Five stages of design thinking

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on understanding and addressing the needs of users or customers across a range of contexts, settings and sectors. 

The model itself has evolved as a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice, drawing from fields such as design, engineering, psychology, and business. 

At its core, it is a human-centered, non-linear and iterative process that encourages empathy, experimentation, and collaboration to generate innovative solutions.  

Thomas Lockwood, author of Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience and Brand Value, defines the approach as “a human-centred innovation process that emphasises observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualisation of ideas, rapid concept prototyping, and concurrent business analysis”. 

Design thinking in practice 

Design thinking is most commonly used in product and service design and business strategy.  

For example, it can be used in a healthcare setting to improve patient experiences, design medical devices, and enhance a healthcare service delivery.  

It can also be used to enhance the overall user experience of websites and apps by uncovering a more intuitive, user-friendly approach to design and development. 

What are the benefits of design thinking?  

Of all design processes, design thinking is best for ‘thinking outside the box’. It brings together individuals from different backgrounds and areas of expertise to leverage their diverse perspectives and insights that have the users’ or customers’ best interests at heart.  

By promoting innovation, collaboration and empathetic insights, design thinking not only results in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty; it fosters a culture of innovation, reduces time and costs associated with solution development and deployment, and can contribute to long-term business success.  

What are the five stages of design thinking? 

The design thinking process typically involves the following five stages, proposed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka D-School). 

These stages are not always sequential, and teams often run them in parallel, out of order and repeat them in an iterative fashion. You can carry out the stages in parallel or repeat them and circle back to a previous stage at any point in the process. There’s no need to use design thinking as a step-by-step process, unless the situation calls for it. 

Diagram showing the five stages of design thinking

Stage 1: Empathise—Research your users’ needs 

Gain an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs.

Stage 2: Define—State your users’ needs and problems 

Analyse your observations from the Empathise stage and synthesise these findings to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements. You can create personas to help keep your efforts human-centered before proceeding to ideation. 

Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge assumptions and create ideas 

This stage involves generating a wide range of possible solutions to the defined problem. Designers employ creative thinking techniques, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, and sketching, to encourage innovative ideas without judgment or limitation. 

Stage 4: Prototype—Create solutions 

This is an experimental phase. Create low-fidelity representations or prototypes of your ideas. Prototypes can take various forms, including sketches, physical models, or interactive digital mock-ups. The goal is to quickly and cheaply bring ideas to life to gather feedback and learn from the users. 

Stage 5: Test—Trial your solutions  

Prototypes are shared with users or stakeholders to gather feedback and insights. Designers observe how users interact with the prototypes and use the feedback to refine and improve the solutions. This iterative process helps identify strengths, weaknesses, and potential improvements. 


By incorporating empathy, creativity, and iterative problem-solving, design thinking offers a framework for tackling complex problems and driving innovation. It also encourages a mindset of continuous learning and improvement throughout the design process. 

Connect with us 

Phillips Group can assist with facilitating your design thinking sessions to help drive innovation and transformative solutions. Connect with us today.