Design Process Steps (Design Thinking)

January 10, 2018

An overview of the design process (sometimes called "design thinking").

Designing isn’t magic. It’s a process. If you know the process, you can design. The better you are at the things Hillman Curtis mentioned in his quote, the better designer you will be. The process, however, is the same for just about any design practice. Let’s look closely at the design process.

Tony Fadell, a Product Designer who worked at Apple and Nest, talks about where to start when designing.

There are many different design thinking processes out there. I have found these five to be helpful when designing any project.

The Design Thinking Process in One Place

The chart below brings all of their steps into one tidy presentation. Note how many steps are the same across design thinking processes.

5-Step Design Thinking ProcessIDEO Design Thinking ProcessThe Universal TravelerDesign Sprint (Google)
Pre-WorkSet the Stage
Prepare a space and tools needed to operate a sprint. Get your mind ready to think like a designer.
Launch the ProjectFrame a Question
Identify a driving question that inspires others to search for creative solutions.
Set your initial intentions; accept the problem as a challenge; allow the problem to become the generator of the process.
Gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve.
Gather Inspiration
Inspire new thinking by discovering what people really need.
Gather Facts and Feelings: Become familiar with the insides and the outsides of the problem; discover what the “world of the problem” contains.
“Boot up” as much information as quickly as possible. Gather information from all team members.
Specify the NeedDefine
Put together the information created and gathered. Create a clear “problem statement.”
Determine the destination. Define the main issues of the problem; conceptualize and clarify aims, ends, and goals of problem resolution.
Produce Solution IdeasIdeate
Identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, look for alternative ways of viewing the problem. Generate many ideas.
Generate Ideas
Push past obvious solutions to get to breakthrough ideas.
Generate alternatives. Identify all possible ways of realizing the goals.
Solve the problem by using a method optimized for deep thinking. Every individual sketches their own detailed, opinionated solutions. Make a storyboard to show how the design will work.
Choose a DirectionSelect
Choose from the options. Compare the destination (goal) with the possible ways of getting there; determine the best match(es).
Determine which of your sketches should be prototyped and tested.
Create the DesignPrototype
Build rough prototypes to learn how to make ideas better.
Make Ideas Tangible
Build rough prototypes to learn how to make ideas better.
Take action. Give form to the selected “best ways;” realize intentions.
Build a realistic prototype of the solution(s) you selected.
Test the DesignTest
Rigorously test the completed product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. Learn if any adjustments need to be made.
Test to Learn
Refine ideas by gathering feedback and experimenting forward.
Measure success. Review the design’s impacts to determine the degree of success and its overall value; what was learned?
Present the solution to stakeholders and quick-and-dirty answers to your most pressing questions.
Share with OthersShare the Story
Craft a human story to inspire others toward action.

The design process can be applied to just about any problem. It all comes down to being aware of the need and working to create and test solutions till you find the right fit.

the design process illustrated in a book
A spread from the Universal Traveler

Want to see Design Thinking in action? Check out the Creative Confidence Series Webcast Episode about how IDEO uses design thinking to address different business challenges. The video is at the bottom of the page. Each chapter is excellent.


Associate Professor

Miami University