What are the phases or stages of the design thinking process?


What is design thinking, and what does it have to do with business? The modern idea of design as a way of thinking came to fruition around 1969 when cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon coined the term in his book The Sciences of the Artificial.

Scientists, engineers, creatives, and analysts had been studying innovation for decades, but the idea to approach and solve problems with a design mindset had not yet been applied to business strategy. Simon started the conversation around this methodology, and numerous academic elites quickly joined and expanded upon it. The idea of design thinking, as we know it today, is a combination of these ideologies.

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Modern design thinking is a philosophy based on a designer’s approach to design or solve challenges.

Modern design thinking is a philosophy based on a designer’s approach to design or solve challenges. Rather than a one-shoe-fits-all mindset, it encourages a holistic view where uncertainty and ambiguity are welcomed and embraced as to consider all sides of a problem. A single-minded approach, on the other hand, can isolate a problem, neglect the people affected by it, and limit the resolutions needed to move forward successfully. (This lack of awareness can tremendously cost businesses.)

Once a problem is defined and understood from all angles, it is then convergently conceptualized and actualized through testing. A design mindset can be applied to any life situation, and it aides in considering the bigger picture and informatively acting accordingly.

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What are the five phases of the Design Thinking methodology?

The Five Phases of the Design Thinking Methodology

In today’s business world, the design thinking methodology can be applied strategically for innovation. There are five tried-and-true phases to the process:

1. Empathize

The first stage of the design process is to understand the perspective of the target audience/customer/consumer to identify and address the problem at hand. It is also a crucial step in the process to clearly understand and work with team members to strengthen team dynamics and overall performance to meet a common goal. This stage is all about gathering as much information as possible to prepare for development in the next step. To do this, design thinkers are encouraged to cast aside all assumptions (because assumptions can stifle innovation!) about the problem, the consumers, and the world at large. This allows them to objectively consider any and all possibilities about the customers and their needs.

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After you understand your users, it’s time to define the problem statement.

2. Define

Putting together all of the information gathered in the first stage, the next step is to define the problem clearly. Careful analysis of observations made will be synthesized to pinpoint the core problem that needs to be addressed. The goal is to convert the defined problem into a tangible, human-centered statement, rather than focusing on technology, monetary returns, or specifics of a product.

3. Ideate

In the third stage, information has been gathered, a problem has been clearly defined, and now it’s time to generate ideas around this data. You better understand your target audience and the ins and outs of the problem. How can you and your team think outside of the box to create alternative solutions to the issue you’ve identified? This is another massive brainstorm session. You collect as many ideas as possible at the start, so that by the end, your team can investigate and test them.

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During ideation, you create alternative solutions to the issue you’ve identified.

4. Prototype

It’s time to experiment! Through trial and error, your team identifies which of the possible solutions can best solve the identified problem(s). This typically will include scaled-down versions of the products or systems in question, which allows for proper investigation of the generated solutions.

5. Test

All of the work and information come together to test the product in the final stage. It’s important to note that this is still an interactive stage. Often, testing the product leads to redefining problems/solutions and better understanding the consumer. This stage allows for all details to be flushed out and refined to create the best solution possible.

So how does a business successfully navigate and implement these phases? Design Thinking Workshops offer the knowledge, tools, and support business teams need to tackle undefined problems and implement effective innovation. Peep the outline of one of our Design Sprint Workshops to learn more: What Happens in a Design Sprint Workshop?

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Why is Design Thinking important in the world today?

The design thinking process allows problems to be seen in a human-centric way. Throughout the process, teams can identify what’s most important for customers/consumers/clients–the real key to success.

“User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave — and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process,” Jesse James Garrett said.

Applying design thinking to business innovation is a way to simultaneously think outside the box and deep dive into problem-solving. The proof is in the success stories of major high-profile organizations like Apple, Google, Airbnb, Nike, and IBM, all of which have and currently use the design thinking methodology to find success. This is in part because applying design thinking can save companies copious amounts of money.

“Fixing an error after development is up to 100 times as expensive as it would have been before development,” Susan Weinschenk says in the video The ROI of User Experience.

Another reason big-name companies incorporate user-centered design thinking is because it can help them surpass the competition. According to the Design Management Institute and Motiv Strategies’ 2015 Design Value Index, companies that are now led by design such as Apple, Nike, Pepsi, Proctor & Gamble, and IBM have exceeded the performance of the S&P 500 by over 200%. This is evidence that design is not only crucial to creating successful products and services, but it can transform the way companies create value when applied to systems, procedures, and customer experience.


Looking for training in the Design Thinking methodology?

Voltage Control offers a range of options for innovation training, design sprints, and design thinking facilitation. Please reach out to us at info@voltagecontrol.co if you want to talk.