Market Insights | Resources

The Five Stages Of Design Thinking: A Comprehensive Overview

Jun 27, 2023 | Arpal Jain

Design thinking is a methodology used for problem-solving that initially emerged in the design industry and has since been widely embraced by various fields and areas. It prioritizes human-centered approaches that emphasize empathy, creativity, and experimentation to generate inventive solutions to intricate issues.

5 Phases of Design Thinking                                                              Source: Designer People

What is the Importance of Design Thinking?

Essentially, design thinking is centered around comprehending people's requirements and creating solutions that satisfy those requirements in a significant manner. Here are a few reasons that demonstrate the significance of design thinking:

  • Focus on Users: Design thinking prioritizes the users as the central element of the problem-solving process. Through empathizing with the users, one can identify their needs and challenges, which leads to solutions that are relevant and efficient for them. This approach results in effective, efficient, and customized solutions.

  • Collaboration and Diversity: Design thinking encourages cross-functional teamwork and collaboration. By involving people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets, one can leverage their knowledge and expertise to create comprehensive and innovative solutions. This approach leads to solutions that are more effective and comprehensive.

  • Innovation: Design thinking promotes experimentation and risk-taking. It enables you to generate numerous ideas, quickly test them, and refine them based on user feedback. This approach encourages innovative solutions that challenge conventional thinking and open up new possibilities.

  • Cost-Efficiency: Design thinking is a cost-effective approach to problem-solving. By prototyping and testing solutions before investing in their development, you can minimize the risk of failure and reduce the overall cost of development. This approach can save resources and improve efficiency.

  • Competitive Edge: Design thinking can give organizations a competitive advantage. By creating solutions that meet the specific needs of the users, they can differentiate themselves from their competitors. This approach leads to innovative, efficient, and effective solutions that can help gain a competitive edge.

What is the purpose of Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving that prioritizes the needs and experiences of people at the center of the design process. Its purpose is to develop innovative and efficient solutions for intricate problems by empathizing and comprehending the perspective of those who will use the solution. This structured process encompasses various stages, such as empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing.

In the different stages of the design thinking process, designers can analyze the problem, detect opportunities for innovation, and propose various solutions that are feasible and customized to cater to the users' needs.

 In summary, the purpose of design thinking is to create innovative and effective solutions to complex problems by understanding and empathizing with the people who will use the solution. Design thinking is a structured process that involves several stages, including empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test. By following this process, designers can create solutions that are user-friendly, efficient, and effective.

What are the 5 Phases of Design thinking?

The Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( originally proposed a model consisting of five stages for the design thinking process. These phases  are as follows:

  • Empathize: Understand the problem of the user for whom you are designing.

  • Define: Form a problem statement.

  • Ideate: Generate creative solutions to this problem.

  • Prototype: Build a tangible representation of this solution.

  • Test: Validate this solution with your target audience.

Is Design Thinking a linear process?

Design Thinking a non-linear process                                        Source:Interaction Design Foundation

Although design thinking typically adheres to a structured framework, it does not necessarily follow a linear process. The design thinking model is often illustrated as a cyclical or iterative process that involves moving back and forth between different stages.

The various stages of design thinking, such as empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, are interconnected and may overlap with one another. For example, insights obtained during the empathy stage may lead to a refinement of the problem definition during the define stage. Similarly, testing may reveal new insights that require revisiting earlier stages of the process.

This iterative and non-linear approach is one of the key advantages of design thinking. It enables flexibility and adaptability as new information is acquired throughout the process. It also reflects the reality of problem-solving, where solutions are often not reached in a straight-line path, but through trial and error and continuous improvement.

While design thinking may have a structured framework, it is important to keep in mind that the process can be customized and adapted to meet the specific requirements of a project or challenge. The focus should remain on the end goal, using empathy, collaboration, and experimentation to generate innovative and effective solutions.

Let's now explore each stage in more detail and look at some examples of how design thinking can be applied in practice.


Step 1: Empathize with your users                                             Source:Interaction Design Foundation

In the design thinking process, the first stage is Empathize, which focuses on understanding the users that the design is intended for. This stage is critical as it allows designers to gain an in-depth understanding of the needs, wants, and motivations of users. By doing so, designers can create solutions that effectively address their requirements and expectations. For example, while designing a new mobile banking app, designers may conduct customer interviews and observe their behaviors to identify their needs and challenges. Through this approach, designers can put themselves in the user's shoes, develop empathy, and identify opportunities for improvement.

The primary objective of the Empathize stage is to gather relevant information and insights that can guide the design process. To achieve this objective, designers employ various techniques, such as user interviews, contextual inquiry, and empathy maps. 

  • In user interviews, individuals are asked to describe their experience with a specific problem, which helps designers understand how people currently solve similar issues.During user interviews, interviewees are asked to tell a story about the last time they experienced the problem. The answer will help product creators understand how people currently solve the same or similar issues.

  • Contextual inquiry involves immersing yourself in the physical environment of your target users, allowing you to observe how they interact with existing products and gain a more personal understanding of the challenges they face. For example, a designer creating a travel app might spend time in airports and hotels to observe how travelers use other travel apps.

  • An empathy map is a visualization tool that helps product teams summarize their knowledge of users. It captures information on what users say, think, do, and feel, leading to a deeper understanding of the target audience.



Step 2: Define the problems faced by users                                             Source:System Concepts

The Define stage is a critical part of the design thinking process, where designers interpret and synthesize the information gathered during the Empathize stage to define the problem statement and set clear goals for the design process. This stage involves identifying and understanding the user's needs, motivations, and pain points to generate insights that can inform the design strategy. For instance, if you're developing a new e-commerce platform, you might use customer feedback and data to identify issues in the existing platform and define the design challenge, such as "How can we simplify the online shopping experience for customers?”

Here are some of the key activities involved in the Define stage:

  • Analyze and synthesize the data collected during the Empathize stage to identify patterns, themes, and insights.

  • Craft a problem statement that captures the core of the design challenge and provides a guiding principle for the rest of the process.

  • Create personas, which are fictional characters that represent the user's needs, goals, and behaviors, to help the team empathize with the users better.

  • Identify the user's pain points, desires, and goals to prioritize and focus on the most important design elements.

  • Establish design requirements and constraints, including functional and non-functional requirements, to steer the ideation and prototyping phases.


Step 3: Ideate Multiple possible solutions for users                                             Source:System Concepts

The Ideate stage in design thinking is focused on generating multiple possible solutions for the problem defined in the previous stage. In this stage, designers use a brainstorming process to explore different ideas, challenge assumptions and produce innovative solutions. For instance, when designing a new fitness app, designers can use ideation techniques such as mind mapping, sketching and random word association to develop ideas. Ideas such as gamification, social features, and personalized coaching can be generated to motivate users and help them track their workouts.

The following are key elements of the Ideate stage:

  • Divergent thinking: Designers use various ideation techniques to come up with as many ideas as possible without evaluating them.

  • Encouraging creativity: Designers are urged to think creatively and outside the box while challenging assumptions to generate new and innovative ideas.

  • Collaboration: The Ideate stage usually involves group brainstorming sessions where designers work together to improve each other's ideas and create better solutions.

  • Reframing the problem: Based on their understanding of the users' needs and pain points, designers may redefine the problem statement to develop more effective solutions.

  • Prototyping: At the end of the Ideate stage, designers will have many potential solutions. The next step is to choose the most promising ideas and create prototypes to test and refine them.


Step 4: Prototype to test the form and function of  your ideas                                             Source:System Concepts

The Prototype stage of the design thinking process involves creating low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes to test your ideas and bring them to life. This stage allows you to identify usability issues and refine your design before investing in production. For instance, if you are developing a smart home device, you might create a cardboard mock-up or a 3D-printed prototype to test the form and function of the device.

The following are some key elements of the Prototype stage:

  • Build low-fidelity prototypes: Use inexpensive materials to quickly and cheaply create rough sketches or models of your ideas.

  • Build high-fidelity prototypes: Use advanced tools and materials, such as 3D printers, to create more detailed and accurate prototypes for testing and gathering feedback.

  • Test and refine: Gather feedback from users and refine your designs based on their feedback.

  • Iterate: Continuously build and test prototypes until you have a solution that meets the needs of your users and solves the problem identified in the Define stage.

  • Create a final prototype: Once you have refined your design based on user feedback, create a final prototype that closely resembles the finished product. This will help you identify any final design issues before launching the solution in the real world.



Step 5: Test Prototype fits to satisfy user needs                                     Source: KomodoDigital

The Test stage in the Design Thinking process is aimed at refining and improving the prototype through user testing and feedback. Its objective is to ensure that the prototype satisfies the users' needs and requirements. The insights obtained during this stage serve as a foundation for the next iteration of the Design Thinking process, which starts again from the Empathize stage. Here are the key activities in the Test stage:

  • Usability testing: Evaluate the prototype for usability, functionality, and ease of use.

  • A/B testing: Compare two or more variations of the prototype to determine the best design.

  • User acceptance testing: Assess the prototype with a representative sample of users to determine if it satisfies their needs and expectations.

  • Feedback collection: Collect feedback from users to identify areas of improvement and inform future iterations of the prototype.

  • Iteration: Based on the user feedback, refine and improve the prototype to create a better solution.

How overview design elements are used in the design thinking process?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, experimentation, and iteration. Design elements play a crucial role in the design thinking process, as they help designers to visually communicate ideas and concepts, as well as to create prototypes and test solutions.

  • Lines can be employed to produce various shapes and forms in design, convey movement, direction, or emotion, and guide the viewer's eye towards important elements in the design.

  • Shapes can be used to communicate different meanings and emotions in design, establish balance, harmony, or contrast, and define negative space.

  • Colors can elicit an emotional response in the viewer, as different colors can convey different emotions, create contrast, harmony, or hierarchy in the design.

  • Texture can generate a tactile or visual experience in the design, add depth and dimension to the design, and create contrast and interest.

  • Value pertains to the lightness or darkness of a color, and it can be employed to create contrast, balance, and hierarchy in the design.

  • Space refers to the area around and between the elements in the design, and it can be utilized to create balance, harmony, or contrast, and define the relationship between the elements in the design.

  • Form refers to the three-dimensional shape of an object, and it can be employed to create depth and dimension in the design, as well as convey a sense of solidity or weight.

  • Typography refers to the use of typefaces in design, and it can be used to create hierarchy, contrast, and emphasis in the design, as well as convey a sense of tone and personality.

The following are some instances of how design elements are utilized in the design thinking process:

  • Visualizing ideas: Designers employ various visual elements, such as color, shape, and typography, to represent and communicate ideas to others. They may create sketches, diagrams, or mind maps to explore and convey different concepts and solutions.

  • Creating prototypes: Designers use different design elements to construct prototypes of their ideas, varying from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity mockups. Through creating prototypes, designers can rapidly test and enhance their ideas based on feedback from users.

  • Iterating solutions: Designers utilize design elements to constantly refine their solutions according to the feedback provided by users. They may use design elements such as color, layout, and typography to make alterations to their prototypes and improve their solutions until they cater to user requirements.

  • Storytelling: Designers use design elements to develop engaging narratives that attract users and stakeholders. They may use visuals, such as infographics, illustrations, and animations, to narrate stories and express the value of their solutions.

Overall, design elements play a vital role in the design thinking process, as they aid designers in conveying ideas, constructing prototypes, improving solutions, and creating compelling narratives. By using design elements proficiently, designers can develop solutions that are not only functional but also visually appealing, engaging, and effective.

Who can use the design thinking process?

Product designers: Design thinking is frequently used in product design to develop user-centered and innovative solutions. By understanding the needs and preferences of users, product designers can create products that are more engaging and effective.

  • Business professionals: Design thinking can be employed in business strategy and innovation to identify new growth opportunities, improve customer experiences, and develop more effective solutions to business challenges.

  • Educators: Design thinking can be used in education to create more engaging and effective teaching and learning experiences. By comprehending the needs and preferences of students, educators can create more effective educational materials and methods.

  • Healthcare professionals: Design thinking can be used in healthcare to develop more patient-centered solutions that cater to the needs and preferences of patients. This can lead to better health outcomes and improved patient satisfaction.

  • Social innovators: Design thinking can be used in social innovation and non-profit sectors to create solutions that address social and environmental challenges. By comprehending the needs and preferences of underserved populations, social innovators can create more equitable and inclusive solutions.

In summary, design thinking is a versatile approach that can be used by anyone who wants to create innovative and effective solutions that are founded on empathy, collaboration, and experimentation.


Design thinking is a versatile and impactful methodology for driving innovation across various industries and contexts. By following a five-stage process that includes empathizing with users, defining the problem, generating ideas, prototyping solutions, and testing them, you can develop solutions that are centered on user needs and are both effective and sustainable. Whether you're creating a product, service, or experience, design thinking can be a powerful tool for tackling complex problems and delivering meaningful outcomes.

I Understand

By continuing to use this site you consent to the use of cookies.

Know More.