How To Master The Art of Design Thinking As An Amateur Graphic Designer

People starting a new career where creativity is the central tenet of their job description can often succumb to forces working against their ability to just “turn on” the creative parts in their minds. Songwriters or novelists are an obvious example here, as they inevitably face days where they contend with the dreaded phenomenon known as ‘writer’s block’. In an ideal world, you’d wake up every day and just start cranking out winners one after another. Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as it sounds but thankfully with the right approach, you can master your creativity and learn to turn on the magic when you need to.

In today’s increasingly-digitised world, graphic designers are in high demand and many amateurs are learning to perfect their creative skills in an effort to transition into more steady gigs. For instance, UX designers face many challenging hurdles since their job descriptions entail using technical processes in order to solve real-world user problems. Simply put, the art of design thinking in UX design is in itself a fairly superb method to help provide structure and outline a sense of greater purpose behind creative processes. But can design thinking be used for other creative disciplines, say like graphic design? Well, we say yes!

Let’s take a look at a step-by-step approach that amateur graphic designers can employ to better embrace their creativity and produce the best results possible.

Design Thinking for Graphic Design


In order to bring clarity and focus to the challenge of overcoming creative blocks, it helps to break down the process of design thinking into its 5 basic steps or components, thus simplifying the process of climbing out from the depths of feeling lost and uncreative.

Here are the five different stages of the design thinking process and how they can be practiced by graphic designers.

1.  Empathy

The first thing you’ll want to do is empathise with your client in order to understand their ‘user needs’, which is how UX designers effectively refer to the ‘problem’ that they solve through the design, presentation, and functionality of their unique interface.

It’s important to ask yourself some valuable questions when looking to empathise with your client. For example, what challenges do they face that you can solve through creating your designs? What problem is preventing them from achieving their goals? Is this problem unique to their situation? Do other groups face similar issues, and how did they get resolved? Are the problems due to behaviour patterns in the organisation or are they endemic to a poorly designed application or user interface? These questions may lead to new questions or may perhaps immediately provide a clear purpose behind your design project.

2. Define

The next step is to clearly define or outline the user needs that you’re looking to address through your design. For instance, if you’ve been hired to create a string of digital ads for your client, develop a clear gauge of the purpose behind these ads. This purpose could be something as similar as ‘inspiring young people to begin their Christmas shopping online through their store’.

Once you have outlined this targeted user need and also considered the clients’ hurdles to achieving this defined objective (i.e. young people have limited resources around Christmas), the next step is to put this information into a clearly organised human-centric format where one can read the information and begin extracting any important yet subtle nuggets of guidance for your designs that may be hidden beneath the surface. Perhaps the real issues are a bit obscure at first glance. In these instances, further conversations delving into details specific to the client or their market allow the definition process to further granularize challenges or inefficiencies.

For example, the barrier of their target demographic possessing limited resources could dictate that the focus of your ad be on low-cost, impulse-buy products that reel that target user in, allowing them to click-through on your client ad and explore higher-cost items on their website.

3. Ideate

This step is where creativity finally comes into play. Following the ‘Empathise’ and ‘Define’ stages of the design thinking process, you should now have a stronger understanding of your client’s needs and how best these needs can be met through your own designs. In other words, you’ve clarified what a potential solution can provide; now we just need to find that solution.

You can do so by channelling all of your collective design power to brainstorm ideas, using your findings from the two previous stages in this purpose-driven ideation stage. The key is not to discriminate, and to follow any and all avenues that may present themselves to you. Envision any possible idea or design as a potential solution. Don’t rank or judge at this point, simply let those ideas be acknowledged and accounted for. The next steps will flush out whether these ideas are worthy of exploration.

4. Prototype

The process of coming up with prototypes or mockups of your design involves your design ideas becoming further developed so that they are in a workable condition to present to your clients as a ‘draft’ or perhaps even to focus groups in order to learn from their first impressions of your designs, although the majority of this will occur in the final stage of the design thinking process, this being ‘Testing’.

Coming back to prototyping however, questions asked in this step prior to finalising prototypes should be “Does this idea have the potential to cause further harm or create new problems?” or “Is this design as streamlined or as effective as it can be?”. Upon answering these questions, you can effectively develop a minimum viable product (or MVP) of your designs that can then be presented to test groups.

5. Testing

Now in the final phase, it’s time to put your ideas to the ultimate test and create custom scripts, procedures, or design campaigns to evaluate if your approach to design thinking has successfully both addressed user needs, and is appealing to target demographics. The best way to do this is by assembling focus groups and running tests to determine how your designs are being received.

Let’s continue on with the example of running ads targeting young people in time for Christmas shopping. Examining the click-through rate of that ad will undoubtedly reveal the efficacy of that ad in relation to other similar advertisements. Using this data, graphic designers and their clients can further refine their final designs until the resulting feedback reveals definitively that that digital campaign is on the right path, or if you need to discard one or more ideas.

Master Design Thinking To Improve Your Skills As A Graphic Designer

The above step-by-step approach to design thinking provides graphic designers with a structured methodology to follow when creating and evaluating new campaigns or applications of your work. Following these steps, you can be confident in your creative abilities moving forward and ensure that you deliver the best work that you possibly can for any and all future projects that you are involved in.