What is Design Thinking? (And What Are The 5 Stages Associated With it?)

What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a solution-focused, problem-solving methodology that helps companies, and individuals alike to get a desired outcome on an inner problem, or to work forward on a future plan. Design Thinking allows for the user of the system to have a more structured plan for understanding innovation and to grow more as a company.

As Roger Martin, author of Design of Business, Put it:

“Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business…to create advances in both innovation and efficiency — the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”

What are the 5 Stages of Design Thinking?

The 5-stage model was originally proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, and it is continually used by individuals and firms to better innovate their selves. The 5-stage model are as follow: Empathize (learn about the audience for whom you are designing), Define (construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights), Ideate (brainstorm and come up with creative solutions), Prototype (build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others), and Test (return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback).


The first stage of Design Thinking is called Empathize. This stage is meant to get a better understand of the problem that you wish to conquer. This includes: consulting experts of the matter, engaging farther into the issue to better understand the problem at hand, as well as working the issue though as a group to have a deeper comprehension of everything that is involved with the problem.

The Empathy stage allows for Design Thinkers to gain insight into the needs regarding the issue along with setting aside their personal assumptions regarding it. A substantial amount of information is gathered during the Empathize stage and is carried on to the next few stages to help define the problem and understand how to deal with it.


The second stage of Design Thinking is called Define. During this stage in the Design Thinking process you are putting together all the information you gained during the Empathize step. Essentially, you will analyze your data and put them in order to better concrete the problems that your team has defined to this point.

The Define stage will help your team gather great ideas and be able to understand how to use them effectively. From here, you and your team will start to progress into the third stage of Design thinking, Ideate.


The third stage of Design Thinking is called Ideate. During this stage, Design thinkers start to use the information from the previous stages to generate logical ideas. From here, your team will start to make ideas that may be “out of the box” or perhaps just ideas that may normally skipped over when not all of information is presented. This stage allows for an alternative way to solve normalized problems.

By the end of this phase, your team should have a few ideas to solve the problem. It’s important during this phase that your team should generate a lot of ideas just so you have many to choose from when starting the next phase in the Design Thinking process, Prototype.


The fourth stage of Design Thinking is called Prototype. During this stage the team will work on creating a number of inexpensive products with specific features. This allows for the Design Thinkers to investigate possible solutions to the problems that were identified the earlier stages of the Design Thinking process. With each new prototype, the team investigates a different aspects of the problem and explores how each of the prototypes would fix the problem.

By the end of this stage, the Design Thinkers should have a better understanding of the constraints the are apparent of the prototype. This is also allow for the team to the problems that would be created by each prototype, and how they could fix the prototype to make the prototype inherently better. From here, the team should be ready to move on to the final step of the Design Thinking process, Test.


The fifth and final stage of Design Thinking is called Test. During this stage Design Thinkers test their prototypes made in stage four. They test their prototypes to see how well they solve/handle the problem that they initially analyzed in stages one and two. Even during this step, the team can and will make alterations and refinements in order to make the product more polished for their needs.

With this process, it allows for your team to go back to previous stages and revise their information to get the best outcomes for their end product. Essentially, the team can continue to do this until they are either solve their problem, or until they are satisfied with their product.

In Conclusion

To wrap things up, Design Thinking is a flexible process that is solution-focused to help solve problems that everyday people have issues with.

Where to Learn More

Gerd Waloszek, Introduction to Design Thinking, 2012: https://experience.sap.com/skillup/introduction-to-design-thinking/

Linda Nairman, Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation: https://www.creativityatwork.com/design-thinking-strategy-for-innovation/

Herbert Simon, Sciences of the Artificial (3rd Edition), 1996: https://monoskop.org/images/9/9c/Simon_Herbert_A_The_Sciences_of_the_Artificial_3rd_ed.pdf