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Design thinking is a non-linear process of finding solutions to problems. Ill-defined and unknown problems are the best-suited problems for design thinking. This method is useful for identifying user needs. Although each stage has its natural place, designers can start with nearly anywhere, so long as they cover all of their bases: empathize, define the problem, ideate, build a prototype, and test.

Stage 1: Empathize

Empathetic understanding may be the best place to start designing. This stage is where designers get to know their ideal users. Designers must observe, research, and engage with the target market. Experts can shed some light on the problems users experience.

Stage 2: Define

A defined problem makes the solution easier to find. The focus of the first stage was to research and gather information, and the goal of the second stage is the analysis of data and summarization of the problem. Designers use problem statements to identify the problem but not to solve it. Problem statements shouldn’t include the solution or anything to do with the company.

Stage 3: Ideate

Idea generation may not come until the middle of the design process. Once the problem is defined, designers must question how they can offer a solution. Ideation techniques like brainstorming encourage free thinking. The function of the ideate phase is to allow the flow of ideas, not constrict them. When designers remain open to ideas, they may create better solutions (or even a solution that addresses multiple problems).

Stage 4: Prototype

Designers can make multiple prototypes. Designers need prototypes to test, but original prototypes don’t need to be perfect. During this experimental phase, designers test the validity of prototypes and question whether or not they’ve identified the best solution. The prototypes are tested and retested, improved upon, or rejected. Design teams may want to revisit the empathy stage to ensure they are in touch with users.

Stage 5: Test

No one wants to release a product or service to the public without first testing its effectiveness and applicability. During the fifth stage of testing, designers may find that the problem remains unsolved or maybe that the design team has redefined the problem. The testing phase may include many refinements and alterations.