What Is Design Thinking? The 5 Phases Explained

Design thinking is an iterative problem-solving process that creates innovative solutions to complex problems by utilizing creative problem-solving techniques. The process begins with gaining an understanding of the problem and developing empathy for the people affected by it. It then moves into ideation, or generating potential solutions, and testing those solutions.

Understanding the 5 Phases of Design Thinking

Design thinking is traditionally broken down into five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

  1. Empathize: The first step in the design thinking process is to develop empathy for the user. This involves conducting research, such as interviews and observations, to understand the user’s needs and challenges. This phase is key to uncovering insights that will inform the design process.
    Example: A designer may spend time observing how people interact with a product in order to better understand how to improve it.
  1. Define: Once the designer has a good understanding of the user’s needs, the next step is to define the problem. This involves refining the research insights and developing a clear problem statement.
    Example: A designer may use the insights from their research to create a problem statement such as “How can we make the product easier to use?”
  1. Ideate: The ideation phase is where the designer generates potential solutions to the problem. This can involve brainstorming with a team or working individually to come up with ideas.
    Example: A designer may brainstorm ideas for improving the user experience of a product, such as adding support for voice commands or creating a more intuitive interface.
  1. Prototype: In this phase, the designer creates a prototype of the solution to test and refine it. This could involve creating a physical or digital model of the solution.
    Example: A designer may create a digital prototype of a product to test its usability and refine the design before launching it.
  1. Test: The final step in the design thinking process is to test the prototype. This involves gathering feedback from users to evaluate the design and identify areas for improvement.
    Example: A designer may set up usability tests to evaluate how users interact with the product and gather feedback on how to improve it.


Design thinking is a powerful problem-solving process that puts the user at the center of the design process. It involves five main steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. By utilizing creative problem-solving techniques, design thinking can help create innovative and effective solutions to complex problems.

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