Five Essential Phases of Design Thinking Process

In the ever-evolving world of UX design, there is a never-ending race to achieve customer satisfaction. To reach these goals, UX teams need to consider user-centric approaches and design thinking to build effective design strategies and improve existing products.

The design thinking methodology is an iterative process that identifies problems, gathers potential solutions, facilitates rapid prototyping and harnesses user feedback to reach the best possible solution.

Using this method ensures building a broader image of the underlying problem, and aids in enabling us to focus on all sides of an issue.  

Read on to find out more about design thinking and how you can build it into your product delivery strategy.

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Five steps in the design thinking process

1. Empathise: 

Just like a bridge connecting two ends of different cliffs, empathy plays a pivotal role in connecting the designer with the user. This then helps a designer to form a bond with the user and helps in better understanding their feelings and requirements. 

In this phase, the designer/s delves into the situation to both gather data from users/target audience and to also imitate the user’s behaviour to better understand their crucial needs. E.g.  

  • Who the ideal users are
  • The expectation from the end product
  • User pain points 
  • Goals and conditions of a user
  • Accessibility and usability requirements

A set of activities are performed to get the best results and findings from this phase.

  •  Observation 

In this activity, you as researcher/designer, will try to spend time with the users/stakeholders to observe their digital experience. Take note of how and what the interaction of the users looks like and any struggles they have using the existing system.

  • User Interviews 

Get yourself involved in interviewing a single or a group of users to gather qualitative data. Listen and understand how users interact with the current product and what are their feelings towards the product. This activity is very resourceful as it helps understand the pain points of the current product, informing future changes and developments. 

  • User Surveys 

In this activity, you’ll be able to collect both valuable quantitative and qualitative data related to the users and your audience. This data can be collected using online surveys or interviewing groups of people.  This activity is very beneficial for observing and understanding a user’s interaction with a digital product. 

  • Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is an excellent way to record insights and user research as this activity helps gather information regarding the user and how they feel and what they do, say or hear in relation to the product. 

2. Define: 

After gathering information during the empathising phase, the define process kicks in. In this phase, designers will analyse all the observations, identify similar patterns, and group them by theme, priority or severity. This phase is essential and aids in defining the actual problem statement or the POV (point of view). Clustering and understanding user personas are essential activities for this phase. 


What is clustering, and why is it considered necessary?

As the name cluster, this task includes brainstorming , grouping and searching for similar and essential patterns in the data. 

In this part the data is divided and organised into smaller chunks to identify the issues, underlying problems and to reach a best possible solution and create a clear workable prototype.

3. Ideate:

After empathizing and understanding the problem statement, ideation involves generating a high volume of potential solutions. This step engages active brainstorming, where designers harness their full potential to create the best possible solutions for the existing problem or user needs.

4. Prototype:

After dedicating countless hours to requirement gathering and ideation, the most exciting and practical phase begins. This phase involves both low and high-fidelity prototyping.

Designers have the opportunity to create a full-scale model of the end product or develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) before moving on to testing.

A prototyping phase is iterative and one can start with a low-fidelity model and make adjustments based on user feedback gathered during the testing phase, before progressing to high-fidelity prototypes.

What is a low-fidelity prototype?

A low-fidelity prototype could be an artefact designed on paper to depict the end product’s functionality and can be improved/updated as per the user/client’s request. This is typically wireframes consisting of outlines of where text, images and more will go.

What is a high-fidelity prototype?

These prototypes are usually digital interactive models that work exactly like a final product or mimic a real-time product to train or get feedback from the user.

For more information on the types of prototypes, check out our post here.

5. Test:

Approaching the final and most essential stage of the design thinking process: the usability testing phase. Here, design flaws are identified through the evaluation and testing of prototypes.

This phase typically involves a combination of tests with users from your target audience, as well as staff testing. Their feedback and interactions are closely monitored throughout the testing. The results from this process determine whether any alterations are needed for the product or if it’s ready to move into the development phase.

Pixeltree’s recommendation

“We recommend you avoid defining a problem statement per the business’s goals prior to define phase.

Instead, you can get a concise and straightforward problem statement by the end of this phase.”

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