Design thinking has five steps: empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. Empathizing is about deeply understanding the user and their problems, and then defining their challenges more concretely. Ideating is geared at coming up with multiple solutions that might work for the problem.
Empathizing is about deeply understanding the user and their problems, and then defining their challenges more concretely. Ideating is geared at coming up with multiple solutions that might work for the problem. The final phases are for creating prototypes and testing them with real users.
It might seem at first glance that design thinking is a linear step-by-step process with the exact tools and activities you need to use for every stage. Well…not quite.
In real life, design thinking is as far from a linear process, as french fries are from a healthy diet (but hey, we’re not judging, we love french fries).
Design thinking is a mindset, a way of thinking about solving problems. So you can go through the process phase by phase, or decide to conduct the phases simultaneously.
You will almost certainly have to go back to some phases and reiterate (multiple times), and the tools you’ll be using are not concretely defined either. As David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and godfather of design thinking put it: “Design thinking is not a cookbook where the answer falls out the end. It’s messier than that. It’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.”
The whole process might feel intimidating by now, but don’t bail on design thinking yet! After you’re done with this guide you’ll have a solid understanding of how to tie it into your work routine.
So let’s dive a bit deeper into what each of the design thinking phases means.
How is design thinking different from the Design Sprint and Agile?
Design Thinking influenced the creation of loads of other methodologies out there (including the Design Sprint!) So it’s only natural that people get confused with which method to apply when, whether they fit together, or can be interchangeable. Let’s break it down.
The Design Sprint takes the philosophies of design thinking and translates them into a process that can be worked through logically. Design thinking, on the other hand, is a mindset. A way of thinking about solving problems, that can be applied in different ways for each new project. Both are equally valid and useful. While design thinking takes a lot of knowledge building up, expertise and understanding of how to apply different tools, the Design Sprint is a clear process to be followed for certain types of projects.
Agile on the other hand is an ongoing structured way of work, for projects. It’s a workflow for teams to follow on how to communicate more effectively, run meetings, implement things or decide on priorities. So while Agile is a workflow guide, the Design Sprint is a recipe for a one-off clear process, which doesn’t conflict with the way people are working.
So your company can be using Design Thinking or Agile as a structure but use Design Sprints as part of these processes. There is an overlap between them, but they don’t necessarily conflict with each other.