Design Thinking at a Glance

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Design thinking can also be defined as a human-centred approach, it consists of three main phases: Immersion (to understand), Ideation (to explore), and Implementation (to materialise). These three phases can be broken down into five stages: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the various stages of the Design Thinking process.

Five coloured circles with five stages of design thinking

Stage 1: Empathise

In the empathise stage, a designer’s primary goal is to gain an empathic insight into the users' needs and any problems they might face. In this phase, it’s important to determine who the users are and what their pain points might be. The process requires designers to observe and engage with users in an empathic way.

In the empathy stage, it’s important to observe our users in their natural environment, to see what they are seeing, and to feel what they are feeling. If, for example, we observe a user struggling to find information on a website, we can adapt our design to alleviate that frustration.
In building empathy, designers can create products that truly please the user and make their lives easier. Without this empathy, the design process lacks that all-important user-centricity that often marks the distinction between product success and failure.

Stage 2: Define the Problem

Once we’ve empathised with our users, we can move on to the second stage of the Design Thinking process, which involves defining the problem our users need us to solve.
During this phase, it’s important to go back to what user experience involves, it’s about solving the problems that prevent users from accomplishing what they want to do with our product.
Before we can go into problem-solving mode, there is one very crucial step that we need to complete — one that will shape our entire design project from start to finish. In the Design Thinking process, this second step is what’s known as the “define” stage.
At this step, we’ll begin establishing a clear idea of exactly which problem we’ll be solving for the user. We’ll then shape this into a problem statement which will act as our guiding light throughout the entire design process.
So, what makes a good problem statement? Based on the insights we have gathered in the empathise stage, a good product statement ensures we don’t focus on product specifications or business outcomes but rather on the users and their needs. An example of a problem statement would be “I am a young working professional trying to eat healthily, but I’m struggling because I work long hours and don’t always have time to go grocery shopping and prepare my meals. This makes me feel frustrated and bad about myself.” Here we can see that the problem is human-centred and user-focused.

Stage: 3 Ideation

Ideation is the third stage of the Design Thinking process, and it’s all about generating ideas. This is where team members think of creative ways to solve the design challenges outlined in the define stage.
In this stage, designers are challenged to think outside the box to develop new ideas. It doesn't have to be time-consuming; designers just need to develop some ideas on paper. An ideation session can be conducted by one person or by a team of people. However, having more than one person to bounce ideas off of and listen to solutions will be a lot more beneficial in the end.
The definition of ideation, according to the Nielsen Norman Group can be described as “the process of generating a broad set of ideas on a given topic, with no attempt to judge or evaluate them.”
At this stage of the Design Thinking process, ideation involves the exploration and the formation of as many ideas as possible. Some of these ideas will go on to be possible solutions to our problem statement which originated in the definition phase; while some solutions will ultimately be rejected. At this stage of the game, it’s important to remember that the focus is on the number of ideas rather than the quality. We need to explore as many new perspectives and approaches as possible, essentially thinking outside of the box. During these brainstorms, it’s crucial that the ideation phase be as non-judgmental as possible.

Stage 4: Prototype

At this stage of the Design Thinking process, the more successful ideas formed in the ideation phase are put into practice by building prototypes.
During the process of Design Thinking, terms like prototypes, wireframes, and mock-ups are often used in parallel. These terms however are describing functionalities that are very different, the difference depends on the fidelity of the design. A prototype is a simplified and tentative model used to test initial concepts, assess various ideas and possible solutions. It is essentially a simplified version of your product that helps you showcase and test various ideas and designs; it’s a safe and practical way to test a solution before investing money into developing a finished product.
Prototypes come in various forms, they range from simple paper designs or low fidelity designs to fully functional interactive models, or high-fidelity mock-ups.

Stage 5: Test

Testing can be defined as simply testing your prototype on real users. During this process we’ll be able to see how your targeted users interact with your product, discovering what works and what doesn’t. Prototyping and testing work hand-in-hand, they can potentially add huge value to the design process. Not only does user testing help you to remain focused on your user; it also makes good business sense. By testing your ideas early and often, you are able to identify design flaws and usability issues before the product goes to market. This has numerous benefits for you, the user, and the business! User testing saves time and money, mostly by catching usability or functionality errors early on, this will ensure that your final product launch is bug-free, easy to use and free from unnecessary blunders. We also touched on this in a previous article – Data-Driven Design.


Design thinking is essentially a methodology treasure chest that designers are able to access whenever they need to, it’s a fundamental practise one can rely on when designing any successful user experience. To find out more on how your business can benefit from the Design Thinking process, get in touch with our team of UX experts at Amazee Labs.

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