What are the 5 stages of the Design Thinking Process?

July 18, 2021

Athar Majeed

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear process used by most professionals to understand users, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to test and prototype. 

Design Thinking Explained

We can also say that design thinking is both a process and an ideology to solve wicked problems in a user-centric way to achieve technically feasible, economically affordable, and desirable solutions. Therefore, you need to adopt a designer's mindset and approach the problem from a user perspective.

It is vital because it enables you to tackle complex, ill-defined, or unknown problems. In short, it is a solution-based approach towards the solution of a problem.

What are the Phases or Modes of Design thinking Process?

The Design Thinking process has three to seven phases or stages or modes, and all the variants embody the same principles. These phases do not always follow any fixed order and often repeat iteratively.

Therefore, you should see it as an overview of the modes that contribute to an innovative project rather than a few steps in sequence. These phases of design thinking are as follows:

Empathise – that involves the understanding of human nature and needs.

Define – that involves reframing and defining your users' needs and problems

Ideate – that involves the creation of as many ideas as possible

Prototype – that involves a hands-on approach in looking for solutions

Test – that involves a testable prototype of the problem.

Now let us discuss all these phases or modes one by one.

Design Thinking Empathise:

As mentioned earlier, it means understanding the users like the target audience, customer, or consumer. To empathise correctly demands giving up all the assumptions and free your brain from every previous thought about the problem as they tend to stifle motivation.

  • It stops you from thinking objectively about the situation.
  • It requires a profound observation of the users, and you will objectively judge the psychology and feelings of the users.
  • You can ask questions, held interviews, or discuss your problems with users to empathise with them. So, you cannot empathise without extracting relevant information from the users to understand them. Then it would be easier for you to step into the shoes of your users. 

You can also use empathy maps to consolidate all necessary information you get during interviews. This tool captures what people think, say, and do in the context of the problem.

Design Thinking Define: 

As the name indicates, the defined phase of the design thinking process means defining the core problem that has been identified now. It needs you to put together the information you have got during the phase mentioned earlier. Then, you can put it as a problem statement in a human-centred way. 

You can define the problem as your user's need instead of the need of your company or yourself. Properly defining the problem will help you gather innovative ideas to establish any elements helpful to solve the problems with minimum difficulty. It will also allow you to move to the third phase with satisfaction.

Read Also: 17 Tips to Improve Design Thinking in 2021

Design Thinking Ideate:

As the name shows, this phase is related to generating many ideas to solve the problem. The previous steps will provide you with a solid background to think out of the box. It would be best if you look for alternative ways to solve the problems using different ideation techniques such as Brainstorm, Worst possible idea, Brainwrite, and SCAMPER. Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea sessions are helpful for free-thinking stimulation and problem space expansion.

 It is essential to find more solutions to your problem at the beginning of the ideation mode. On the other hand, you can use different techniques to test the ideas that allow you to investigate and modify the solutions you want to use to sort out your problems.

Design Thinking Prototype:

In this phase of the design thinking process, we will be getting tangible solutions from the ideas. You can call it a scaled-down version of the product uses in the previous step to get potential solutions. Finally, you need to test all the pictures for constraints and flaws to improve redesign, accept or reject the proposed solutions.

The identification of the tangible solution is based on the trial and error method. You can start with a low-fidelity version of the desired resolution and improve it with the help of feedback. Beginning with a paper prototype is economical and saves effort besides helping you learn quickly. 

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The prototype should represent the solution realistically to get to know what is applicable and what is not. The test phase will enable to update with the help of feedback in an iterative cycle. As paper prototyping does not cost much, you can develop multiple solutions to test and sort out the best one for your purpose.

Design Thinking Test:

This phase is a crucial component of product development, and the best thing it provides you is to help remain user-centric.

Testing saves you time and money by catching useability issues and errors. In this way, the resulting product will be user-friendly and bug-free. Moreover, it will save you from the frustration and the money cost to correct the product if launched without testing. 

In addition to it, testing reveals insights when you see how real users interact with the early version of your product. It will uncover the issues that were out of your sight in the first place.

It also enables you to make informed design decisions that will lead to user satisfaction in the long run. Testing together with prototyping will always keep you focused on the users. And will provide you with a valuable tool for your business - satisfied customers.

This stage is not the end of the design thinking process as it often leads you back to the previous phase to redefine the original problem statement or bring to light new ideas you had not thought of previously.

So, testing can be concept testing, usually at the early stages of the design process. You can use simple sketches or even static images to communicate your ideas to your target users. It can be A/B testing to compare two versions of a design where you create two prototypes and test each on a different set of users.

Read Also: Step by step guide to the design thinking process


Remember to test only one variable at a time to avoid skewing the results. Testing can also be usability testing to show how easily you can use your design. You can do it by requesting your users complete specific tasks and then finding out which design aspects were causing problems. It will allow you to sort out usability issues.

In short, it will provide you with all details to be flushed out and refined to create the best possible solution.


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