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[Updated for 2023] The 5 stages in design thinking

Picture: The five stages in design thinking
The human-centered perspective to problem solving

Design thinking is a non-linear process in which we seek to understand the user. Teams use this iterative process to access challenges, proffer assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions.

Design thinking is an ideology that opines that problems should be resolved from a human-centered perspective.

There are five stages in design thinking. These steps are intended to guide you in formulating and applying human centered solutions to complex problems. If you want to effectively implement the design thinking process in your organization, you must pay attention to these steps.

1. Empathize.

How can you serve people effectively when you do not know them? Empathize stresses the need to identify the feelings and biases of your target consumer. At this stage, you employ the use of surveys, user interviews, following up on resources gathered from activities that involve your customers using your products. Empathize is where you get rid of all assumptions about your customers to gain fresh perceptions about their true needs.

2. Define.

Everything has a name. Call it by its name. Define is the stage where you create time, and enough room to develop, improve, and reframe the problem. You are to use the data collected at the empathize stage. The data is unpacked and examined. The aim of this stage is to find unique user problems and needs. The Define stage is meant to paint a clear picture of the problem that you are trying to solve.

3. Ideate.

“Think outside the box.” Sounds cliché? Well, that is what happens here. Empathize and define creates the environment. Now let ideas run wild. Design thinking is for everyone, make sure you have every department represented. You never can tell where the winning idea would come from. All ideas should be welcomed.

4. Prototype.

Great ideas can be overwhelming. But how do you know if an idea is great? Well, prototype is how you find out. Allow the design team to produce several toned-down versions of the product. These prototypes are then tested within the team or in other departments. You can even engage a small group of people. Sometimes, experts advise “paper” prototyping. When people see that the idea is still in development, or just a “stretch,” they give better suggestions. They understand that their observation can still be implemented.

5. Test.

You want to be sure that the product will work. This last stage in design thinking allows for rigorous evaluation. Yet, there are situations where the test results might require that you restart the process from the top.

Design thinking process is an infinite loop most times. It never ends. Think of a website. An app downloaded from the store. How often do you get notified for an upgrade? These stages are just a guide to be followed to get the most out of the process.

For design thinking to work, your team must be able to halt, act and change course based on the information that the design thinking process gives you.

Designers’ reading recommendation for the month.

Rex Black.

John Whalen Ph. D.


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