Design Thinking Series Part 2: Using Design as a Process

April 15, 2021

Nicholas Lee
Senior Creative Designer

Last month we introduced the Design Ladder by the Danish Design Centre. We discussed the ladder’s different design levels, how it can be used to identify where your company currently sits, how further design implementation can be used to improve your client’s product and their business and how to use design as an aesthetic.

Moving up the ladder, we go from design’s execution to design thinking. This month we’re at level three; design as a process which is part of Design Thinking.

What is design as a process?

A process is defined as ‘a series of actions taken to reach an end goal’. The end goal can be creating or improving a service, product or brand. Design as a process involves incorporating design into a process’s early stages, or using a design process, (like Design Thinking), to help create better products, services, or brands.

How can you use design as a process?

Market researchers can use design as a process both:

  • Internally to improve their service, products or their brand within the industry, or
  • Externally to provide more value to clients

What type of design process can you use?

Many different design processes exist. And no single design process fits all industries or companies. There are some design processes that can be modified to fit different purposes or company cultures. The design processes shown below are used in different industries from engineering to market research.

The source of this material is the Design Council at All rights reserved.

The source of this material is the TeachEngineering digital library collection at All rights reserved.


Design Thinking Isn’t B.S. (But the Way We Think About It Is)

However, whilst there are many types of design processes, they all have three similar stages:

Stage 1: Research, understanding, empathy

This stage always occurs at the process’ beginning and requires:

  • Market research
  • User research
  • Design research

The aim here is to gather lots of information on the target audience’s behaviours, problems, and perceptions. These insights will then be used as the foundation for the products, brands or services which are being designed. This will ensure that you are designing with the user in mind.

Stage 2: Design, prototyping, developing

Using the insights uncovered in stage 1, you can now start designing the right solutions and requires:

  • Brand design
  • Business design
  • UX/UI design
  • Graphic design
  • Project development

Great insights aren’t enough and they need to be brought to life. The aim of stage 2 is to develop insights into solutions for the problems uncovered in stage 1. These are then developed into high or low-fidelity prototypes. A prototype’s fidelity level refers to how much it will match the final solution. For example, a low-fidelity prototype could be a paper interface, whereas a high-fidelity prototype could be a video walkthrough of an app. From here you can test your prototype.

Stage 3: Test, learn, reiterate

Compared to traditional processes, stage 3 is what makes the design process effective. This stage requires:

  • Market research
  • User testing
  • Feedback groups

Stage 3 tests your prototypes, learns from their successes and failures, re-designs them, then re-tests them based on user feedback. Here, you measure the results that you obtained in Stage 2.

  • How did the prototype fair compared to the hypothesis?
  • How do your customers or stakeholders feel about your idea?
  • Do the insights and data show that this will lead to a successful product, service, or brand?
  • Should you continue developing it?

Why should you implement design as a process?

By using a design process, you can ensure that design is well implemented. This results in good design that’s based on understanding people and validated by testing. Good design leads to improved products, services, and brands.

How can you implement a design process into your organisation?

  1. Develop your own design process and techniques
    There are many different design processes and there’s no one size fits all. However, by incorporating the three key stages into your organisation’s process, you can design a process that is well suited to your organisation’s needs.
  2. Promote formal but flexible control of the design process
    A design process is never ridged. Most frameworks shown serve as guidelines and must adapt to the users’ and stakeholders’ needs.
  3. Foster a corporate culture that values design
    A design process is a process that must be considered from start to finish across an organisation. It can’t work within silos and requires participation from everyone from clients to stakeholders. Therefore, a corporate culture that values design needs to foster an environment where design processes can be integrated into the business.

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