Design Thinking is a philosophy of design and innovation.
This helps to better understand a situation, and put users and their needs at the centre of solution design.
Many schools of thought are built on a common Design Thinking methodology, and the systems of design generally resemble each other and same framework. However, individual approach and style may vary.
This page outlines the spurian approach to Design Thinking.
Design Thinking consistently includes the following five-step framework. This is particularly useful for beginners, though after time advanced designers may find the “intent” of the process just as useful as the specific steps.
It should be noted that although this process can be used for rapid design, it can also take days, weeks, months, or years—it all depends on the context. These steps, while linear, are also iterative and often loop back on each other. E.g. you may reach Ideation and then return to Empathy or Definition to refine your assumptions.
Phase One · Empathise
The empathise phase is to understand other people’s points of view and models of the world through interviewing and questioning the people are are experiencing the challenge or issue. It’s important to stay in question (not comment) mode. This phase is about uncovering feelings, stories, emotions, motivating factors, complexity, the stories behind stories, why things are the way they are, who’s involved, etc. Participants should write down any notes and insights gained.
This phase requires significant time investment. Empathising with your users is fundamental to good design.
Phase Two · Define
The definition phase is about defining the problem, and thereby setting the bounds to the solution. This is a critical stage, as this sets the scope for the remaining steps. There should always be a bias to define the root cause, not just a symptom.
This phase is often the most difficult, as it requires designers to refine and refine further until they have a properly defined problem. E.g. It may be that you start working on solving hunger in a community, only to find that the actual problem itself is refrigeration, not food production itself.
This stage should result in a clear simple statement. For example: “How might we ______________.” Feedback from the person(s) of focus from Phase One should be utilised as a check.
Phase Three · Ideation
With a clear definition statement, participants (including persons of focus) can now be generative, with solutions brainstormed. It is recommended that this phase is done in a group to ensure a robust number of solutions. This phase is typically actioned by brainstorming activities to rapidly generate ideas, provide feedback, and gather consent on which ideas to take forward.
Phase Four · Prototype
With a clear solution in mind, participants can now start building a prototype / bringing a solution to life in some small way. It’s important to remember that this phase isn’t about building a fully-functioning example (eg; website), but bringing to life some of the solution’s elements (eg; sketching on butchers paper a basic layout of a website). This process helps to further identify challenges and opportunities of the solution.
Phase Five · Test
With a prototype built, teams can start to gain feedback from stakeholders (eg; original persons of focus, other stakeholders, etc.) on the solution and prototype. Testing feedback should be consistently measured and rich to inform adjustments on the prototype (or, a complete rework and return to previous steps).
Phase 6 · Repeat
Design Thinking is an iterative process, and it is completely normal (and expected) to repeat or go back to previous steps. eg; A failure of a prototype may require revisiting the initial definition statement, or undertaking more interviews, etc.
Further reading on Design Thinking can be found at:
More tools and research