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Product & Engineering

How Design Thinking Drives People-Focused Innovation at Duo: Activities You Can Try

Part three in a three-part series on design thinking at Duo. Previously: Design Thinking in Action.

Feeling inspired by design thinking? One of the benefits of this methodology is how simple it can be to get started — you don’t need to invest in expensive technology or other supplies to put the principles into practice. Here are some design thinking tools and exercises that will help you gather and analyze data, and ideate, prioritize, visualize and validate your solutions.

Design thinking lab

Picture showing the design thinking lab, featuring white-board walls and four tables with sticky notes and sharpies

Get out of your everyday space to encourage thinking outside of the box. For example, the Cisco campus in San Jose hosts an official design thinking lab, offering magnetic/whiteboard walls, large format labeling, movable furniture, ideation stations, integrated remote collaboration capabilities, and artwork to inspire creative thinking — but you can transform virtually any conference room to a design thinking space of your own. Dedicate different areas to different phases in the framework, grab some sticky notes and permanent markers, gather your teammates and get started.

Brainstorming better

As important as brainstorming can be to problem-solving, it can sometimes feel aimless and frustrating. However, adding creative constraints can boost your brainstorming impact:

  • Start with “How Might We” (HMW) questions — By definition, this format admits we don’t currently know the answer to the problem and allows for exploration of multiple possible solutions. Consider a HMW question narrow enough to provide focus but broad enough to give space for participants to see where their ideas take them. If you’re not sure where to start, work from the model of, “How might we (intended experience) for (user) so that (desired effect)?”

  • Use prompts and boundaries to help guide ideation and scope limits — “Your solution must use voice,” or “Your solution is for a user with disabilities.”

  • Time limits — Use three to five minutes per prompt, starting with people brainstorming individually on sticky notes.

Do two to four rounds of ideation, sharing in between so participants can inspire each other. Map your ideas on a wall and vote to identify the best ones.


A great starting point for new projects, interviews help you gain a better understanding of your users’ needs, pain points and opportunities. Let users guide the conversation to whatever they care about by keeping questions neutral and open-ended, and be an active listener. From a product perspective, this could look like:

  • Tell me about your role and responsibilities.

  • How does [product] support your work?

  • What other systems do you use that relate to [product]?

  • What are the top three tasks you perform using [product]?

  • How do you accomplish [task] with [product]?

  • What are the biggest challenges you face using [product]?

  • What improvements to the [product] would make your life easier?

Affinity diagrams

Image showing four individuals working on a design thinking project, using sticky notes to categorize ideas on a wall

To make sense out of user insights, feature ideas and other data points, get your team together to identify larger themes. Start by selecting a topic and having each participant provide their ideas on sticky notes. Organize the sticky notes on a whiteboard, placing notes with identical ideas on top of each other. Together, reorganize the sticky notes into groups that have something in common, talking through what should go where. Discuss the key findings for the problem you want to solve and identify which themes to move forward with.

Design thinking resources