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    The 7 Critical Phases of Design Thinking

    Master the 7 critical phases of design thinking to fast-track your success.

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      Picture of Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Have you struggled to innovate in your company using Design Thinking effectively?


      In this post, I outline the 7 Critical Phases of Design Thinking that can make all the difference for innovation.


      The Discovering phase is the first of the divergent phases. This is where you conduct customer research, analogous research & ethnography to gain empathy about your customers.

      Again, it’s about asking open questions, curiosity and unpeeling the layers to get to a deep understanding. Often, you’ll be faced with confusion and ambiguity in this phase, so it’s important to embrace that feeling and avoid jumping to solutions.


      This is the sensemaking phase, where you use many tools that might help gain insights. Some of the tools could be – Affinity Maps, Empathy Maps, Reframing, Personas, Journey Maps & Customer Jobs.

      This phase is about converging on the needs and insights of your customers, often captured in a Point of View Statement.


      So now that you know the needs & problems let’s reframe that into How Might We… questions (HMW’s). As you guessed, this is all about generating as many ideas as possible that could address the HMW’s, so try brainstorming, brainwriting or question storming.

      The more ideas created, the more likely we make good choices. Remember to make space for the introverts among us (that’s me) too.


      Testing is where the scientist in us comes to the fore. Experimenting at pace and with low risk is critical here, so that means we develop hypotheses, create Minimum Viable Prototypes and go out and test!

      That’s right, and we need to test our ideas with real humans to learn from failure. Failure becomes our friend.


      What are the types of capital that you’ll need? Economic? Social? Cultural, Symbolic? How will you build your innovation, and who can help you? What simple messaging do you need to communicate your idea?

      A great tool at this phase is to conduct a premortem to consider why your innovation ultimately failed – and then mitigate all the factors to make it a success!


      One of the most common reasons for innovations to fail is not considering how to implement innovation with the people the solution is designed to help! What are the behavioural changes needed? What is the roadmap? How should we change the environment? What about nudges? Connecting identity to motivate?

      Don’t underestimate this phase, particularly in complex environments. The say-do gap could be the biggest surprise here.


      Phases 1 through 6 create the illusion that your innovation journey will be linear and progress through each phase in sequential order. This is often far from the truth, and in practice, you’ll be repeating phases, going back to go forward and continually innovating.

      As Jack Welch (the famous American businessman) stated, “the ultimate competitive advantage lies in an organization’s ability to learn and rapidly transform that learning into action.”

      Learn how this exact process might impact thousands of young people’s lives in a Design Thinking Project