Design thinking is a popular methodology that inspires a human-centered approach to design. It is used by many design teams at some of the world’s most successful tech companies. Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. The design thinking process is broken up into five specific design thinking stages: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
At this stage in the design thinking methodology, designers sit down with real people and absorb their points of view, world, and introspections without bias.
Without attempting to master empathy, designers face an uphill climb when solving human-centric problems. When designing a product or service, empathy in design thinking builds a crucial and necessary bridge between the target user or audience and the product, project, or service being designed.
Some steps that are often taken during this stage of the design thinking methodology are:
- Consulting subject matter experts about their insights
- Engaging more personally with an issue to gain a better understanding of a user’s POV
- Having in-depth conversations about the topic with other designers
- Immersing oneself in a physical environment
Define: State Your Users’ Needs and Problems
It’s time to accumulate the information gathered during the Empathize stage. You then analyze your observations and synthesize them to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements. You can create personas to help keep your efforts human-centered before proceeding to ideation.
The ideation stage leans heavily on the ability to invent. Designers who have captured the human experience fully during the empathy stage set out to ideate around creative solutions for solving the defined problem. Thinking outside the box is the name of the game, as, during this stage, designers often don’t worry about budget or scalability.
At this point, designers should have a workable understanding of their user base, so this is an excellent time to get creative and not dwell too much on limitations. An example of a popular technique in the ideation phase is an exercise called “worst possible idea.” By inverting the search for a solution into a brainstorm of what would not work, this process sets the design team up for success by helping build up trust and confidence. Since no idea can technically be “wrong” in this process, designers build up good practices of sharing their thoughts with confidence.
Prototype: Start to Create Solutions
This is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. Your team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping.
he testing stage of the design thinking process requires real users to generate real data. However, the final stage of design thinking is not necessarily the last thing designers will do. Remember, design thinking is built upon a foundation of iteration, so many designers roll out multiple prototypes to test different change factors within their idea. Without a comprehensive testing stage, user experiences and solutions have difficulty scaling.
Testing is often an iterative process. Designers can expect to go through a series of changes, edits, and refinements during the testing stage. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for the testing phase to “restart” some other design thinking processes such as ideation or testing, as newfound ideas might spark additional potential solutions that require an entirely fresh approach.