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What is design thinking in software development?

Author —Sony Thankachan8 mins read20 Jun 2024

A software product’s success lies not just in its tech stack but also in how useful the customer finds it. Design thinking in software development is increasingly becoming popular among tech teams and businesses who understand the impact it brings to the user experience.

The core ideology of design thinking in software development is that teams focus on the purpose of an application rather than its execution. Design thinking in the IT industry helps developers build applications that resonate with the user. Developers must think empathetically and understand their users deeply to cater to their requirements more efficiently. The design thinking process enables tech teams to strategize their tasks competently and incorporate customer-centric characteristics into their application. Let’s dig deeper into design thinking for agile software development and how it benefits an organization.

What is design thinking?

Traditionally, the term design defines the visual aesthetics of objects. However, we witnessed an evolution of the definition and scope of design terminology, breaking all the previous limits.

Today, design is more than describing the form or physical characteristics of an object, but also a new method of thinking. Design thinking is the iterative process of understanding its users and challenges, redefining problems, and crafting apt solutions that resonate with the users. Design thinking in the software industry refers to the development of products and services using innovative and creative techniques while putting customers at the center of focus. The design thinking process helps the tech team understand the user requirements and create solutions and unmatchable speed.

The evolution of design thinking

Despite its rising popularity in the past few years, design thinking is not a new concept. Introduced in 1969 by social scientist and Nobel laureate Herbert A Simon in the book ‘The Sciences of the Artificial’, design thinking is a three-step process for apt decision-making. Design thinking includes data collection for defining the problem, designing the process of looking for a solution, and analyzing and fixing the problem. In the 1973’s book Experiences in Visual Thinking, Robert McKim mentions Express, Test, Cycle (ETC) as the backbone of design processing. Rolf Faste of Stanford University later expanded the concept of design thinking as a method of creative action in the 1980s and 1990s. His colleague, David M Kelly, adopted a business view of design thinking, envisioning a new face for the process.

Why is design thinking important in software development?

The essence of software development is to empathize with the customer and understand their needs. The technology is not a priority for the customers, but the application’s utility and experience are.

Often, a miscommunication happens between software developers and customers. Placing more calls, conferences, and discussions solves the miscommunication to an extent, making the solution much more profound. The development teams must empathize with their clients and customers to understand their needs. Empathy toward the customer is the base of software development.

Software development is not about opting for the right technologies but more about critical thinking. The purpose of software development is to make our lives better and more effortless. Hence, the design thinking process is vital for businesses to craft better software solutions.

The design thinking process in software development

Incorporating the design thinking process into the software development framework involves five steps – Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.


A software developer must be able to step into the shoes of the customer and understand their experiences. Empathy is the initial step of design thinking as it helps the team understand the customers’ needs and look at products or services from their perspective.


Once you empathize with your customers, identify the problem you want to address. In this step, you evaluate the information received from the previous step to set your problem statement. Identify the difficulties of the users and what they actually need.


As the name suggests, you ideate solutions for the identified problem. Gather multiple creative solutions, perspectives, and viewpoints. Encourage all ideas even though they might not seem relevant, leaving any room for judgment. Select the best options after a profound discussion.


It’s time to turn your ideas into reality. Create an initial draft. Represent your ideas clearly and tangibly so that anyone would understand. The core aim of building a prototype is to pass the idea to others and understand how they feel.


Nothing turns perfect unless you test the ideas rigorously. Test your prototype with users and collect their feedback. Understand what your users love or what went wrong, helping you refine your ideas. Test after every significant iteration.


Design thinking at the software development stage

The term ‘design’ in design thinking is often misleading. Design thinking is applicable in all areas and industries. When it comes to software development, design thinking is relevant in all stages of product building. How is design thinking used in software development?

Let us browse through various examples of design thinking in software development.

While developing an application, a button’s shape, color, and positioning make a massive impact. For instance, if a user cannot find a particular button, they are either annoyed and closes the application or spend finding the desired button, implying that the developers ignored the user’s consideration. Design thinking lets an organization eliminate such problems. By understanding the user’s needs (the define step), the developers can innovate solutions (the ideate step) and create the best possible design and results while creating an immersive user experience and retaining more customers.


Design thinking asserts its significance in the actual software development process. Business owners or software developers delve deep into users’ problems and view each feature from their point of view in order to create high-quality solutions. For example, while developing a new application, the business team interacts and discusses with the stakeholders, understanding their needs and what features connect with their users. The teams define their goals and ideate on the features and the user interface before beginning to create a prototype and test the application.

By following the design thinking approach, the developer understands what a customer exactly wants and creates solutions that cater to their needs rapidly and conveniently. The tech team considers all elements and arranges them logically to build a comfortable user journey across the solution.

Design thinking and agile

Although design thinking and agile work in constantly changing business environments, they seem hard to merge. Is design thinking and agile the same? Is design thinking a part of agile?

Design thinking takes a human-centric approach, focusing on customers’ needs. On the other hand, agile takes an incremental and iterative path concentrating on the requirements and using them in all phases of development. Design thinking is about understanding the problem, while agile philosophy focuses on execution. Both methodologies express the collaboration of individuals but on different paths.

Combining design thinking and agile methodology is not an easy outing. However, using it the right way results in a very effective business strategy.

Benefits of design thinking

Design thinking in software development brings businesses various tangible benefits. Here are some of them.

Feasibility check

Design thinking makes way for smooth app development as it powers organizations and their tech teams to run a feasibility check of their future products and functionalities early stage. Design thinking helps software developers keep their end users and their requirements in mind while building an application, translating their needs into the product.

Clarity and transparency

With design thinking comes clarity and vision for the developers. The software developers can understand their problem statement, end goals, feature requirements, and a detailed solution of what they need to deliver.

No surprises

Building prototypes and testing them is a vital part of the design thinking process. The user feedback helps the teams understand their audience and securely proceed with product development. Developers hate surprises. Design thinking ensures that there are few differences between the approved concept and the final version.

Continuous advancement

A software product always has room for upgrades and improvements even after its release. The user feedback helps developers understand what worked and what went wrong. Deep analytics on the user’s feedback helps them decide on adding suggestions or enhancing features. Design thinking makes software development flexible and tension-free.


Today, businesses understand the importance of design thinking and apply the discipline to their application development. Without a doubt, design thinking is changing the way tech teams work. Want to know more about design thinking in software development? Let’s discuss taking a step further.

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