How better to define and respond to human needs than in human-centric ways? From this perspective, solutions to design problems may be accepted or discarded based on their measurable real-life viability.

User experience design (UX) is the best way we know for a design team to ”think outside the box” at every stage of the development process. When grappling with a complex problem in a UX design process, empathy strengthens the team‘s capacity to arrive at innovative solutions. It ensures that the team is able to set aside their own assumptions about the world, ready to gain insight from the point of view of real user experience.

The UX design team will take a problem statement and confront it with every tool from the worst possible idea to the best innovative solution. The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the d. school) has organised the work of this dynamic design process into five core stages:


The first stage in the design thinking process is to empathize with your users’ needs — their human needs. Every design problem you‘re asked to solve will require user-centric research. You‘ll need to understand the human-centric ways that users engage with or respond to the product and it‘s place in their daily lives. Set aside your own assumptions about both the product and the world. Step back and consider what the user is looking for and the everyday context that informs their choices.

An empathy map can be a powerful organising tool for a UX team. Collected input, such as personas, data, and insights gained from customer interview responses, helps sharpen focus on the user in the user story.


The second step in the design process is to define the users’ needs and to identify design problems that fail to address those needs. The human-centric ways the team has already identified in the first stage will open doors to problem-solving possibilities. The team will take information gathered during the empathize stage, analyse their observations, and produce problem statements. Personas created in this phase will help keep the work human-centric as the team proceeds to ideation.


With user needs and problem statements clearly defined, the design team is ready to move into the ideation stage. The work of this phase is to challenge assumptions and brainstorm ideas. The methodology of the ideation phase demands that the team consider a problem statement from various perspectives, then to ideate innovative solutions. No idea is off the table in this process as the team considers potential solutions and alternative ways to view the stated problem.


In the prototype stage of the design process the design team produces scaled versions of the product (or specific features of a product) to test solutions emerging out of the ideation phase and extensive user research. Evaluators share and rigorously test the viability of these prototypes with a small group of people outside the design team. In this experimental phase solutions are applied, one by one, then accepted, improved, or rejected based on the users’ experiences with a specific prototype.

By the end of the prototype stage, the design team will have a clear idea of a product’s limitations and definable problems — and of how real users may behave, think and feel when they use it.

Testing Phase

The final stage is the testing phase, where the usability of the product is rigorously interrogated by design evaluators who use the best solutions accepted in the prototype stage. Because the design thinking process is an iterative process, product testing may be used to redefine or reframe problems and many times to return a product to a previous stage in the development process.

The increased understanding gained in the test phase will help the team focus on the conditions of product use and how people think, behave and feel towards the product. It may also lead the team to produce more iterations to include refinements, in order to apply and rule out alternative solutions. The ultimate goal of testing is to understand as clearly as possible the balance between a working product and its value to end users.

What are the roots of design thinking?

Founded in 2004, the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford is a key architect of the iterative process of non-linear design thinking. The founders of the Institute built upon the 1969 work of American sociologist and psychologist Herbert Simon‘s The Sciences Of The Artificial, and Simon’s model led to the five-stage process described here.

Leadership Tribe has embraced the 5-stage model in Certified ICAgile and Leadership Courses. We are a globally trusted Agile Training Partner.  You can also read more about design thinking along with why design thinking is important overall.

Learn more about agile estimating and design thinking with our Agile Training courses from Leadership Tribe today.

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