisions, it is crucial to leave one’s assumptions aside and listen. This includes suspending the designer’s view of the world, being open-minded and stepping in the shoes of the expert (user). Empathise step is a time to stop guessing and begin gathering explicit and implicit insights. (Interaction Design Foundation 2020)



Before diving deeper into the tools and methods that can help assist the empathise step, it is crucial to understand that empathy is a skill that can be developed. Based on the largest ever study into the genetic basis of empathy done by Cambridge University, only 10 percent of people’s compassion and understanding is traceable to genes. Meaning that empathy can be learned and improved through practice. For instance, making a daily conscious effort to understand the feelings of those around you, mirroring the other’s facial expressions, paying attention to body language, or simply listening without judgment. These exercises will not only improve one’s interactions with others, but also open a wider perspective as a designer. (Knapton 2018)


During the empathise step, the design team must both observe and engage with the user. Some of the most widely used empathy methods are:

  • empathy interview– an open conversation with the aim to reveal as much insight as possible. The idea is not to confirm or deny any assumptions, it is simply to dive deeper into the user’s point of view. For instance, ask as many “whys” as possible to get to the core. As an interviewer, it is vital to be present, therefore it is recommended to record the conversation rather than interrupt the flow by taking notes;
  • immersion and observation– observing users in action or their natural habitat assists to identify the needs and challenges that the user is unable to voice or might not be aware of. Some examples of observation are recording the screen of them using an app and later on asking “why do they choose to click this button rather than the other one?” and “what took them so long to understand where to go next?”. Or taking a video of the user using a product/ trying to tackle a problem and asking “why do they behave in a certain way?” or “why do they prefer this over that?”;
  • empathy maps– a visualization used to externalize knowledge about users to create a shared understanding of their needs and help in decision making. Empathy maps (see Image 2) include four different quadrants which the designer should consider: says (direct quotes from the user), thinks (focuses on what the user might think but not reveal directly), does (concrete actions), and feels (considers the emotions that the user feels). Looking from these four aspects reveals what the user experiences both explicitly and implicitly. (Stevens 2021)


IMAGE 2. Empathy Mapping: The First Step in Design Thinking. (Gibbons 2018)

Einstein has once said: “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” In order to define the right problem and create positive experiences for the users, design teams must firstly empathise with their users and see the world through their perspective. (Stevens 2021)


3.2 Define


Once the design team has empathised with their user and gathered broad and deep insights about their situation, it is time to turn empathy into an actionable problem statement. At the define stage, the goal is to answer “what is the core problem?”. In other words, “what is the design challenge?”. By defining this statement, it provides a clear direction for all stakeholders involved in the Design Thinking process and helps the design team work towards a common goal. (Stevens 2021)


Before diving deeper into what a great problem statement is, it is beneficial to understand the relation between analysis and synthesis. These elements are both equally important in the process of creating options and making choices. Analysis helps breaking down more complex concepts into smaller, more easily graspable parts. For example, during the empathise stage, when the design team researched the feelings, thoughts, and actions of the user. Whereas synthesis engages into putting the puzzle back together and forming the overall picture. For instance, in the define stage where one interprets the data gathered to build a problem statement. Although analysis and synthesis might be more prominent in one Design Thinking stage than other, it is a thinking pattern that happens throughout all Design Thinking process. (Brown 2009)


Thus, what is and what makes a good problem statement? A well-written problem statement points out the gap between the current state (the problem, the unmet user need) and the desired state (the goal, the satisfied need) of a process, service or product. This statement is written in an actionable form for the designers. It provides a clear description of the pain-point and guides the design team towards a solution, while keeping focus on the user. . A problem statement example that Stevens suggests is: “Our young working professional struggles to eat healthily during the week because she is working long hours. Our solution should deliver a quick and easy way for her to procure ingredients and prepare healthy meals that she can take to work”. (Stevens 2021)


good problem statement should be:

  • human-centred– this statement should be about the people the design team is trying to help, rather than monetary results or process details;
  • broad enough for creativity– it should be broad enough to have space for different kind of solution possibilities and innovation. The problem statement should not include small details of execution or technical requirements;
  • narrow enough for feasibility– a statement such as “creating better life conditions” is too broad and it does not call to any specific point of action. It must include some healthy constraints to make it manageable. (Dam & Siang 2020)


There are many ways to form a problem statement during the define phase, however, the most used approaches are:

  • the four Ws– from all the data gathered in the empathise phase, try to narrow the focus on four Ws. Who is experiencing the problem? What is the problem? Where does the problem present itself? Why does it matter?
  • the five whys– by going deeper in the reasoning of a problem or a challenge, one can more thoroughly understand the root cause of it. Therefore, the design team can truly focus on solving the right problem. For example, Ella is not having a healthy diet. Why? Because she orders a lot of quick take away food. Why? Because her fridge is empty. Why? Because she hasn’t done shopping in a while. Why? Because Ella is tired due to working long hours. The root cause in now identified and the final problem statement might look like: “Young professionals need an accessible and quick solution to eating healthy meals.”
  • Point of view (POV)-  by combining the knowledge about the user, their needs and insights, the design team can form a point of view statement. The formula goes as: “[User… (descriptive)] needs [need… (verb)] because [insight… (compelling)].” (Stevens 2021)


Define stage is all about using the research executed in the empathise step to concretise a problem statement. This defined sentence should be human and user cantered, and will later on work as a guiding star for the design team. (Dam & Siang 2020)




4.1 Ideate


The question: “what is ideating in practice” arises immediately when we think about the word “ideate.” It is all about the process in which creators repetitively come up with new, innovative ideas. Ideating has an essential role in design thinking, as it assists in all kinds of thinking aspects: It challenges prior assumptions, enhances creative thinking and constantly digs out new opportunities. It’s the third phase of design thinking and the main focus is put on generating quantitative ideas, in other words, coming up with as many ideas as possible.


Although design thinking is not always a linear process, the ideal situation is that the Empathise and Define phases will automatically lead into an efficient and productive Ideation phase. Ideation is similar to meditation in a sense that all the ideas and thoughts that come up should be approached with an attitude of non judgment, allowing a creative space for all ideas to be equally heard and appreciated, without criticizing them. The quantity of ideas is the main importance, rather than the quality of ideas. For creativity to flow, it is essential to create a creative space where ideation can happen naturally.


4.1.1 A few ways to assist the process of ideation are:


  • Implement a physical environment shift: This is a literal/physical way to help people think outside the box. It might seem irrelevant, but the creative space in which one is surrounded plays a bigger role in the ideating than is oftentimes recognized.
  • Set up a calm environment: There are two things that enhance creative flow, number one is getting rid of distractions and number two is having a calm, mindful attitude. Ideation sessions are most efficient when creators/designers feel calm and mindful. It is a safe space where creators/designers are supposed to feel allowed to share their wildest ideas.
  • Use the “how might we…” technique: This technique originates out of the Empathise and Design phases, where it is clearly laid out what consumers and consumer needs are focused on. There is also an already existing problem statement set up in these two stages, on which the questions “how might we…” allows the ideator to break the statement down into more practical steps, turning a potential problem into an opportunity. The emphasis is on the play on words, turning the idea into a possible solution rather than the problem. (Stevens 2022)


We are all familiar with basic ideating tools such as “ brainstorming” and “mindmapping”, but there are endless tools and tricks out there available to be used in these types of ideating sessions. A few interesting examples could be:

  • Worst possible idea: This is a good tool to use when starting off the ideation process, to get creativity flowing without room for any judgment. This works similarly to reverse psychology. Anxiety is relieved and confidence originates from an attitude of playfulness and adventurousness, as the ideas are not approached with a lot of seriousness. This helps in generating as many ideas as possible and sometimes the best ideas come through from this method.
  • Bodystorming: This is a tool used more in a practical sense, where participants have to physically act out the innovations they come up with. This tool helps scenarios to be processed fully from start to end. It merges elements of empathy, innovation along with energy and physical flow, which are meant to result in more meaningful experiences.
  • Cheatstorming: This refers to using already existing ideas and stealing them, then adding some valuable innovations to them. This can be seen as “cognitive sustainability” where ideas can be recycled and reused through upcycling. (Friss 2021)


4.2 Prototype


After the ideation phase, where lots of ideas have been chosen, prototyping them would be the logical next step. This refers to turning the chosen ideas into a real life modeled version, to collect as much as possible feedback (good and bad) from your estimated target audience.


4.2.1 Low-Fidelity vs. High Fidelity Prototyping


Fidelity is all about the detailed and functional way in which the prototype is designed. This is dependent on the stage of development which the product is in. It can either be a wider perspective of the bigger system (called “ horizontal prototype”) or it can be focused on a detailed perspective such as only one feature of the bigger system (called “vertical prototype”). The type of fidelity chosen depends on what the prototyper wants to achieve with the feedback.


  • Low-fidelity
    • E.g: paper prototypes.
    • Pros: Low cost and quick, removable, easily changed or adapted, allows a short analysis of a bigger system, accessible by anyone, and promotes design thinking.
    • Cons: Lacks realism making user feedback more difficult, results are tricky to apply, does not contain the depth of the final product, oversimplifies complicated issues, interactivity is minimized and users need to rely on their imagination quite a lot.


  • High-fidelity
    • E.g: Digital prototypes made on actual software such as Blender or Clo3D.
    • Pros: Interactive – all stakeholders can see the same vision and form opinions based on that, more accurate test results and prototypes more related to the final product will give an overall sense of how it will take place in the marketplace.
    • Cons: More expensive and takes time, after hours of work the designer might lack motivation to make changes and users might mistake the prototype version for the final version. (Brown 2020)


The importance of prototyping relies fully on the fact that it allows the designer and user to visually see whether the original design functions in the way it was intended to, before it is sent into the market. It allows the designer to see the first reaction or impression that their product will have on users and also to fix any potential flaws before it is commercialized. Prototypes are created for different purposes, some of these are: Form, fidelity, interactivity and lifecycle. Form refers to whether it is digitally or physically designed where fidelity refers to the details of the prototype. Interactivity refers to the prototype´s functionality and its life cycle refers to how close it is to the intended final product. (Stevens 2021)

IMAGE 3. Prototyping: The 1-10-100 rule (Brown 2020)



5.1 Testing 


Testing is about verifying  your prototype with potential customers and getting feedback from them.

It can be done with real customers, answering questions such as “Does the solution meet users’ needs, has the solution helped the way users think or perform their tasks?”. ((Gibbons 2016)


5.2 What is implementation?


Implementation is the last sixth step, the most important part of a design thinking process, but the most forgotten. Implementation in Service Design means more than testing and experimenting. It is about ensuring that the solution will be reached and used in the lives of end users (Gibbons 2016.) And it is about answering what to do for building and launching the final offerings based on the feedback from prototypes and pilots.


The difference between pilots and implementation is that pilots are still a context of experimenting, meaning that it is not a full implementation. Considering that everything is new, such as inexperienced staff and some parts of the service in the pilot phase, the design team is often visible as they are always nearby to explain “how” and “why” to people who were not part of the design project. However, in the implementation phase, they will not be as visible or available as in the pilot phase. There are four fields of implementation to make principles and methods in various fields more tangible: Service design and change management, Service design and software development, Service design, and product management, and lastly Service design and architecture. But this essay will focus on change management (Stickdorn, Marc, et al 2018, 271-272.)


5.3 Service Design and Change Management 

5.3.1 Know how people change


To begin with, change management in the service design context means how to apply new concepts and make the changed behavior last in organizations. Tanghe explains the core of service is human interaction: a person who is the service provider is helping another person who is the customer. To be clear, in a designed service, it is always expected to have a desired behavior for both customers and internal stakeholders. Although many people do not like change, it is true that they are constantly changing and sometimes people are willing to take changes voluntarily to achieve certain goals. Therefore, it is important to understand “Change” in Service Design, and how to manage them.


There are three factors that possibly enable people to change. First, when people understand how much they must change, how much they want to change, and lastly how much they can change. So, how to make people’s behavior changed that benefits the service? The chances are getting higher if it is started with motivation and with one small, specific thing differently while adapting to an easy environment. And building a relationship with people who are already used to that change and growing from there is a big help (Stickdorn, Marc, et al 2018, 274-275.)


5.3.2 How to approach change through Leavitt’s Diamond


To understand what kind of changes will be made and what are the consequences of them, Leavitt’s Diamond frame can be used. It is a classic and easily applicable model when it comes to change management which consists of four elements which are Task, People, Structure, and Technology. The point is that these four elements need to be in alignment and in balance for an organization to be successful. Let’s give an example of a smoothie café(Stickdorn, Marc, et al 2018, 275-276.)


Task: It is something that the staff needs to do, like the roles of each of them. What is the staff expected to do and how do they get work done? In a smoothie shop, one has to take orders, the other makes smoothies and the other cleans up.

  • People: It defines the “people” in an organization. What kinds of people are needed, and what kinds of skills are required from them? Would it require formal training? What about the work culture?
  • Structure: It is about how the organization is organized: the departments, decision-making, and what is to be measured and monitored. Is there a monitoring system for customer satisfaction? Where is control at each level? How are the duties divided?
  • Technology: It is any tool and key equipment that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of performance for the staff. For instance, the technology for the smoothie shop would be a well-working blender and easy instructions/recipes for making the smoothie (Mind Tools Content Team n.d.)


FIGURE 1. Leavitt’s Diamond: an analysis framework to understand elements of Change.


5.4 The Power of Beliefs and Emotions


Once people are at the stage of realizing the need for change, the next crucial step is for them to figure out “how can they do this?” and, furthermore, “how to be good at it”. The figure below shows each step towards change, and how the belief works at each step.

FIGURE 2. The Transtheoretical Model: Stages of Change (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983)


Precontemplation: It is the stage that people do not realize the problem of their behavior, or they are resistant to change them. It is the stage where people do not plan to take action within 6 months. Contemplation: People start to realize unhealthy or problematic behavior, and they start to consider changing them in the coming future. Determination: People are ready to take action in a month. It is the stage where they try to take small steps towards change. Action: People changed their behavior and are willing to keep doing it. Maintenance: People maintain the changed behavior and be conscious of going back to the old behavior. Termination: People have no desire to go back to their old behavior. (Wayne n.d.)


Moreover, it is important to note that emotions are the biggest driver for behavior. The skill of connecting with people’s emotions in an organization can be a great strength to be used in change management (Stickdorn, Marc, et al 2018, 277.)


5.5  Key Tactics to support behavior change


By using Leavitt’s Diamond, try to define the internal stakeholders and use a human-centered approach for finding the reasons for resistance to change. Secondly, work co-creatively with high participation as it leads to low resistance. Third, use the power of story to transfer a sense of necessity by creating emotional appeal and offering instructions for the right thing to do (Stickdorn, Marc, et al 2018, 277-278.)




Although Design Thinking is explained as a linear process, it barely ever turns out to be performed linearly or to perfection. The 6 phases of Design Thinking are just guidelines as to how to approach the Service Design process and they help to structure thoughts more specifically. As seen in the essay above, the steps naturally flow into the next one, which is more or less the idea which the Design process thinking intends to create. It is good to keep in mind that throughout this essay, the Design Thinking theory has only been touched on a surface level and there is so much more depth that goes into the process with a lot more tools and deeper explanations.



Brown, S. 2020. What is prototyping? Read on 15.4.2023. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/prototyping

Brown, T. 2009. Change by Design. New York, New York: HarperBusiness.

Dam, Friis et al. 2021. Introduction to the Essential Ideation Techniques which are the Heart of Design Thinking. Read on 13 April 2013. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/introduction-to-the-essential-ideation-techniques-which-are-the-heart-of-design-thinking

Dam, R. F. & Siang T. Y. 2020. Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results. Last read on 23.04.2023. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/stage-2-in-the-design-thinking-process-define-the-problem-and-interpret-the-results

Gibbons, S. 2016. Design thinking 101. Read on 22.4.2023. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/design-thinking/

Gibbons, S. 2018. Empathy Mapping: The First Step in Design Thinking. Last read on 23.04.2023. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/empathy-mapping/

Interaction Design Foundation. 2020. Empathize. Read on 23.04.2023. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/empathize

Knapton, S. 2018. Empathetic people are made, not born, new research suggests. Read on 23.04.2023. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2018/03/12/empathetic-people-made-not-born-new-research-suggests/

Mind Tools Content Team. n.d. Leavitt’s Diamond. Read on 22.4.2023. https://www.mindtools.com/ac3k6vj/leavitts-diamond

Stevens, E. 2021. Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem. Read on 23.04.2023. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/stage-two-design-thinking-define-the-problem/

Stevens, E. 2021. What Is Empathy in Design Thinking? A Comprehensive Guide. Read on 23.04.2023. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-empathy-in-design-thinking/

Stevens, E. 2022. What Is Ideation in Design Thinking? 2023 Ideation Techniques Guide. Read on 13.04.2023. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-ideation-in-design-thinking/

Wayne, W. n.d. The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change). Read on 22.4.2023. https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html

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