Design thinking strategy explained

The design process, I’m sure we’ve all heard of it. Many of you probably already use it in your practice without even knowing it. So I’m here today to help explain design thinking further and the importance of each step along with this fundamental method for designing user-centered products.

Simply put, the design process can help you solve any problem by making sure you don’t just focus on the solution before actually define the problem you’re trying to solve. The last thing you want to do is spend days/weeks/months on a project only to realize that you didn’t really solve the real problem.  This process is an iterative method for creating solutions based on the understanding of users, their needs, and their problems. 

The above image is my example of the design process that I’ve adapted based on the Standard’s design thinking module. Let’s go thru each step in more detail.


Get out and talk to your users directly

Also referred to as the empathize portion of the process, this part of the process is where most start. You need to understand what you’re designing by observing interacting and emerging yourself into the users that your product is aiming for. The discovery stage allows you to empathize with your user which is the centerpiece of human-centered design. You get to know the people and the problem you’re trying to solve by finding their motivations, pain points, needs, and problems. You gain this empathy by understanding the situation and circumstance of current and potential users.

Examples:  Surveys, exploratory research, client deliverables, competitive analysis, user interviews

Use that empathy work to create a problem statement

Once you have a better understanding of the user by making sense of the information you gathered during the discovery portion, you can now define the challenge you are taking on. You create a point of view of what the design should be solving by bringing clarity and focus to the design space.  Here you’ll be defining a problem statement from that empathy work you just completed.

Examples:  Affinity mapping, target users, user persona, design principles

Brainstorm lots of new ideas to solve that problem

Typically this is the stage that everyone rushes to right away without first doing the earlier steps. The ideation part of the process is where you start generating all those ideas on how to solve the problem that you’ve just defined. For me, I try to pump out as many ideas as I can by writing or sketching them out so that I can then narrow down to the best and most feasible ideas. Aim for quantity, not quality. This stage is going to provide the fuel and source material for building prototypes.

Examples:  Brainstorming exercises, prioritizing exercises, mood boards, style tiles, hi-fi’s

Build and make those ideas to test your concepts

In order to validate your hypothesis, you’ll need to create something to test your design solutions. Generating artifacts to answer the questions you have so that you can get closer to your final solutions. These concepts can be very simple like paper drawings that you can interact with to fully functional hi-fi prototypes. The point is to find out what solutions work best with users.

Examples:  Wireframe, Hi-Fi screens, paper prototype, lo-fi Prototype, Hi-Fi Prototype

Test your ideas to find out what worked best

Often referred to as the testing stage, this is where you see your work in action. Once you come up with your prototype you are going to need to test it with your users to gather that oh-so-sweet feedback. By gathering those valuable insights and coming up with next step takeaways you’ll be guided to the next iterations of your ideas and product. This stage allows you to narrow your focus of direction by seeing what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to be fixed.

Examples: Desirability testing, usability testing, analytics tools

Go back and do it again

At the core of the process is the iteration stage. Maybe the term stage is not the right way to describe this as you’ll be iterating throughout the process. Look at as an understanding that in the process you’ll be cycling thru the previous stages multiple times.  You’ll want to make sure you give yourself these checkpoints so that you can take what you learned and then apply it to a bigger and better version. 



The design process is a method of creative problem solving and is a framework for real-world projects.  To recap, the design process allows you to do the following:

  • Makes you understand the users and not base your decisions on assumptions. Remember, you’re designing for the user, not for yourself.
  • Allows you to define a problem before jumping into a solution.
  • Makes you explore multiple solutions before choosing the right one.
  • Creates a solution that is based on your user needs.

By putting your users first, you’ll know that the solutions you come up with address the real problems that need to be solved.

To see the design process in action, take a look at my case studies, and see how I solved problems for an automated video editor, data management dashboard, and millennial fitness app.

How do you tackle your design solutions? I’d love to hear about it.

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