The 5 Stages of Design Thinking and Specific Techniques

Soledad Mari
intive Developers
Published in
4 min readAug 14, 2018


Design Thinking is a methodology with a new approach to developing and enhancing products and services thanks to a set of tools in line with its vision — although its applications are not limited to those uses.

Since we implemented Design Thinking in our projects in intive-FDV, we improved processes and dynamics both within the team and in our relationship with the client. In this way, we offer integral solutions that take users into consideration, delivering more value to businesses.

One Design Thinking process consists of 5 mutually interdependent stages that build on each other. We are going to explore more about it.

The 5 Stages of Design Thinking

Let us look in detail at each of the process stages and learn about the most common techniques used in each one.

1. Empathise

In this stage, the aim is to know the target audience of our efforts. Getting to know the audience means not only to inquire about issues related to our service, but also to learn about their way of living. How do they connect with our service? In what circumstances do they connect? How are they affected by the environment?

There are various tools to use when it comes to empathise, depending on the needs and possibilities of the case. Some examples include: surveys, interviews, statistics and focus groups.

2. Define

All the information we can collect will allow us to find one (or more than one) opportunities for improvement. The team will decide how to prioritize and choose which one to approach first, and which ones to address later.

The results obtained in the previous stage can be used to create empathy maps, customer journey maps, Personas, or service blueprints.

3. Ideate

After the team analyzes the information and is able to define issues based on users, it is time to start generating ideas. With different group activities, the members of any team can open their minds and incubate a great number of ideas that will be then filtered for prioritization.

Any technique that allows us to go beyond the obvious and challenge the current situation is welcome: brainstorming, worst possible idea, collaborative sketching, and product box.

4. Prototype

In this stage, the aim is to create reduced and inexpensive versions of the product or service (or just a fragment) that capture the ideas obtained in the previous stage.

In prototyping, to be fast and inexpensive is key. Options include paper or cardboard mockups, low quality wireframes: you name it.

5. Test

Prototypes are designed to be tested with users. Based on the results of such tests, we can then start the process again, that is, we can empathise even more, improve our ideas, make new prototypes, and retest in order to get solutions that truly and appropriately address the issues concerning our users.

In this stage, the aim is to test ideas with real users. The most common method is to create a script and ask users to perform actions interacting with the prototype.

How do we get started?

It is important to bear in mind that teamwork is at the base of the Design Thinking methodology. Multidisciplinary groups can offer different specializations and perspectives; the idea that there is only one area leading the process is no longer applicable. In that way, risky situations can be avoided: for example, if the team does not include any member of the technical area, it may overlook important issues that can then hinder the development process. These techniques will allow us to leverage the capabilities of the whole group so that everyone can contribute with their expertise and perspective, and add to the collaborative conversation.

The Key of Design Thinking

In sum, in Design Thinking the very first thing to do is to empathise, understand the user from their point of view in order to devise effective solutions. Afterwards, repeating the process allows us to rework solutions in order to enhance them and improve things we may have overlooked the first time. And last but not least, it is essential to keep an open mind. The tools used during the process of Design Thinking help us consider out-of-the-ordinary approaches that can uplift the final result.


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