Design Thinking and How We Use It


Design Thinking and How We Use It


Think Design

I recently had a conversation about design thinking with the director of a strategy firm that specialized in it. I mentioned design thinking was a system we employ fairly often at Toronto Creatives. The conversation was short but enjoyable and we agreed to chat more after the conference we were both attending at the time.

Shortly thereafter I received an email. It had been a couple of weeks since we had spoke but I recalled our conversation and was eager to continue it. The tone of her email had certainly shifted since our conversation. She seemed a bit annoyed. She stated that Europeans have a much better grasp on design thinking and utilizing it in business better than companies in North America. I’ve heard this said about both wine and democracy.

This struck me as almost funny. Mostly because no, we really don’t talk that much about design thinking on our blog and maybe we should, but I think almost every creative person I’ve worked with in Toronto utilizes it, maybe instinctively – and maybe they have never heard of it. Effectively what we’re talking about is problem identification, solution ideation, rapidly testing the solutions you come up with revising as you go from what you learn until it works. Ideally the design would work perfectly forever, but to this day I don’t think that’s ever happened. The process of design and testing is known as a design thinking technique. Oh and maybe the secret ingredient to what makes great design thinking work – you’re supposed to try and forget / unlearn everything you know or think you know about what you’re working on and start from a place of knowing nothing. Maybe I’ve just worked with too many independent artists and self taught developers but when design thinking was first described to me – it sounded like problem solving using reasonable observation and testing. You know, life.

So when do we use design thinking and how?

Well here’s a couple of fairly typical but very different examples.

When we see a camera or set effect we like but might be unfamiliar with – after some research to determine if there has been a YouTube tutorial with a positive life message, that has been created to explain the process yet. If not we start experimenting – if there is we experiment anyways and try to give the shot a little of our own flavour. The process to get a shot looking the way you want can in itself be an exercise in design thinking.

Another and totally different use can be when we’re not exactly sure what we’re trying to achieve and we’re learning as we go. When a company has an open-ended question like:

How to I get more sales from my website?

How can I market my company?

Gathering information and testing that information is an integral part of design thinking. It’s important to work from the ground up even if you don’t think you need to.

We most commonly use this kind of structure when we’re managing social / digital ad campaigns. As these kind of campaigns are dynamic they can be augmented along the way and adjusted as you learn more about your audience.

You can actively compare data points and reach educated conclusions – or at least a new hypothesis.

This kind of dynamic advertising can significantly increase the effectiveness of a campaign.

Design thinking just makes sense – it should be common practice to take a step back and forget what you think you know about something and, instead, test it. If you’re unsure, test it again. Learn from what doesn’t work and adjust to what does. Above all, listen to feedback and don’t just consider it, test it.

Here’s a chart on how design thinking works.



  1. Empathize – Understand the problem, from the point of view of the person experiencing it, as well as an objective observer. Try to approach unbiased and try to unlearn what you know about the subject mater at hand so you can approach the problem from your objective position with totally fresh eyes.
  2. Define – Exactly that, define the root cause of the problem. Don’t just state the problem and the cause, define the whole thing so it could be understood and explained to a totally detached non-observer.
  3. Ideate – Consider and create all the possible solutions you can think of, consider other technology available, other materials, other formulas – whatever it is. If you can successfully unlearn the subject matter and approach with fresh eyes you should be able to come up with a number of solutions for the problem, likely some may seem a little, if not totally crazy.
  4. Test – Test your solutions. There are a number of ways to do this from soft releases, to focus groups, to market-testing – but before you get to all of that, test it internally with your team! Test the crap out of it. Make observations and again try to empathize with the original problem. Has it been fixed? Has the solution caused any new problems that need to be addressed?
  5. Launch – Release your solution. This is the real test, and some designers will even say that a project is never done and can always continue to evolve though this method, even after it’s released. I suppose that’s true, but deadlines make me feel better.






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