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Design Thinking

Design Thinking is identified as one of Matter’s top soft skills that is linked to performance, development, and career success.
Matter’s definition of
Design Thinking
Applying user-centered methodologies to solve problems and create solutions.
Matter is based on an ontology of over
30 recommended skills.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinkers often prioritize user needs over all else. Rather than making assumptions, they spend a lot of time observing their customers, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing their ideas. Through this approach, they are able to derive creative solutions to intricate problems.

Leveraging empathy and experimentation to arrive at decisions helps teams better understand customers’ underlying problems and needs. Design thinking doesn’t rely entirely on hard data or instinct, but rather a blend of data and anticipation of future needs.

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Great Design Thinkers You May Know

Blake Mycoskie

While traveling in Argentina, Mycoskie met a volunteer who was distributing shoes to children in need. During that same trip, he began noticing that Argentinian polo players were wearing a comfortable slip-on footwear called alpargatas to protect their feet when playing on the field. He reimagined these alpargatas to create the popular shoe brand TOMS for style, comfort, and most importantly, social good. Mycoskie designed a sustainable business model that allowed TOMS to donate a pair of shoes to a disadvantaged child for every pair purchased.

Katrina Lake

During the eCommerce boom in 2010, Lake observed and experienced first hand that unlike men, women didn’t have a reliable way or easy access to buy clothes online that fit well and look great. Through that experience, she established her subscription service Stitch Fix in 2011 to combine the ease of online shopping with her customers’ desire for better fitting and more stylish clothes. Today, Stitch Fix is a public company and has expanded their product offerings to include men, kids, expectant moms, and plus sizes.

Thomas Edison

Contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the first light bulb. Rather, he made practical improvements that allowed for light bulbs to be produced at scale and widely adopted. Instead of making broad assumptions, Edison’s ability to be empathetic and understand underlying customers’ issues led him to many late-night experimentations and tests. One of these prototypes eventually became the first practical carbon filament light bulb.

Why Design Thinking Is Important


Learning to approach problems through observations enables you to be more creative with your solutions. Thinking outside the box and trying new ideas should always be encouraged.

User Experience

What are the goals of the end user? Which problems are they seeking answers for? Anticipating these questions can lead to user-based solutions that solve existing and future problems.

Team Success

Teams who practice design thinking are more successful because they are open to hearing out ideas, even when they may disagree with them. They understand the best ideas are the ones that benefit the end users, not their egos.

What Design Thinking is NOT About

Ignoring The Small Details

Rapid iteration is a signature characteristic of design thinking. As you rapidly prototype and iterate, remember that the devil is in the details. Move fast, but don’t ignore the small details.

Making Assumptions

Observing and anticipating customer needs is different than making assumptions. Rely on data and feedback to make thoughtful recommendations instead of jumping to conclusions.


Sometimes the grand design gets overly complex. Seeking streamlined solutions allows teams to avoid coming up with overcomplicated solutions. Most often, the simplest solution is the best of all.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Design Thinking



Brainstorming is a semi-structured, team-based method of rapid idea generation. It can help you and your team generate ideas quickly, hear ideas from a broader group and build team enthusiasm.


Empathizing with users

Empathizing is an early step in design thinking where you obtain an understanding of the problem, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions to gain insight into users and their needs. To empathize you observe, engage, watch, and listen to your users.


Defining the problem

Defining a problem statement will provide your team with a focus on the specific user needs that you have uncovered. Properly defining the problem statement brings clarity and focus to help you create the right solution. The problem statement should be about the people the team is trying to help, rather than focussing on technology or solutions.


Asking the five whys

The Five Whys is a technique to discover the root cause of a problem. By asking “Why?” five times you get to the root of what happened. Do not be satisfied with the initial answer to your first question. Instead, turn the answer you receive into a second “why.”


Generating a broad range of ideas

Generating lots of ideas is part of the ideation process in design thinking. This is where people with open minds generate ideas in working sessions. The goal of ideation is not about coming up with the ”right” idea, it’s about generating a broad range of ideas.


Persona building

Personas give you and your team a shared understanding of users in terms of goals and capabilities. A persona is a representation of the needs, thoughts, and goals of the target user. Personas help you and your team stay focused on solving for your target end users.

Who can benefit from practicing Design Thinking?

Explore Complementary Skills to Design Thinking

Design Thinking shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your Design Thinking by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

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