The 6 Stages Of The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking process is not just a generic term that refers to the process that takes you from the earliest stages of ideation to a finished product.

It is the name of a specific methodology, which was first conceived by IDEOs David Kelley and Tim Brown and then systematized and formalized until it became a model adopted and taught in many design schools.

Due to its characteristics, the design thinking methodology is beneficial when you have a complex and poorly defined problem that needs a human-centered rethink.

Design thinking is a nonlinear iterative process whose stages overlap and are not necessarily strictly sequential. Teams can adopt this methodology to foster creativity and collaboration while staying focused on user needs.

The design thinking process is somewhat of an “experimental” method in that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new ideas, tools, or techniques, especially early in the flow. In its most recent and well-known formulation, the design thinking process is divided into 6 stages:

  • Empathize: deeply understand your users and their needs.
  • Define: clearly describe the problems identified.
  • Ideate: Unleash your creativity and start jotting down ideas.
  • Prototype: create possible solutions.
  • Test: check with users what you have in mind and what you plan to offer in response to their needs and expectations.
  • Implement: develop and launch.

EMPATHIZE

At this stage, your goal is to understand your users and their needs deeply.

Empathy is the process through which you put aside your needs, way of thinking, and assumptions and put yourself in their place. Similarly, in design thinking, you try to understand people, their emotional and practical needs, why they behave in a certain way, and what is meaningful to them.

So at this stage, you have to consult experts, observe a lot, immerse yourself in your users’ environment, feel as they do, and experience their problems and concerns as well as understand their expectations. At the end of this process, you should have obtained a lot of helpful information that will guide you in the following steps.

DEFINE

In the first stage, you gathered a lot of information you now need to process to eliminate irrelevant or redundant aspects. Then you need to elaborate on the raw material you have on hand, start making connections, analyze your findings, and define the core problems and needs.

Your goal is to define an actionable problem statement that will guide you through the following stages. You always have to maintain a human-centric attitude, trying to develop a “point of view” that is as close as possible to the needs and feelings of your target users.

DEVISE

When you have an idea, you focus on finding solutions to the questions related to the definition stage. The insights you gained during the definition stage are like challenges you now have to face.

The ideation phase represents the transition from problem identification to solution creation, generating as wide a range of ideas as possible. You can use many different ideation techniques here, from brainstorming to prototyping (actually building something can help you in the ideation process), from mind mapping to drawing.

At this stage, you should not judge. Just let your mind fly, giving total freedom to your imagination.

PROTOTYPE

Now you have to start selecting, from all the ideas you generated, the ones with the most significant potential. Do not focus on a single idea, but identify some criteria to adopt when choosing and selecting two or three of the brightest ideas that could work better than the others according to a particular set of standards.

Once this first selection has been made, the design team should deliver low-resolution, rapid prototypes that experimentally and iteratively help you get closer to the final solution. Each prototype must answer a question; it is a way to test your possible solutions. Therefore, a prototype must be something the user can interact with because only in this way will you get the information you need.

This is the genuinely experimental stage: ideas are examined, tested, accepted, rejected, modified, and tried again. Your goal is to end up with the best possible solution.

TRY

Of course, testing and prototyping are strictly intertwined. During the test mode, you can ask your users to give you feedback on the prototypes (the solutions) that you have developed, but at the same time, this phase is also an opportunity to gain more insights about your users.

The results obtained in this stage are often used to redefine problems and modify and refine the prototypes in a circular process that should finally end with the solution that works well for those users in that context.

Remember that you should never tell people how to use the prototype or what to do when testing. Instead, you have to create an experience for them and let them understand the prototype as if they were real users in an authentic context.

IMPLEMENT

This is the stage where your solution finally becomes real and is launched and tested in the real market.

Many designs will never reach this stage. While the design may be outstanding, it may not have met the user’s needs as expected. Or maybe you go back to the ideation stage to rework your idea. Although your vision may not turn into something real this time, the process is not linear, so take what you learned and start over.

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