The Complete Beginners Guide to the Design Thinking Process

Skilled professionals have a way of making their craft appear flawless. Just as an athlete appears to shoot a basket with ease, or an actor seems to become a character in moments, striking designs can often be so clean and crisp that the work seems simple, even easy. However, those who are truly proficient work to hone their skills. Proficiency doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and design work is no exception. In fact, many factors can influence an artist’s drafts and later, an artist’s final product.

Newcomers to the design industry must adapt to the basic design thinking process. Through the right execution of this methodology, designers can “wow” their audiences and achieve extraordinary results.

The Basics

While design thinking process definitions may vary, virtually every description involves the following stages:

  1. Understanding the problem
  2. Observing users’ behavioral patterns
  3. Defining a point of view
  4. Ideating solutions
  5. Prototyping
  6. Testing
Design thinking process as described by Design School at Stanford University.

Design thinking process as described by Design School at Stanford University.

Let’s have a closer look at each stage.

Understand

When developing your design thinking process, you want to have a deep understanding of the business with which you are working. The goals of the business in some ways become your goals, so whether you are working full-time or freelance, you should spend time learning about your company and position. As you learn, remember that basic knowledge is good, but full comprehension of the company’s mission is better.

Furthering your knowledge proves to be an invaluable step; if a client has a specific problem, you’ll want to be resourceful and thoughtful in your approach. Thus, design is nothing short of problem-solving. By having a keen understanding of potential issues, company goals, and your position, you are constantly working toward efficiency in your work and the work of others.

Observe

Observing is the next phase of the design thinking process. The world of design correlates directly to consumers, their behaviors, and their perceptions. As a designer, you must have a concept of your audience’s everyday decisions and values.

By knowing your audience, you will have the ability to appeal to your demographic with highly relatable content. A good design should lead users by the hand, encouraging interest and profit. Through careful observation, we begin to learn why people make purchases, as well as how to pinpoint future growth.

POV

At this stage, any findings and knowledge from previous phases should be summarized and utilized. You have worked to understand and observe all factors of your mission; now it’s time to use that information to concept ideas.

If you are working with a team, this stage involves discussion, sharing investigations, and considering viewpoints. Hearing from your group will encourage a conclusive attitude toward the project at hand. Keep in mind, this step should not be avoided in solo work. Brainstorming and forming a general conclusion will be of great help in coming stages.

Thus, “user+problem+insight” is the formula of the defining POV stage. At this point, we have digested the situation from all perspectives, and we are ready to ignite our creativity.

Wireframing and prototyping for iPhone.

Ideate

For many designers, ideating options can often be the most enjoyable process. As artists, we should never confine ourselves to a single design. Selecting a final choice from a wide breadth of options can be quite effective. Naturally, there may be a favorite idea or two, but it’s important that all design options are thoughtful and interesting. The decision process should be perceived as an opportunity rather than a task.

Prototype

At this point, the ideas you have chosen come to life through sketches and prototypes. This process can deepen your understanding of the given concepts. You may also find that you are further inspired as you make up your samples. Experiencing and interacting with your design will further ignite your creativity, allowing the continuous development of new concepts.

Fortunately, there are many online tools for drafting and demonstrating new ideas. Many are free or available at affordable prices, providing you with a variety of media to make your concept reality.

Test

Before the final launch of your project, you’ll go through the testing phase. This stage determines if your product is ready. (If not, you may consider reviewing previous steps.) During this stage,  a variety of processes can be used to determine any issues (i.e. user studies and usability testing with your target demographic.) Testing is of utmost importance, because users will interact with your design most. The user opinion matters.

However, no one knows the business objective better than your client. In this way, the ability to consult your client is key. You need the freedom to defend your project as well as the opportunity to hear feedback. Quite often the client’s opinion and taste may contradict the final design, but honest and open consultations encourage constructive input and growth.

Though they may look simple, great designs are often the result of many steps and diligent work. A final product must be usable, striking, and it must correlate with the business’ mission. Only a truly great design incorporates the needs of the artists, users, and company.

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