Design Thinking

Why Design Thinking Works.

Design thinking is a system that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business can convert into consumer value and market opportunity.

Tim Brown, IDEO

In life, we always bumping into new problems, and while we have the desire to solve them, it’s often hard to find the right solution or even know where to start. Design thinking is a process that seeks to solve complex problems with a user-centered approach anchored in understanding customers’ needs, rapid prototyping, and generating creative ideas—that will transform the way you develop products, services, processes, and organizations.

Design Thinking is both an ideology and a non-linear process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.

The five-stage Design Thinking model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( is the leading university when it comes to teaching Design Thinking. The five stages of Design Thinking, according to, are as follows: Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Let’s take a closer look at the five different stages of Design Thinking.

Design Thinking tackles complex problems by:

  1. Empathising: Understanding the human needs involved.
  2. Defining: Re-framing and defining the problem in human-centric ways.
  3. Ideating: Creating many ideas in ideation sessions.
  4. Prototyping: Adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping.
  5. Testing: Developing a testable prototype/solution to the problem.

1. Empathise

The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as design thinking because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs. This stage is about getting to know your user and the problems they face so you observe them and engage with them to understand them on an emotional and psychological level, so let’s say you don’t know your user you’re not aware of the industry, what you should do is what we call preliminary or preparatory research. Only through proper research can we know what the user’s thinking and feeling, everything beyond that proper research are just guessed and assumptions.

At the empathize phase there are several things you can do like group interviews or as-is scenario maps, mind mapping and empathy map, and map out what the user is currently experiencing like step-by-step mind mapping where you take a general concept and you trace the terms out and connect them and figure out whether what the user is thinking, feeling, and doing you have the user in the center.

2. Define

During the Define stage, you put together the information you have created and gathered during the Empathise stage. This is where you will analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems that you and your team have identified up to this point. You should seek to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centered manner. The Define stage will help the designers in your team gather great ideas to establish features, functions, and any other elements that will allow them to solve the problems or, at the very least, allow users to resolve issues themselves with the minimum of difficulty.

In this phase, you’re going to look for patterns, themes, and relationships between the information and analyze them with storyboarding where you map out and draw and make visuals of what your user is experiencing, you can make personas where you take your insights from the entire group of users and you boil them down to a persona. Other tools you can use in this phase are the prioritization matrix and big idea vignettes. The prioritization matrix is a business analysis tool that, using specific criteria, allows individuals and project teams to objectively compare choices and, thus, determine: which projects are urgent and critical, which bring the most value to the organization, which have the best chances of success.

The Big idea vignettes tool is a great way for many people to rapidly brainstorm a breadth of possible ideas. You will need a pain point identified and a big idea that describes the experience a user might have with the solution. Create many big ideas and quickly share them with each other. Build off others’ ideas, but stay out of the weeds and avoid drifting into features or talking about implementation details. Look for similar ideas and natural affinities. Move them physically closer together.


At this point, it’s time to get creative. This is where you begin to generate the ideas for that innovative solution

and remember that no idea is a bad idea. The solid background of knowledge from the first two phases means you can start to “think outside the box”, look for alternative ways to view the problem, and identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs in the Empathise stage, and you’ve analyzed and synthesized your observations in the Define stage, and ended up with a human-centered problem statement. With this solid background, you and your team members can start to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.

Some of the tools to use in the Ideation process are Brainstorming, Timeboxing, Sketching, and Dot Voting to help you take into consideration the data that you have, so the question you could ask is: with all the data I’ve gathered what solution could solve one or more of the user’s problems? Αnd then you can kind of pinpoint ways to combine problems later and you want to focus on one at a time.


This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. In this Phase, you turn your ideas into tangible products a rough model or sketch. You will now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so they can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team.

What the prototype is supposed to do is giving form to an idea and questions to ask during this phase are 1) what features does the prototype need to communicate? 2) does the prototype need to be communicated to the customer? and what can be removed? so not having too much complexity and making sure that you focus on what it is that you need to test with this prototype first.

By the end of this stage, the design team will have a better idea of the constraints inherent to the product and the problems that are present, and have a clearer view of how real users would behave, think, and feel when interacting with the end product.


Designers or evaluators rigorously test the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the 5 stage-model, but in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel, and to empathize

This Phase is where you test your solutions. Invite Users to test out and respond to your prototype. Their responses will inform whether you move forward or kill your idea before investing additional resources.


It is important to note that the five stages are not always sequential — they do not have to follow any specific order and they can often occur in parallel and be repeated iteratively. As such, the stages should be understood as different modes that contribute to a project, rather than sequential steps. However, the amazing thing about the five-stage Design Thinking model is that it systematizes and identifies the 5 stages/modes you would expect to carry out in a design project – and in any innovative problem-solving project. Every project will involve activities specific to the product under development, but the central idea behind each stage remains the same.

One of the main benefits of the five-stage model is the way in which knowledge acquired at the later stages can be feedback to earlier stages. Information is continually used both to inform the understanding of the problem and solution spaces and to redefine the problem(s). This creates a perpetual loop, in which the designers continue to gain new insights, develop new ways of viewing the product and its possible uses, and develop a far more profound understanding of the users and the problems they face.

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