While design thinking is a methodology, it can be difficult to perfect without a robust set of design thinking tools.
Design thinking prototyping tools have evolved to cater to every step of design thinking, allowing designers to build and iterate ideas much more efficiently than ever before. Many of these tools are taught in both design schools and online bootcamps, and vary in complexity from simple online design thinking tools to more advanced design thinking ideation tools and design thinking empathy tools.
Below is a list of the most popular tools and how they are used by UI/UX designers in each of the five stages of design thinking.
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Design Thinking Tools: Empathy
Since the empathy stage is focused on absorbing the experience of others, the tools required to capture this knowledge allow designers to reach across the world for answers.
Platforms that have helped designers successfully empathize have succeeded in lowering the barriers of accessibility to those that they need to connect with. Ranging from video chat platforms to survey tooling, the design thinking tools used in the empathy stage allow designers to capture perspective.
- Zoom. The popular video chatting platform allows designers to quickly connect with people from all corners of the world. For designers who are looking to solve worldwide human-centric problems, Zoom is an amazingly affordable and effective option. Using Zoom, designers can organize conversations with any individual or group that they need to empathize with as long as they have access to wifi.
- Typeform. This dynamic survey-making software enables designers to ask the right questions and capture quality data from the individuals they wish to empathize with. Typeform allows designers to organize unbiased surveys and capture large amounts of quantitative and qualitative data.
Design Thinking Tools: Define
Designers looking to define human-centric problems require more than just a simplified problem statement when following design thinking methodology. They require tools to generate data-rich pictures of not only the problem itself but also where the problem actually began and who it is impacting. Platforms that allow for customer journey mapping and persona design are all great options for designers looking to paint a vivid picture of what their human-centric problem might be.
- Smaply. This is a journey mapping software that allows designers to build various user journeys and in turn, map potential problems and bottlenecks that need further definition. When designers have finished empathizing, Smaply gives them a place to track and describe behaviors that contribute to the human-centric problem they’re looking to solve.
- Userforge. Userforge lets designers more thoroughly define personas and create alignment across various personas with persona-making templates and tools. Not only is this step key to understanding who the designer is creating solutions for, but often, the personas generated in Userforge are later adopted by branding and marketing teams to help define messaging after the designer’s product or service has been developed.
Design Thinking Tools: Ideate
The ideation phase of design thinking is rarely an individual task. Rather, designers look to collaborate with others and consistently tweak, discuss, and iterate on their ideas. Platforms that allow designers to not only share ideas but also communicate their thoughts are crucial for design thinkers.
- IdeaFlip. Known for being incredibly easy to learn, designers utilize IdeaFlip to effectively communicate and refine ideas across teams. While not a project management solution, many designers choose IdeaFlip because it allows for a shared space to collect and communicate about ideas.
- Stormboard. Stormboard is a shared workspace that enables teams of designers to organize and contribute ideas with little friction across sharing and collaborating. Unlike IdeaFlip, Stormboard is a bit more optimized for real-time collaborations in meetings. Stormboard enables designers who are presenting ideas to easily capture conversation, critique, and input from peers.
Design Thinking Tools: Prototype
When architects design buildings, they create blueprints that specify shape, load management, and other important details about that building’s structure. The same goes for design thinkers in their prototyping stages. Wireframing and sketch tools have become essential for designers who need to show their ideas will come to life. A website or app experience, for example, is rarely built before being mocked up in a wireframing tool by a designer.
- Boords. Originally designed for storyboarding, Boords allows designers to quickly mock up prototypes and reliant early user stories around the prototype. Boords is also collaborative, so when designers iterate on prototypes they can work with their peers without using outside communication methods like email.
- Mockingbird. Optimized for quick wireframing, Mockingbird is used to showcase digital prototypical ideas. Comparative to more popular options, Mockingbird is optimized for quick adoption and doesn’t have the learning curve that is required with platforms like Figma and Sketch.
Design Thinking Tools: Test
Arguably, testing tools have provided the most valuable platforms for design thinkers. Without testing tools, designers have little ways to validate their ideas and measure their performance on iterations. Tools that enable data-driven conclusions are priceless to design thinkers; without them, designers cannot possibly iterate, prototype, or test in confidence.
- UserTesting. Larger design or product ideas, like those designed to help thousands of people, can be difficult for designers to test at the scale required to validate their work. UserTesting is a platform that offers product testing as a service against a sample size that would be impossible to reach by small teams or organizations.
- HotJar. When design thinking is applied to digital experiences (like web apps or websites), HotJar provides the means of analyzing user behaviors when those experiences have been launched. Specializing in heat mapping tech, Hotjar opens up an array of behavioral insights that designer thinkers can utilize when testing prototypes.
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