The Design Thinking Process: Life Application and Benefits

crumpled up papers with ideas, one of which turned into a light bulb - symbolize design thinking process

Here’s a riddle for you: If you lock a group of engineers in a room, give them an old rotary phone, and tell them to come up with something better, what do you get? Well, if they’re engineers, you’ll wind up with a big pile of empty Mountain Dew cans, and if they’re good engineers, they might just come up with a cell phone. How would they come up with such a technological marvel? Through the magic of design thinking, a results-based analytical approach that frames problems through the lens of desired outcomes. Now imagine using the design thinking process to tackle life.

Design Thinking: A Method for Creativity

A creative problem-solving process, design thinking is a methodology that puts the user-friendly end result at the forefront while incorporating a healthy amount of testing and course-correction along the way. Global brands such as Apple, GE, and Google have used the design thinking process to help evolve their products, as well as overcome and resolve business challenges.

The design thinking approach can be distilled in four main points:

  • Define the right problems through observation and scrutiny
  • Solve problems by placing the human experience at the center
  • Present multiple ideas and create a varied array of choices
  • Ideate, test and analyze options until you arrive at the right solution

Applying Design Thinking To Your Life

Bill Burnet, co-founder of Life Design Lab at Stanford, states that the most interesting design problem is life. From choosing our vocation to reinventing our careers or pursuing a forgotten passion, the design thinking process offers much-needed structure in what would be vague and ambiguous segments of our life.

For instance, let’s pretend you are thinking of reinventing your career. This is how design thinking can be applied:

Step 1: Understand the Problem

Design thinking’s first step is to have an in-depth understanding of the problems. Do this by gathering as many details as you can. An emphatic and deeper understanding of your problem will allow you to weed out irrelevant details and focus your energy on challenges that you can control.

Step 2: Define the Problem

Design thinking teaches us to define problems in a human-centered way. For instance, you can sum up your goal with this mantra: “To shift to a vocation that will help me use my gifts and cultivate my passion for the arts in order to lead a happy and fulfilled life.”

When it comes to the design thinking methodology, do not dismiss your feelings and emotions. When isolating the problem, make sure not to leave out the human experience from it.

Step 3: Develop Multiple Plans

The design thinking process encourages having multiple plans. Ideally, you can have at least three plans. Plan A is focused on improving the current environment. Plan B has the most potential to succeed. Plan C is that bizarre and out-of-the-box plan. However, you should feel free to set up as many plans as you deem fit.

Plan A could mean staying with your current career and following your artistic pursuits during your free time. Plan B could be to move to a new job where your interest in the arts will be of great use such as working in art schools and foundations. Plan C could be to go to Paris and paint portraits of tourists with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.

Step 4: Test Your Ideas

Design thinking means you have to test your ideas and plans. Testing your ideas will help you identify points to improve, tweak details here and there and see which one of them can answer your problem statement. Ideas and plans should be poked, prodded and tested. It should be thrown out in the world to see which one can withstand the test of reality.

Step 5: Learn from Failure and Adjust

If something doesn’t work out, learn from the errors and draw insights from failures. Design thinking is not a linear process. By drawing from the errors and failures, you can make adjustments and try things again. In essence, design thinking allows you to evolve, grow and become more dynamic.


The concepts and ideas within the design thinking process can be applied in various facets of your life. Whether you’re turning a rotary phone into a cell phone or changing any aspect of your life, the methodology works.

About the Author

Imee Rabang is a blogger/writer and bilingual poet from Manila, Philippines. She is an advocate of Philippine culture and supports causes that promote language and national identity. She juggles her time between work, parenthood, and community outreach programs. She also dabbles in photography and graphic arts in her free time.
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