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What are the five phases of design thinking?


What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an iterative process that provides a solution-based approach to solving user-centered problems. Design thinking tends to challenge assumptions, tries to understand a user-centered problem, redefines the problem if it is ill-defined, and creates strategies to render the needed solution for the observed problem.

Illustration of design thinking

Design thinking:

  • Questions a problem
  • Challenges an assumption
  • Questions the implications of a problem
  • Re-defines an ill-defined problem
  • Creates possible solutions for an observed problem

Purpose of design thinking

The purpose of design thinking is to see a problem as it truly is, without engaging previous thought patterns in the provision of its solution. This gives rise to innovation and new discoveries.

Design thinking is not just thinking outside the box, but also thinking right on the fence. With previous experiences at hand about a particular problem, we are able to employ design thinking to observe the current problem in a detailed manner so as to envision innovative solutions, rather than following existing solution patterns.

Illustration of design thinking purpose

The 5 phases of design thinking

  1. Empathize

    The design thinking phases are not linear in nature; instead, they all revolve around each other. We empathize with the user to help define the problem. We could also carry out testing to understand the user. Empathy helps us feel what the user feels, and understand the constraints and pain of the user.

  2. Define

    We define the problem using all information observed around the user, through test engagement and conversational interviews. We can define a problem as well as redefine it as we develop a deeper understanding of the user.

  3. Ideate

    We create ideas from the defined problem. We can also gain new ideas by observing the tests carried out on the user. This phase gives us workable ideas of the solution to be established for the problem.

  4. Prototype

    Prototypes are established from the developed ideas. We can test them to ensure that they suit the ideal solution for the observed problem.

  5. Test

    Testing helps to create fresh insights that help us to define or redefine a problem. It helps us create new ideas for the project and helps in guiding our understanding of the user.



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