The 5 Stages of Design Thinking

Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test; these are the five stages of the Design Thinking process, which teams use to better understand their users, challenge user assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Design thinking is most effective when tackling unclear or previously undefined problems, because it is human-centric and so it allows teams to put the needs of the users first.

Design thinking is unquestionably the best methodology for “thinking beyond the box” among all entrepreneurial methodologies; with it, teams will probably conduct better research, prototype, and test in order to find creative methods to meet users' needs. It is possible to change how businesses create their goods and services by adopting a design mindset. That is because this method combines what is practical from a technological and economic standpoint with what is desirable from a human one. Additionally, it enables anyone without design training to employ innovative design-based solutions to a wide range of problems.

Stage 1: Empathize - Why researching your users' needs is crucial

As entrepreneurs, we usually attend work everyday believing that we have our business’ best interest at heart. Even Though our intentions are pure, in reality, we are frequently framing the problem at hand with a slew of assumptions that aren't always true or correct, especially when it comes to what we think our target audience or potential consumers/users need or want. For that, Design Thinking urges every entrepreneur or marketer to think of Empathy as the essential starting point for every effective solution; Empathy is a crucial tool when it comes to a human-centered process such as Design Thinking. Despite the significance of typical strategic business objectives, an empathetic point of view towards the problem you're trying to solve must be your top priority.

It is only via a real understanding of your consumers’ needs, demands, attitudes, and feedback that accurate solutions can be unlocked. For that, you must properly consider and internalize the user experience on an emotional level and this only works if you are interacting with them personally. This takes place once you organize interviews and ask them a list of questions focusing on their experience with certain undefined problems you’re trying to fix. For example, asking questions such “What was your experience like dealing with problem ‘X’?” or “How would you like problem ‘Y’ to be solved?” is personal, yet not too subjective in a way that might be ineffective. You can also organize group sessions so that collective issues can be addressed and discussed.

Once you catch a pattern with certain user problems, things will get easier and that is because once you truly understand your consumers/users’ problems in an empathetic manner, you will become more capable of reaching an accurate solution which will precisely cater their needs. For that, everyone involved in the business during this phase must make an effort to put their preconceived notions aside and obtain actual insights that are useful to the design team.

Stage 2: Define - The importance of presenting your user insights in a clear manner

A clear Definition of your problems from Stage 1, known as ‘problem statements’, is the main concern of the process' second stage. After you start making sense of your research by laying out all the information you've gathered about your consumers/users and their needs, you can now properly start defining your problem statements. After that, you must work on a plan which entails how your business can achieve solutions to cater those problems, which are influenced by your users’ lifestyle and culture.

The secret to finding the best ideas and achieving consensus along the road is a strong creative brief that is developed with strategic emphasis and yet with creativity. Internally, a strong brief gives our design team direction and actionable information; however, it also provides the client with an early glimpse that will help them form an idea about what the solutions might be like.

Stage 3: Ideate - The vital phase of challenging assumptions and creating ideas

Now that the difficult part has been clearly articulated, we can confidently enter the brainstorming process. Because we now have a thorough understanding of our target audience, as well as a clear and well-defined problem to solve, it's time to start thinking about potential solutions. Every team member within the company must firstly think of and work on "design pathways" that might provide reliable and “out of the box” solutions, before getting into the specifics of execution. For that, all must agree on where the chosen challenges might lead us and evaluate their creative potential and long-term viability, before beginning to work on any sketches or computer designs.

This phase is full of Creativity, however, it doesn't come easy. It must be fueled by endless brainstorming and mind-mapping sessions, among other techniques. The secret in this phase is to foster an atmosphere where diverse and thought-provoking choices are welcomed and evaluated with the ultimate aim of not simply settling for what’s considered “safe”. Every team member must use their skills and experience as a strong aiding tool, their clear brief as a guide, and a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to determine the strategic viability of each possible option in order to choose the most innovative solutions to the problem statement that was created in Stage 2.

Stage 4: Prototype - Start to work on the execution

The fourth stage focuses entirely on Experimentation; turning concepts into actual “artifacts”, aka prototyping. Prototyping is an essential step in giving the work immediate life; don't be afraid to illustrate the solution using unusual methods, as long as they are authentic and consumer-friendly. Consumer comprehension, which was gained in Stage 1, is essential when putting each solution to the test in order to identify any gaps, restrictions, or conceptual faults, which will be discussed further in Stage 5.

Through a succession of evaluations and criticisms from the whole team, proposed solutions may be enhanced, altered, or discarded throughout this stage. Because we are gathering ideas from various sources, this phase celebrates cooperation and true teamwork, depersonalizes the delicate process of innovation in an empowering manner, and gives creative minds the freedom to be unconventional in the best way.

Stage 5: Test - The key to everything: trying out your solution

After all the brainstorming and prototyping, you must look for ways to organically Test your solutions in an efficient way with consumers/users. Eye tracking and quantitative “benchmarks” are frequently used in design testing, however, a qualitative group session with consumers can help you dive much deeper into why their feedback is the way it is. It's critical that the consumers/users you are speaking with care about the issue you're trying to solve so that their feedback is genuine and helpful.

Open-ended questions should be the core of your group session and these questions must be geared towards finding the right solution. For example, asking “What problem do you think ‘X’ solution could help you with?” or “How might solution ‘Y’ impact your experience as a user?”. It is also important to ask them how they think each solution can be improved. This type of inquiry encourages users to help enhance the idea or solution in useful ways. Avoid yes/no questions or questions that are too subjective, such as “Which solution do you like more?”. At this stage, you should insert your new knowledge back into the process and continue to improve your notions until you have found the (almost) perfect solution. The most efficient way of doing that is by taking the results of your testing and going back to Stage 2 & 3, where you can update the problem statements and the ideas you had for the solutions.

The reason why Design Thinking is such an effective way of solving problems is because it takes a very unique approach compared to other methods of addressing problem statements; and that is identifying hidden needs by allowing the innovator or the problem solver to live the user’s experience. Instead of simply assuming which solution works or doesn’t work, based on prejudgments, design thinking allows the innovator to focus on those he/she are trying to cater to; their needs, their demands, their point of view. Once a human-centric method such as design thinking is adopted, the margin of error decreases significantly due to the data that was gathered and validated during the process.

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