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The Design Thinking Process: Five Stages to Solving Business Problems

by Michael Pastore       • August 22, 2019

The design thinking process is a method of encouraging and improving creative problem-solving.

The design thinking process is by no means new.

John Edward Arnold, a professor of mechanical engineering and business administration, was one of the first to discuss the concept in as early as the 1950s.

But the wave of digital and data-driven business has created new opportunities for the design thinking process to be applied.

For example, your business is likely collecting, storing and analyzing more information than ever before.

And while the intense focus on analytics in recent years has been good for many businesses, it’s important to remember the human element of making decisions and solving problems.

So with that in mind, the design thinking process can be used to bridge the gap between the data and the people.

But what is the design thinking process, exactly? And how does it work?

Design Thinking Definition: The Five Stages of the Design Thinking Process

There are lots of ways to harness ideas and solve problems. Design thinking is one means to foster and refine creative problem-solving.

While it doesn’t suggest ignoring your data, design thinking is, at its core, human-centered. It encourages organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for in hopes of producing better products, services and internal processes.

5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process

There are five stages in the design thinking process:

1. Empathize – The first stage of the design thinking process is gaining a better understanding of what problems need solving. It puts the end user you are trying to help first and encourages you to work backwards. By consulting and subsequently empathizing with the end user, you ensure your eventual solution is goal-oriented, increasing the likelihood of its effectiveness.

2. Define the problem – Once you have a better understanding of potential issues, it’s time to get specific. At this point, it’s good practice to translate the problem into a “problem statement” – a concise description of the issue that identifies the current state you wish to address and the desired future state you intend to reach.

3. Ideate solutions – This is the time to get creative. Once you have a solid understanding of the problem you can brainstorm ideas to bridge the gap between the current and the desired future state to eliminate it.

4. Prototype – At stage four, it’s time to implement the ideas from stage three in the real world. Typically, the prototype will be a scaled-down example of the solution – or ideally, possible solutions. It goes without saying, but things are rarely perfect in their first iteration, as you’ll likely discover in the next stage.

5. Test – At this point, it’s time to test whether the proposed solution works. In the case of multiple potential solutions, this stage can identify which is most effective and/or efficient. It’s also an opportunity to assess what – if any – new problems the solution might cause.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember that progression through the five stages of the design thinking process isn’t necessarily linear.

Unsuccessful tests could lead your team back to the ideation stage. In some cases, you may want to circle back to stage one to test your new solution with end users. Then you’ll be able to better emphasize and understand how your solution might work in practice.

It’s also important to understand that the design thinking process is not, strictly speaking, the same as innovation. It’s an approach to problem-solving that may ultimately involve innovation or emerging technologies, but innovation is not inherently required.

Design thinking is an iterative process, and the best solutions that come out of it in many organizations will become part of their enterprise architectures.

Incorporating Design Thinking into Your Organization with Enterprise Architecture

The best way to put design thinking into use in your organization is by creating a strategic planning approach that takes ideas from assessment to analysis to delivery.

By employing an iterative approach with a thorough assessment and a feedback loop, everyone in your organization will feel more empowered and engaged.

The reality of business today is that nearly every business problem is going to have a technological solution.

It will fall to the IT organization to take the ideas that come out of your design thinking and figure out how to deliver them as solutions at scale and speed.

This is where enterprise architecture comes into play.

Evaluating, planning and deploying a business solution will require visibility. How will these solutions impact users? Can they be supported by the existing IT infrastructure? How do they fit into the business ecosystem?

When it comes to these important questions, the best place to get answers is from your enterprise architecture team. Be sure to make them a central part of your design thinking process.

In addition to enterprise architecture software, erwin also provides enterprise architecture consulting. You can learn more about those services here.

You also can try all the current features of erwin EA for free via our secure, cloud-based trial environment.

Enterprise Architecture Business Process Trial

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