As an end-to-end designer, I have utilised many disciplines across the UX spectrum; from research and discovery through to UI design and testing.
Applying design thinking to research and problem solving
When it comes to problem solving, I ascribe to the Double Diamond approach (I think this article covers it best). There are several reasons why I like this approach. Firstly, it's comprehensive and affords time to defining the problem before moving into ideation. Secondly, it identifies the likely pain points that can be felt during the peak of divergent thinking - it's reassuring to know that this is okay and part of the process.
The following steps of the micro cycle fit within the double diamond; Understand, Observe, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test and Reflect. There are a range of design thinking exercises that can be used to help define a problem and take into ideation.
I believe that every designed element whether it's large or small should be backed by reason; and the best source for reasoning comes from the brand values we are designing on top of. But values on their own can be too broad for basing decisions. This is where 'design principles' come in, acting as a decision-making bridge between brand and design.
I believe brand values and design principles are a foundational piece of a design system which often get overlooked. Without these, design systems are just glorified pattern libraries.
Design is thankfully no longer the gated community it used to be. In part this has been helped by cloud-based tools such as Figma. But true collaboration starts well before a design tool is opened.
The most successful projects I've worked on have included product owners, copywriters, developers and stakeholders from the initial kickoff meeting and workshops that follow. If design is about problem solving then anyone can be a designer. I've also noticed how potential build issues can be mitigated early on through regular design reviews with engineers.