Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s extremely useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by understanding the human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. Understanding these five stages of Design Thinking will empower anyone to apply the Design Thinking methods in order to solve complex problems that occur around us — in our companies, our countries, and even our planet.
The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. This involves consulting experts to find out more about the area of concern through observing, engaging and empathizing with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment to have a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as Design Thinking, and empathy allows design thinkers to set aside his or her own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into users and their needs.
Depending on time constraints, a substantial amount of information is gathered at this stage to use during the next stage and to develop the best possible understanding of the users, their needs, and the problems that underlie the development of that particular product.
Define (the Problem):
During the Define stage, you put together the information you have created and gathered during the empathize stage. You will analyze your observations and create 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 the Define stage you will start to progress to the third stage, Ideate, by asking questions which can help you look for ideas for solutions by asking.
During the third stage of the Design Thinking process, designers are ready to start generating ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs in the empathize 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 yourself and your team members can start to ‘think outside the box’ to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem. There are hundreds of Ideation techniques such as Brainstorm, Brain write, Worst Possible Idea, and SCAMPER. Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea sessions are typically used to stimulate free thinking and to expand the problem space. It is important to get as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase. You should pick some other Ideation techniques by the end of the Ideation phase to help you investigate and test your ideas to find the best way to either solve a problem, or provide the elements required to circumvent the problem.
Designers or evaluators rigorously test the complete product using the best solutions identified.
In essence, the Design Thinking process is iterative, flexible and focused on collaboration between designers and users, with an emphasis on bringing ideas to life based on how real users think, feel and behave.