What Is Design Thinking? [5 Stages and Advantages]

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design thinking

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a person-centered and user-centered approach to product design that promotes problem solving and innovation.

The designing thinking starts with customer empathy – a way of understanding the customer’s needs, expectations, problems, and desires by truly resonating with how they feel. 

After this, the design process unfolds in stages such as prototype testing, user research, product improvement plans, etc. Since the design process is non-linear and circular, it is referred to as the design thinking cycle. 

What is the history of design thinking? 

Some experts say that it started in the 1960s when Buckminister Fuller, an American from MIT, created a systematic approach to examine the design and solve issues. 

Around the same time in Scandinavia, a model called ‘design-by-doing’ came into being where mock sessions and scenarios were used to collaboratively design products from the target users. 

Now fast forward the next three decades, in the 1990s there was a bloom of service design. The service design required its users to overcome complex issues which were modern in nature with a user-centric approach. 

In addition to this, in the year 1992, Richard Buchanan published an article called ‘Wicked problems in Design Thinking.’ This introduced design as an approach to solving intricate problems with a holistic perspective. The design thinking that we know of today is a result of the development that has happened in this domain for years. 

What are the 5 important stages of design thinking?

Design Thinking is such a well-established field now that you can even earn a degree in it! It is used by organizations and industries all over the world. 

Though its application can differ from place to place, design thinking generally proceeds in 5 main stages. They are as follows: 

Stage 1: Empathy towards users

Customer empathy in itself is a huge area to explore. You can read about it here. Precisely, it helps your business to be more user-centric and build the product by keeping the target audience or the ultimate customer in mind. 

Thus, the product designers have to think about all of the aspects such as who the customer is, what is their need, what’re their problems and how can they solve them, how will the customer benefit from the product, and what value will it add to their daily life. 

Sometimes, the product design team may feel confident about their knowledge about the customer. But is that really true?  

In order to find out, it is important to validate and back your assumptions up with some meaningful research. And research isn’t merely observing customers but actively interacting with them and exploring the issues together. Creative thinking tools such as empathy maps, six thinking hats, insights surrounding user thoughts, etc. can be used as an assistance.  

Make sure to not define the problem until and unless you know the user well enough and empathize with them. 

Stage 2: Define the problem

The last stage of fostering customer empathy can be cumbersome since you may have to interview and observe, take notes, make user journey maps, etc. 

Now,  this stage enables you to put forward and organize all the information that you have collected from the previous stage. 

Your problem should be framed in a way to address the user’s concerns and not what your organization thinks is the user’s concern. There is a thin line between these two which needs to be understood well. 

To help you with the same, you can use the perspective from a different point of view – for instance, your user’s perspective and your organization’s perspective. This will help to bring three aspects together – the user, their needs, and your insights through the research. 

Stage 3: Brainstorm ideas

Once the problem has been defined, you’ll need to analyze how to solve it. This can be done by using “How might we…” sentences to frame your thoughts. 

However, before you go ahead with anything, you need to start by exploring all your possible options in order to foster innovation, ideation, and divergent thinking

In this stage, you are either likely to explore something that is very obvious or something that is totally out of the way! But, remember that you should consider unique solutions first. 

The end of this phase is usually seen with having several ideas and opportunities on the plate so that they can be prototyped and taken into testing. 

Stage 4: Create a Prototype

The idea that you have come up with in the previous stage can seem like that of  Archimedes screaming ‘Eureka!’ You could potentially find it hard to let go. 

However, remember that not all ideas are actually practical enough to implement, which is why it becomes crucial to try them out first. The prototype is the stage that exactly helps you do this. 

The prototyping stage lets you use mock-up trials of the product, learn what works and doesn’t work as opposed to waiting for the product to actually launch to the market

In this stage, the prototype is distributed among team members and among stakeholders if necessary. The objective is to point out the flaws on the basis of ergonomics, practicality, functionality, cost of production, and ideas that can make it through the last and the final stage.

Stage 5: Test your idea 

Your methodology of testing the ideas depends on who your target audience is and what you are building for them. 

Make sure that your trials are carried out based on user research and in controlled settings. The internal bias and judgments need to be kept at bay as much as possible. 

The testing stage is only to improve your product and make it the best version for the launch. Do not hesitate to fail and test new things. 

It’s completely okay to realize that you might have to start again from the first stage because your idea did not work out. Your feelings of disappointment are valid. However, do not forget to cheer yourself up by looking at the greater good that is upcoming for your business. 

A side note: 

Though these stages are explained in a systematic way here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all the businesses have to proceed in the same sequence of order. It is okay to take the non-linear route or anything that suits your organizational individuality. 

For instance, your team might prefer to ideate and empathize at the same time and then define the problem. Similarly, it is likely that you return to the empathy stage when you are ideating and come across additional pain points of the user, etc.  

What are the advantages of design thinking?

As you have read so far, design thinking prioritizes the needs of the ultimate user at the very core of this process. Hence, it increases the chances of customers actually picking up and using the product making it commercially successful. 

Moreover, because designing thinking finds its roots in the user-centric approach, it gives a lot more commercial potential to such a design. 

Additionally, since it goes through five different stages of fostering customer empathy, understanding the user’s issue, ideating solutions, testing, and fine-tuning, etc. this empowers the development team with valuable customer feedback


What is the design thinking approach?

Design thinking is a person-centered and user-centered approach to product design that promotes problem solving and innovation. It happens in five different stages of fostering customer empathy, understanding the user’s issue, ideating solutions, prototyping, and finally testing. This empowers the development team with valuable customer feedback.

What is the top advantage of design thinking?

Design thinking prioritizes the needs of the ultimate user at the very core of this process. It gives a lot of commercial potential to the product.

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