The Design Process in 3 Easy Steps

The Design Process in 3 Easy Steps

Article written by Kate Valind

2 min read

Now that we have a definition of Design, let’s discuss the design process. While the process I’ll describe is specific to my experience working on digital products and services, I believe that many of the steps followed in this process are also applicable to not only other types of Design, but also to areas of life that fall outside of the Design bucket.  


Most companies with a respectable Design discipline have their version of a design process. This process is often called “Design Thinking” and while there are differences between how each company visualizes and speaks about their process, the foundations of most models remain the same. 


Here are examples from 3 organizations who helped define and popularize Design Thinking: IDEO, Stanford d.school, and IBM Design

Now that we have a definition of Design, let’s discuss the design process. While the process I’ll describe is specific to my experience working on digital products and services, I believe that many of the steps followed in this process are also applicable to not only other types of Design, but also to areas of life that fall outside of the Design bucket.  


Most companies with a respectable Design discipline have their version of a design process. This process is often called “Design Thinking” and while there are differences between how each company visualizes and speaks about their process, the foundations of most models remain the same. 


Here are examples from 3 organizations who helped define and popularize Design Thinking: IDEO, Stanford d.school, and IBM Design

The 3 models share 5 characteristics which (to me) are the foundations of the Design process. The characteristics shared between these 3 models are:

  1. There’s a step to do research and to gather information that will help you solve the problem and achieve the goal (“inspiration”, “empathize”, “test”, and “observe” in the models above). 

  2. There’s a step to make sense of all the data you gathered. It’s the time to regroup with your team, synthesize what you’ve learned, and share your “aha” moments with each other (“ideation”, “define”, “ideate”, “assess”, and “reflect” in the models above).

  3. There’s a step to take action and create something based on what you’ve learned so far (“implementation”, “prototype”, and “make” in the models above). If you’re like me you’ll almost always feel like you want more data but at some point you need to say, “good enough”, roll up your sleeves and make something. 

  4. The designer will go through cycles of divergent and convergent thinking. When the designer diverges, she creates choices. When she converges, she makes choices. Ideation is an example of divergent thinking. Deciding which idea to prototype is convergent thinking. 

  5. The design process is a continuous cycle. None of the steps are linear. The steps can be applied as needed. 


I received my training from IBM Design so that model is the one I think of when going through the design process. However, in my mental model I renamed the phases to Investigating, Reflecting, Creating to better align with my definition of and beliefs about Design. Also, I don’t love the term “Design Thinking” since I see the design process as reaching beyond just how we think. I believe it also influences our actions and our creations. Because of this, I’ll simply refer to the design process as “The Design Process” rather than “Design Thinking”.

The 3 models share 5 characteristics which (to me) are the foundations of the Design process. The characteristics shared between these 3 models are:

  1. There’s a step to do research and to gather information that will help you solve the problem and achieve the goal (“inspiration”, “empathize”, “test”, and “observe” in the models above). 

  2. There’s a step to make sense of all the data you gathered. It’s the time to regroup with your team, synthesize what you’ve learned, and share your “aha” moments with each other (“ideation”, “define”, “ideate”, “assess”, and “reflect” in the models above).

  3. There’s a step to take action and create something based on what you’ve learned so far (“implementation”, “prototype”, and “make” in the models above). If you’re like me you’ll almost always feel like you want more data but at some point you need to say, “good enough”, roll up your sleeves and make something. 

  4. The designer will go through cycles of divergent and convergent thinking. When the designer diverges, she creates choices. When she converges, she makes choices. Ideation is an example of divergent thinking. Deciding which idea to prototype is convergent thinking. 

  5. The design process is a continuous cycle. None of the steps are linear. The steps can be applied as needed. 


I received my training from IBM Design so that model is the one I think of when going through the design process. However, in my mental model I renamed the phases to Investigating, Reflecting, Creating to better align with my definition of and beliefs about Design. Also, I don’t love the term “Design Thinking” since I see the design process as reaching beyond just how we think. I believe it also influences our actions and our creations. Because of this, I’ll simply refer to the design process as “The Design Process” rather than “Design Thinking”.

Related Resources: IDEO, Stanford d.school, IBM Design

Defining Product Design in 2024

Every Design Activity You Need to Know

Every Design
Activity You Need
to Know