The 5 Steps of the Design Thinking Process ⚙️

  • Design & Creative
Contra Tips
· 6 min read

Learn about the design thinking process. Discover what it is, how it can help you, and its five key stages.

Have you ever dealt with a problem and just couldn’t find an appropriate solution? Perhaps a client is asking for a product, but you have no idea where to start? This is the perfect situation for the design thinking process.

Many industries and working professionals use this process, from graphic designers to personal service managers, and research shows companies in these fields often perform better than their competitors.In this guide, we'll explore the design thinking approach, explain the benefits you can gain from using it, and learn the steps you should follow to implement it. Get ready to improve collaboration and learn how to reach practical solutions with design thinking.

What is design thinking? 🤔

Design thinking is a problem-solving process that puts the end-user at the heart of the solution. Rather than trying to fix the problem by implementing a generalized or one-size-fits-all approach, design thinking promotes gauging the situation as a whole with all the moving parts. 

A key aspect of design thinking is moving beyond the first solution generated. Problems are usually multi-faceted, and when putting the end-user first, the solution needs to apply to all users. You can achieve this by considering your users' preferences, challenges, and needs. 

Many types of professionals use design thinking, including:

  • Personal service managers
  • Executives
  • Software developers
  • Management analysts
  • General and operations managers
  • Industrial engineers
  • Graphic designers
  • Architectural and engineering managers
  • Product developers

Why is design thinking important? 🧐

Design thinking not only helps solve your users' problems, but it also offers a few other benefits. It helps encourage creativity through the nature of the process, which forces you or your team to think outside the box, and it can facilitate problem-solving by breaking down complex issues into smaller iterations. 

In terms of business, there are many advantages to be gained by adopting this approach, such as:

  • Promoting collaboration: You can achieve a more holistic outcome since design thinking requires multidisciplinary teams to come together to share perspectives while working toward a solution. This promotes collaboration, as all teams need to work together. 
  • Teaching innovation: Every successful business has one thing in common: innovation. Design thinking requires you to redefine problems and proactively reach solutions to issues that don't exist by using methods that are out of the box. 
  • Having a competitive advantage: Statistics show that companies that adopt a design-thinking mindset do better than their competitors. That’s because the problem-solving process leads to solutions that users want, which are technologically possible and economical. The iterative nature of design thinking also ensures customers are kept in the loop and that every development is made with their needs in mind.

The 5 steps of the design thinking process 5️⃣

There are typically five stages of design thinking, but they’re often not linear. You might be working on one stage while someone else completes another simultaneously or skip a stage during an iteration.

Below are the five typical steps you’ll go through when using a common design thinking methodology. Keep in mind that there are many design thinking models, each emphasizing, adding, or removing different stages.

1. Empathize 🤲

This stage is arguably the most important. Design thinking is a user-centric approach, so you must gain insight into your users’ needs. To do that, use surveys and case studies and conduct interviews before, during, and after product development to gather user feedback.

2. Define ✏️

This stage is about identifying the problem your customer or audience is having and honing in on it. You'll need to gather all your insights and research and begin putting the puzzle together to create a problem statement, which should summarize four points:

  • Your target audience
  • Their problem
  • The specific issues
  • The impact it's having

3. Ideate 🧠

Once you have your problem statement and know what is causing the issues your customer or audience is facing, it’s time to explore every possible angle. This stage isn't about brainstorming viable ideas; it's about thinking outside the box to come up with any and every concept. 

A simple way to think about the ideation stage is that it's about quantity, not quality. You can use methods like mind mapping to promote creative thinking. The more potential solutions you have, the better; if you’re too limited in your thinking, you may overlook the best solution to the problem.

4. Prototype 🔧

Now that you have a (hopefully lengthy) list of possible solutions, it’s time to narrow it down to the feasible ones. This is essential to begin working on a prototype, a simplified version of a feature or product. It doesn't have to be anything fancy — it can even be an interactive digital representation. 

5. Test 🦾

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to let your audience test the prototype. Record their interactions and responses, and gather user feedback so you can implement changes, features, or upgrades based on their responses. The testing stage is also essential to identify any problems or flaws your prototype or potential solution might have, so keeping your users involved is crucial.

After completing these stages, you’ll likely undergo many iterations involving ideating, adding features, and testing until you have perfected the prototype. 

Frequently asked questions 🙋

The design thinking framework is quite broad and all-encompassing. Here are a couple FAQs that many people have about the process:

Design thinking and UX design: What’s the difference? ⚖️

UX (user experience) design focuses on how people interact with devices like mobile phones or computers, and UX designers will typically create wireframes to do this. The design thinking process focuses on the human aspect of a product or service through every step of the journey, from the problem to how the solution is implemented, including the user's experience.  

Is design thinking only applied to product development? 🤔

No, it can be applied to many situations and industries. For example, design thinking can also shape business strategies or improve customer support by viewing the problem holistically and approaching it from a multidisciplinary perspective. 

Showcase your design skills with Contra 💸

​​If you're a freelancer well-versed in the design thinking process, Contra can connect you with the right clients. Sign up now to showcase your expertise and take on exciting design challenges.

Creating Wireframes: A Step-by-Step Guide for UX Designers 💻

Master the art of creating a wireframe to ensure a user-friendly website with our comprehensive guide, including expert advice and examples.
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