'''Lesson 1: What is Design Thinking'''

Return to: The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking Process

Design Thinking is an iterative process that can be used to solve problems, or come up with a tangible product. This process can be used anywhere and is not limited to just a specific place. As you complete this part of the course, keep the question "How can I apply design thinking?" in the back of your mind. This will help you to make connections to your own life throughout the process of learning.

Roller Coaster Video: Design Thinking in Action

The following video follows a 1st grade unit about roller coasters that helps teach a group of 1st grade students how to use the design thinking process. As you are watching the video, pay attention to the different stages of the process that come up.

Roller Coaster STEM Activity

This video shows you the process the students in a design classroom take to work on a project using the design thinking process. This same process can be used to come up with a tangible product (like the students came up with their roller coasters) or can be used to solve a problem.

The graphic below, and the explanations that follow will help you to understand each stage of the design thinking process, and the purpose of each of the stages.

Design Thinking Flowchart

RG Design Thinking.png

Empathize Stage


The empathize stage is the first, and one of the most important parts of the process. This is the part of the process where you understand the people who need/want this product or solution.

There are 3 different ways we can empathize with people:

  1. Observation - watch people in relevant contexts, especially paying attention to their behavior.
  2. Engagement - also known as interviewing, have conversations and always ask "why?".
  3. Watch and Listen - learn about how people complete certain tasks, and ask them why they do it in that specific way.

Define Stage


This stage is where you define the challenge, based on the user and the context that you learned about in the problem sentence. The goal of this stage is to create a clear problem statement. This will be a guiding statement throughout the whole process. Make sure to include user, insight, and need within this statement.

A good base for a problem sentence includes the following:

______________________ (name) needs a _______________________ (need) that/surprising/because/but __________________________.

An example I have used is: Baby Landon needs a baby mobile that is colorful, makes noise, and has movement.

Ideate Stage


This is the stage of the process where you begin to put your ideas down onto paper. The best way to be successful in this stage is to think outside the box, and come up with as many ideas as possible. When you limit yourself, you are going to be less successful in the stages that come next. The video below shows a team from IDEO, and how they work through the ideate stage of the process.

IDEO Toy Lab Brainstorm

Prototype Stage


This is the stage where you begin to create. Creation can be anything the user can interact with; a wall of post-its, a gadget, a storyboard, or anything else that shows your ideas. This stage goes hand-in-hand with the test stage. The key to being successful in this stage is to create quickly, also known as rapid prototyping. This is when you create and then test directly after. By doing this, the ideas will be given the opportunity to grow quickly. Creating multiple prototypes from multiple ideas is another way to be successful during this stage. This will help during the testing stage.

Test Stage


Testing is what happens after the user prototypes. It is the stage where feedback is given in order to make a more successful products. By testing often, the creator is able to constantly be improving his/her project. Another great way to test is to have the potential user look at multiple prototypes and compare them. The feedback given should be done after the user has interacted with the product, not through your explanation of the product. Testing is one of the most important stages of this process.



While this is not always shown in the design thinking process, this is a really important stage. Design thinking is not a process that is completed just once, and can go on forever if the creator allowed it to. It it important for the creator to remember that this is a process that should be iterative, and move from one stage to the next.

Test Your Knowledge

Use this Study Set to check your knowledge of the above stages. Being comfortable with the definitions of these will help you to be more fluid in your process.

The next lesson can be found here Lesson 2: How do I use Design Thinking