5 Steps of the Design Thinking Process: A Comprehensive Guide



Pradeep Kunwar

Whether you are a designer, an entrepreneur, or any indispensable resource of technology, you must be acquainted with the constant pressure to innovate. This constant strive to innovate is the ultimate key to success and progress. Our gumption to innovate and the ability to conceive ideas that are once actionable and effective is what provides us the upper hand in competitive industries.

Different organizational models such as Apples, Airbnbs, and Ubers were all born of innovation. Despite being in the frontline of success, all three have to be in the cycle of innovation to maintain their supremacy in their respective domains. Do keep one thing in mind that innovation is not a one-time affair but a constant endeavor.

Here the design thinking steps in.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a solution-focused, problem-solving methodology that helps companies and individuals to get the desired outcome on an internal issue or to plan to work forward on a plan. In a real sense, it empowers users of the system to have a more structured plan for understanding innovation and to succeed more as a competitive organization.

It can also be called a “process for creating problem-solving”. As an approach, it is applied in a Design Thinking Workshop, that anyone can take to solve a business or creative challenge.

To differentiate design thinking, there are myriad approaches to defining it. But typically, the process boils down to the following five steps:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

However, these steps appear to be sequential. But, in a true sense, design thinking doesn’t follow a strictly linear process. At each stage in the process, you will likely meet some discoveries, and it may require you to go back to a previous step and repeat the same.

Step 1. Empathize

  • What? When in the empathize phase, you will engage and observe your target audiences.
  • Why? This step is quintessential to display a clear picture of your end-users, what sort of challenges they face, and what they need, and how their expectations can be met.
  • How? This face encircles surveys, interviews, and observation sessions of users.
  • For instance: if you want to address the issue of employee retention, so you ask each employee to complete an anonymous survey. Then you will opt for interviews with as many employees as possible to find out how they feel about the retention policy within the company.

Step 2. Define

  • What? The stage depends upon what you have learned in the empathize phase. The next step is to define a clear problem statement.
  • Why? The problem will set the specific challenge you will address. This specific challenge guides the entire design process and gives you a fixed goal to focus on and keep the user in mind.
  • How? When framing your problem statement, you have to be more focused on the user’s needs rather than those of the business. A more human-centered is a perfect criterion to judge a good problem statement.
  • For instance: My employees need to be able to adopt a healthy and sound lifestyle during office hours and have more user-centric values than “I need to keep my employees’ health on priority to keep my employees healthy and happy to boost retention.
Defining the product

Step 3. Ideate

  • What? With a lucid understanding of problem statements in mind, you will get a clear aim with myriad ideas and as many potential solutions.
  • Why? The ideation phase empowers you to think outside the box and explore some new solutions to the problem. And by leaning more towards quantity rather than the quality of ideas, you more likely to stumble upon innovation.
  • How? During dedicated ideation sessions, you will come across many ideation processes like Bodystorming, Reverse Thinking, and maybe the Worst Possible idea.
  • For Example: Based on what you have learned in the empathize phase, you hold as many ideation sessions with many stakeholders. With your problem statement to hand, you come up with as many ideas as possible for how you can make more employees more satisfied and likely to stay with the company.
Ideation Stage

Step 4. Prototype

  • What? From numerous ideas floating on your mind, now you will narrow them into the best ones and turn them into prototypes—or scaled-down versions of the product or concept you want to test.
  • Why? The prototyping state delivers something significant that can be tested on real users. This helps in maintaining a user-centric approach.
  • How? Depending on what you are testing, prototypes can take many forms. It starts from basic paper models to interactive, digital prototypes. When you create your prototypes, be clear on your aim, know exactly what you represent through your prototypes, and test it thoroughly.
  • For instance: During the ideation phase, one idea that came up was to offer free yoga classes. So to prototype this idea, first you have to set up an organized yoga room in the office, complete with mats, water bottles, and hand towels.

Step 5. Test

  • What? The fifth step in the design thinking process involves testing your prototypes on real or representative ones.
  • Why? The testing phase enables you to check the efficiency of your prototype and to find the scope of improvement in it. Based on user feedback, you can make changes and other improvements before the implementation of your solution.
  • How? You will run the user testing session to see how your user group interacts with your prototype. Here you will also gather verbal feedback. With every insight you gain from the testing phase, you will make changes to your design or can come up with a whole new idea altogether.
  • For instance: You take a step to test the yoga idea for two months to see how employees respond. You get the results that people love the yoga classes, but they are somewhere pissed off from the fact that they are in the middle of the day and there is no place to shower. Based on the same feedback, you decide to change the schedule of classes to the evening.
Test Phase

Applying the design thinking framework to your own work

First and foremost, you don’t have to be a UX designer to apply design thinking to your own work. You may choose to focus on just one aspect of the design thinking process. Such as to know your customers and making some frequent efforts to be more empathy-driven on a day-to-day basis. Let’s suppose you are struggling to gather positive customer reviews, in that case, you can opt for conducting user interviews to find out what your customers are actually missing.

For instance, if you want to focus on the collaborative side of design thinking. In this case, you have to go with the ideation sessions with individuals from multiple teams. If you witness that marketing and design failed to be on the same side. Then design thinking brainstorming sessions might help to get everybody on the same page.

Another popular method of applying design thinking is through design thinking workshops. Supposedly you have a problem to solve, whether it is related to a new product idea or you want to figure out how to boost employee retention, a design thinking workshop will take you through the design thinking process in much less time.

The Road to Conclusion

Succinctly, the design thinking process is iterative, flexible, and focused on collaboration between designers, users, with the focus on bringing ideas based on how real users think, feel, and behave. Need an expert for your next meeting, gathering, or workshop? Contact us.

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