Design Thinking

What is the Design Thinking process?

Design Thinking Hawaii uses the design thinking process popularized by the Stanford Design School. The modes of design thinking are empathy through understanding and observation, define, ideate, prototype, and test.  Short descriptions of these modes are provided.

The practice of design thinking as activities involve understanding needs and problems, insight formation, rapid learning, creating, testing, and feedback. The process is based on cyclical five steps, and practitioners of design thinking depend heavily on input and feedback from the user.

How is DTH affecting the Economy and Workforce?

DTH is using the design thinking process to support economic development in Hawaii to diversify the economic engines that drive Hawaii's economy — implementing a new agriculture model using technology (AgTech) and reinforcing the dual-use technology development. DTH is also working with the State of Hawaii and City & County of Honolulu on workforce development initiatives from elementary students to retraining the existing workforce to meet the employment demands for new industry development. 

What can it do for you?

Human-centered design involves the use of techniques that engages people in the development process and enables the creation of products and services that are inspired by and tailored to the audience's needs. The design thinking process is a human-centered, non-linear iterative process involving user exploration, examination of the design space, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing.

View below for more information!


Empathy is the process of gaining a deep understanding of the user by making and building connections on a fundamental level. Empathy is foundational to understand and share the feelings of individuals about problems or situations. Design thinking does not begin with a presumed answer or a well-defined problem. The process of empathy gathering as learning to understand another person’s perspectives, and involves imagining what another person experiences.


The define mode of design thinking involves the unpacking of data from empathy gathering by the user to construct statements expressing the user’s point of view The define mode involves looking at the problem from a personal viewpoint based on the understand of the user. Carefully defining the problem is an essential stage and may require a reframing of the original problem based on data gathered from the user. Reframing the problem by use of inferences and synthesis is critical to enhancing the user experience. The define mode concludes with the development of “How Might We” opportunity statements to address user needs and insights gained from the empathy mode and transition to the ideate mode of design thinking.


The ideate mode is described as generating unique and radical ideas, emphasizing quantity over quality. The identified brainstorming methods used in the design thinking process, which include listing as many ideas as possible, no judgment of ideas, building on the ideas of others, and identifying potentially unrealistic ideas. The list of options generated from the ideation process can be used to develop options to meet the requirements of the user and draw a prototype of an idea.


Design thinking helps users develop low-resolution tangible prototypes, and emphasizes the importance of creating accelerated learning through hands-on experimentation by failing quickly and often. Sketches, mock-ups, stories, role-playing, and storyboards have been identified as vehicles to help users create physical prototypes for intangible ideas.


Design thinking prototypes are tested with users to gather feedback and new input. Multiple tests provide the opportunity for clear and honest feedback from many users and encourage continued refinement and development of the prototype and refinement of the options for solving the problem. Prototyping and testing should be repeated until the solution is ready for implementation. The continued refinement of the prototype through testing provides the design team satisfaction to move towards a developed model through investment in more prototyping and testing.