Design Thinking Process Models: Which Process Model Should I Use?

A question that emerges when discussing adopting a design thinking approach is, which process model should we use. Several different process models are available (see IDEO’s HCD Process, d.school’s 5 Stage Process, the Double Diamond Process from the UK Design Council) and it can be confusing trying to figure out which process to follow. So, which process model should you use?

Well, it doesn’t really matter. The design thinking process (regardless of the specific process model) has three basic stages: The Understanding Stage, The Conceptualizing Stage, and The Experimenting Stage.

  • The Understanding Stage: In this stage the focus in on understanding the problem with a particular emphasis on understanding who is impacted and how they experience the impact. Tools such as journey mapping, customer interviews, and focus group discussions are used to gather information about the problem.
  • The Conceptualizing Stage: In this stage, the focus is on generating ideas, as many ideas as possible, that may alleviate the problem based information gathered in the Understanding Stage. Here tools such as sketching and mind maps are used to capture ideas. The purpose of this stage is not to discuss the viability of ideas but rather to capture them.
  • The Experimenting Stage: In this stage the focus is on examining the ideas generated in the Conceptualizing Stage, to access their feasibility and viability. Tools such as prototyping, sketching, and process mapping are used to test out ideas. Here teams may combine several ideas or discard ideas to make way for new ideas. Important to recognize here is incorporating the voice of the end user. Design thinking encourages presenting emerging solutions to end users because their early feedback serves as a key indicator if a solution will be viable and feasible.

All of the currently available process models move through these three basic phases. They may each use different terminology, and employ slightly different tools, but ultimately if you embrace the process whole-hearty each process model will get you to the desired results. So, my advice is to check out a few different models and pick the one that best suits the needs of your project.

It is important to keep in mind that while these process models are presented in a linear format that in practice engaging in design thinking is an iterative process. Therefore, in practice, you would move back and forth between different process steps several times before you arrive at a final solution.

Looking to explore some design thinking process models? Check out these links:

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