Design Thinking is a design methodology that offers a solution-oriented approach to solving problems. It is extremely useful for prototyping and testing, by reframing the problem in human-centered ways, generating lots of ideas, brainstorming sessions and taking a hands-on approach to tackle complex problems that are misidentified or unknown.
Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design Stanford (d.school) is the leading university for teaching Design Thinking. The five stages of Design Thinking according to D.school are as follows:
The first stage of the design-oriented thinking process is gaining an empathetic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve.
This includes learning more about the area of concern by consulting experts, observing, interacting with, and empathizing with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment and thus gaining a deeper personal understanding of relevant issues.
Empathy is very important to be human-centered in the design process.
Due to time constraints, a significant amount of information is collected at this stage to develop the best possible understanding of the users, their needs and the problems underlying the development of that particular product for use in the next stage.
2. Define (Problem)
In the identification phase, you put together the information you created and gathered in the empathizing phase.
This is where you and your team will analyze and synthesize your observations to identify the main problems you have identified up to this point.
The identification phase will help the designers in your team gather great ideas for features, functions, and other elements that will at least allow users to solve problems on their own, with minimal hassle.
In the third stage of the Design Thinking process, designers are ready to create ideas.
You grew up to understand your users and their needs in the empathizing phase, and you analyzed and synthesized your observations during the identification phase, and eventually you got a human-centered problem statement.
With this solid background, you and your team members can start “thinking outside the box” to find new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and start looking for alternative ways to view the problem.
Brainstorming and worst possible idea sessions are typically used to encourage free thinking and widen the problem area.
It is important to get as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the ideation phase.
You should choose another idea generation technique at the end of the idea phase to help you research and test your ideas so you can find the best way to solve a problem or provide the necessary elements to overcome it.
The design team will now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product, or specific features found in the product, so they can examine the problem solutions created in the previous stage.
Prototypes can be shared and tested inside the team, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside of the design team.
This is an experimental stage, and the goal is to determine the best possible solution for each of the problems identified in the first three stages.
Solutions are implemented within prototypes and individually reviewed, accepted, refined and reviewed or rejected based on users’ experience.
By the end of this phase, the design team will have a better understanding of the product specific constraints and existing problems.
In the identification phase, you will begin to move to the third stage, the idea stage, by asking questions that can help you look for solution ideas.
Designers or evaluators rigorously test the entire product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase.
Even at this stage, changes and improvements are made to eliminate problem solutions and gain as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.
The Nonlinear Nature of Design Thinking
We may have outlined a direct and linear Design Thinking process, where one stage apparently leads to another with a logical conclusion.
However, in practice the process is performed in a more flexible and non-linear manner.
For example, different groups on the design team can perform multiple stages simultaneously, or designers can gather information and prototypes throughout the entire project to bring their ideas to life and visualize problem solutions.
Also, the results from the testing phase can reveal some insights about users, which can lead to another brainstorming session (Ideate) or the development of new prototypes (Prototype).
It is important to remember that the five stages are not always sequential – they do not need to follow a specific sequence and can often occur in parallel and repeat repeatedly.
The stages should therefore be understood as different modes that contribute to a project rather than sequential steps.
However, the surprising thing about the five-step Design Thinking model is that it systematizes and defines the 5 phases / modes that you would expect to realize in a design project and any innovative problem solving project.
Each project will include activities specific to the product being developed, but the main idea behind each phase remains the same.