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  • Writer's pictureJillian Berry

7 Steps to Better Design Thinking

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

"Design Thinking" is a human-centered methodology that focuses on solving the right problem. This methodology leverages the designer's skill set to produce robust and intuitive solutions to complex problems that blend users' needs, future innovations, and the business' requirements.

The process of "Design Thinking" includes:

1. Empathizing with the user's needs

2. Defining the problem in a human-centric way

3. Ideation

4. Creation

5. Testing

6. Implementation

7. Monitor and Control

1. Empathizing

Design Thinking starts with empathizing with the user's needs during the discovery phase, and it carries out far after the product launch or service. Empathy is about moving from a self-centered approach to a user-centered approach by leaving personal assumptions and expertise at the door and focusing energy on the user to allow for better problem-solving. This involves viewing the situation through the user's eyes, appreciating their perspective, understanding their concerns, and then uncovering their needs using specific discovery techniques (mentioned below). The benefits of having empathy towards users are:

  • Gaining better insights into what the user needs, what values they hold, how they behave, and how they interact with others.

  • Creating accurate segmentation and personas for the company's target market

  • Creating stronger user stories and journey mapping

  • Recognizing when a pivot needs to happen at an earlier stage in the design process

  • Delivering a product that meets the needs and desires of the user

There are several ways to use empathy-building methods to understand better what is needed to build the correct product. The following are a few examples of user-centered discovery techniques:

User Interviews

The user interviews aim to uncover the user's needs, values, and behaviors. Therefore, the designer must ask the right questions and pay close attention to the user's words and body language.

  • Ask non-binary questions and encourage storytelling

  • Focus on specific instances

  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues

  • Have other colleagues take notes so the designer can be present and attentive

  • Avoid leading questions

  • Ask follow-up questions

Environmental Immersion

The environmental immersion technique focuses on the designer observing and understanding the user's behavior and interactions while the user is in a familiar environment. This technique centers around the designer immersing themselves into the user's environment to better understand the user's world.

  • Observe the user's environment and the user's response to their environment

  • Observe the user while they interact with the product and journal their responses

  • Have users journal their own experience with the product, encouraging them to write down their actions, emotions, and thoughts.

Turning to Superusers

Especially in an online community, certain types of people always contribute far more than the average user. These are the superusers, and they are the ones who are overly invested in the product or service because they have bought into the company's vision. Superusers tend to know the most about the product features, benefits, and functionality because they have invested time into extensive research.

  • Superusers are engaged with the online community and understand different user's perspectives

  • Superusers tend to have a strong understanding of the product or service

  • Superusers have more product workarounds and improvement suggestions

  • Superusers can articulate issues better than the average user

Constant Curiosity

The keyword here is constant. A designer should not stop being curious once the discovery phase completes, and they shouldn't stop being curious on launch day. Constant curiosity creates empathy far after a product has landed in the user's hands. Why? It's simple, there is always room for improvement, and the need to iterate will still be there once the masses have that product in their hand.

  • Be curious about who the target audience and the competition are.

  • Be curious about the real problem, not just the symptoms of the problem.

  • When defining the problem, be curious about the requirements and the possible solutions.

  • During the ideation and creation phase, be curious about what is feasible.

  • When something isn't working, be curious about the pivot that needs to happen.

Map It Out

When enough research and information is gathered, it's time to map it out to ensure that the human-centered methodology remains at the forefront of the design process.

  • Map out what the user says, thinks, does, and feels

  • Formulate a hypothesis

  • Focus on different personas or customer groups

  • Identify goals

  • Documents user research for other teams within the company

2. Defining

The second phase in the Design Thinking process is the Defining phase when the designer defines the problem statement that will guide the ideation process. Using knowledge gained through supported research and user discovery, the designer should be able to identify patterns and common problems across a diverse group of users. Once the problem statement is defined, the project's scope must be defined to establish a proper timeline and the necessary workloads. Defining SMART goals will help keep the project on track and allow stakeholders to monitor the project's success.

The Defining phase is essential because it focuses on the user's problem and provides a clear understanding of current unmet needs. It also acts as a starting point for competitive analysis and the opportunity to research current innovative solutions that may already be on the market.

3. Ideation

The Ideation phase focuses on two main priorities, idea generation and the evaluation of that idea. The idea generation process involves more than throwing many ideas into a hat and picking out one idea that will be used in the future. Instead, ideation involves brainstorming and exploring different ways to solve unmet needs identified in the Defining phase. This step can look chaotic initially because it focuses on a breadth of ideas and possibilities with minimal detailing. In this step, the designer should work with the product owner and a developer to understand better what may or may not be feasible and desirable. Once all potential high-level solutions are known, prototyping and testing may be necessary to ensure the potential solution(s) are viable. The following activities are standard ideation techniques that help with the ideation process and evaluation of a possible solution:


  • Include product owner, developers, and other stakeholders in these sessions

  • Keep brainstorming sessions between three to five people

  • Utilize the whiteboard as much as possible

  • Keep sessions short, encouraging fresh and fast-flowing ideas

  • Be creative without thought to constraints

  • Avoid criticizing other's ideas

  • Don't dismiss ideas too early

  • Question everything, get the root cause by asking the "5 Whys"

Story Boarding/ Mapping

  • Maps the journey that the user goes through to accomplish a goal

  • Identifies the gaps in the user journey

  • Bringing together data to find commonalities

  • Addressing pain points

  • Visualize scenarios or interactions

  • The visual story that represents the problem or solution

Wireframes/ Prototyping/ Mock-ups

  • Create a basic physical representation of the idea(s), so people can visualize the concept

  • At this point, wireframes can be drawn out by hand.


  • Have users review the concepts or scenarios to help poke holes

  • Utilize A/B testing to better understand what solution is more desirable by the user

  • Ask similar questions as in user interviews

  • Analyze user feedback and iterate

4. Creation

In the Ideation phase, a designer will create basic low-fidelity wireframes, prototypes, or mockups to quickly generate possible outcomes to find the best avenue to solve the problem. By the time they reach the Creation phase, the designer and stakeholders should have narrowed down the selection of ideas, and the designer should have a clear direction on how to approach the project. The product owner should clearly identify the project's scope, requirements, and timeline before the Creation phase starts. The product owner should identify the project's scope, requirements, and timeline. If the designer has any design iterations from the Ideation phase, this would be the time to expand. Here, the designer must create accurate, high-functioning, high-fidelity designs with which a user can interact. The designer should be using design principles, such as designing for emotional and psychological design, keeping a human-centered mindset. I will not go into all the different design theories and principles in this blog, but I will have a few blogs centered around this in the future.

5. Testing

The Testing phase is focused on testing the high-fidelity prototypes or mockups on actual users. This phase is commonly tied in with the Creation phase, as multiple iterations can be created in the back-and-forth process during different types of testing. The following are different testing techniques:

Comparing Alternatives (A/B Testing)

  • Have users test either the A or B variation of the prototype

  • Review analytics and user feedback for stakeholders to determine whether one version is preferred over the other

Show Don't Tell

  • Only explain the high-level concept of the design to the user, but don't go into the details or how the design should function

  • Let users experience the design for themselves so that they can create their own assumptions.

Talk through the Experience

  • Have the user talk through actions, their thoughts, and emotions as they interact with the design, then document their experience

  • If the user is not in a controlled environment, have the user journal their actions, thoughts, and emotions as they interact with the design


  • Watch how the user interacts with the design, do not interject

  • Note if the user makes mistakes when using the design because this can be a sign that the flow of the design is not intuitive.

Ask Questions

  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage the user to talk through their thought, feelings, and experiences with the design


  • Document all testing to provide to stakeholders and to keep for future projects

6. Implementation

The typical Design Thinking process ends at testing, but in reality, a strategic designer needs to continue the Design Thinking process by extending it into the implementation of the product. A designer is not just responsible for designing the product but also for designing the implementation process in which the product can be the most successful.

In the Implementation phase, the designer should be responsible for making the implementation of the product efficient and scalable. The following steps are necessary for the designer to complete so that the product can continue in development:

Structured Documentation

  • Ensure all requirements are clearly documented from user discovery

  • Ensure all journey mapping is clean and organized

  • Ensure feedback from user testing is clearly documented and organized

  • Ensure all industry research and competitive analysis is compiled and readily available


  • Ensure all wireframes or mockups are clearly labeled and mapped out as necessary

  • Ensure layouts have proper measurement call-outs, notations, and labels where required

  • Ensure all prototypes are accurate and fully functioning


  • Create symbols for all elements and components that will be used in multiple areas

  • Create reference sheets for components, elements, and symbols

  • Set standard measurement guidelines, font sizing, and spacing


  • Proof all design and written documents to ensure all information is accurate and understandable

7. Monitor & Control

The product owner is the person who is mainly responsible for the Monitor and Control phase. However, the designer will still need to be aware of this process because they will be involved in different aspects of this process when necessary. For example, the Monitor and Control phase oversees metrics and tasks to ensure the project stays within the agreed-upon scope, budget, and timeframe. In addition, the process includes overseeing a pivot when necessary to ensure that the project is kept at minimal risk. Usually, the designer will be a part of this process when a pivot occurs or a new iteration is requested.


Using this extended version of the Design Thinking methodology, a designer can advocate for both the user and the product while providing the right solution to the problem and creating the proper process for successful implementation. Empathy when uncovering the user's needs leads to defining the problem statement in a human-centric way. If the problem statement is defined, the ideation process becomes more dynamic. The designer can create and implement a forward-thinking solution when many possibilities are on the table.


Suggested Resources for Further Reading:

Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, Basic Books, 2013

Marty Cagan, Inspired, John Wiley and Sons, 2017

LinkedIn Learning- Design Thinking: Understanding the Process

LinkedIn Learning- Design Thinking: Implementing the Process

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