How To Incorporate Design Thinking Into Your Software Development Process

Design thinking is a way of solving problems through considering the user’s needs above all else. Design thinking can be thought of as more than just a process. For some, it’s an ideology, a philosophy or a more analytical way of thinking. Referring to design thinking as a philosophy stems from the fact that it is an approach to problem solving that can be used in all aspects of everyday life. 

Mention “design thinking” and people typically think about product design, structural architecture, or the layout of a building. But design thinking is much more than that. 

When it comes to solving problems, thinking like a designer is about going a step further than just 1/ seeing a problem and 2/ finding a solution as quickly as possible. Instead, when using design thinking, you make iterative improvements, challenge assumptions, look at things from different angles, consider the end user at every stage, and learn from insights you gather along the way. Great designers are skilled at noticing and observing. They don’t just settle with one way of doing things.

COVID-19 brought with it many examples of design thinking in action. Consider remote working and Zoom. Before COVID-19, meetings would take place fully in-house, often in conference rooms and in a very controlled environment. When people were forced to work from home, Zoom was seen as a perfect solution to a complicated problem, allowing meetings to continue from remote locations. 

But, as time passed, people started to use design thinking to reimagine how best to manage online meetings. Companies came up with ways to reduce ‘Zoom-fatigue’ and to make attendees feel more engaged. Some enforced rules where cameras had to be on at all times. Some tried the opposite. As offices reopened, design thinking was used as companies redefined the modern meeting. With hybrid meetings, where some attendees are in the office and some at home, senior management used design thinking to analyse meetings from all perspectives in order to maximise the experience for both in-house and remote attendees.

Keeper’s Recipe for Applying Design Thinking 


If design thinking is a philosophy, then companies need to come up with a recipe or process for applying it. At Keeper Solutions, this is where the Keeper Design Sprint comes in. The Keeper Design Sprint is a non-linear, iterative process that is broken down into five distinct phases. Typically, when you complete one phase, you move on to the next. But as you are constantly learning from new insights and applying design thinking principles, there is scope to return to the previous phase and make adjustments. 

The process consists of five phases covering ideation, design, prototyping, and testing – all with a user-centred focus. The aim is to clearly define project goals, validate assumptions and to decide on a product roadmap before development starts. Broken down further, the five phases run as follows:

                    1. Emphasise. The first stage of the design thinking process allows you to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. This is done through interviews, focus groups as well as in-house research. Empathy is crucial when it comes to solving a problem through the lens of human-centred design. Empathy allows you to set aside assumptions and gain real insight from users and their needs.
                    2. Define. In the definition stage, you define the problem based on evidence you’ve gathered during the empathy phase. It is important to define the problem from a user perspective. That is why during this phase it’s good to create user personas, outlining the challenges they face and the things they are trying to achieve. At Keeper, we map user’s stories and user journeys during this stage.
                    3. Ideation. This is a free-flowing phase where designers are encouraged to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve the problem defined. Crazy Eights is a method we use for coming up with a large amount of ideas in a short space of time. During this phase, anything goes. No idea is too outlandish until proven otherwise. Earlier we discussed how design thinking is used in all corners of life. A method similar to crazy eights is often used in the writers’ rooms of sitcoms and comedy series. In order to come up with a few solid storylines, writers come up with as many different scenarios as possible. In the Simpsons’ writers’ room this is where ideas like ‘Homer goes to Space’ or ‘Homer becomes a clown’ might have first come to fruition.
                    4. Prototype. During this phase, the design team produces one or more scaled-down versions of the product. The aim here is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three phases.
                    5. Testing phase. The chosen prototype is vigorously tested. Customers and end users are often introduced for the first time. As soon as customers have interacted with the prototype, you can observe how they engage with it and make adjustments based on your findings.

Using The Keeper Design Sprint to Workshop Ideas

The Keeper Design Sprint framework allows us to map out challenges, explore solutions, pick the best ones, create a prototype and test it. The process involves a small interdisciplinary team of UX designers, software architects, engineers and subject matter experts working together to design a product or service that is fit for purpose. 

When all is said and done, the Keeper Design Sprint results in a carefully thought out, well documented prototype of a recommended solution. At the end of the engagement, a proposal is given to the client, mapping out how many hours it would take to build the product, an estimation of costs and number of design sprints involved, and an insight into the viability of the product. 

For companies that are toying with an idea, this design-thinking-inspired approach is critical. It allows businesses to fully flesh out an idea and see it from different angles. At every turn, assumptions are challenged and the user is at the forefront of all considerations. 

While it’s hard to put into figures how effective design thinking is when it comes to building a product, there does seem to be a lot of evidence to support it. Some of the most successful brands in the world use design thinking including IBM, Google, Airbnb, PepsiCo, and Nike. A report from McKinsey found that organisations that regularly follow design thinking practices see a third higher revenues and 56 percent higher returns than those that don’t.

How can your company incorporate design thinking into your software development process?

Why not talk to one of Keeper’s team to find out? Reach out today