3 stages and levels of the design thinking process

Mohammad Sharifi
5 min readSep 3, 2021


The process of Design Thinking, It’s about how to solve a complex problem in a human-centric way to have a useful and innovative result. But what kind of problems? what is the process of solving them?

I studied the Design process and tried understanding it more deeply, so I decided to share some of my findings with you. Please read this post till the end, and let me know what you think about Design!

Design is not about drawing, Design is about solving problems!

When I talk about design, I mean the process of Design Thinking. It’s about how to solve a complex problem in a human-centric way to have a useful and innovative result.

But what kind of problems? what is the process of solving them? or simply what is UI, UX, Product, and Service Design? and lots of questions we have in our mind… So let’s dive in! and start the endless journey of Design♥!

What kind of problems does the Design Thinking Process need?

Generally complex problems, we called them wicked problems. Problems like poverty, crime, etc. They are:

  • Unique
  • No clear definition
  • “No stopping” role
  • Every problem has symptoms of another
  • solutions are not right/wrong but better / worse
  • “One shot” i.e. solution has consequences
  • No final end to solution
  • No immediate or ultimate solution
  • Solutions are limited by the world of view

What is the Design Thinking Process?

A problem that at least has three dimensions Humans, Technology, and Business. Design Thinking is the process of finding that sweet spot between these 3 circles through iterating on problem and solution space.

Business & people & technology => Design✨

Let’s zoom in in the process of design thinking! Generally there are 3 stages in the process of design thinking:

  1. Problem You learn about the problem
  2. Hypothesizes, because we’re unsure about the solution
  3. Experiment & Iterate measure the result and learn more

This is the core process for design thinking, but there are lots of approaches to do it in action. The most popular approach published by Stanford Design School has 5 steps to visualize the process.

  1. Empathy
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

As you can see, it divided the first state (Problem) to 1. Emphasis and Define, which means we learn about our target users deeply to identify their problems, then we start to 3. Ideate as much as we can, then 4. Prototype best solution is equal to stage 2. Hypothesis Finally we should Test our solution with target users to check how much is successful.

5 stage of design thinking

Here are some other similar approaches to d. School’s 5 stages:

Models of Design Thinking
  1. IBM Design Thinking Model
  2. Google Sprint Model
  3. IDEO Human-center Design Model
  4. Double Diamond Model
  5. and etc.

But remember that all of the models have that 3 steps in common.

What is the result of the design process?

So far we have learned about wicked problems to come up with innovative solutions. let’s talk about the shape of the solution. Every product that you see around yourself has these 3 levels:

  1. Form: how does the design look like? (UI Design)
  2. Function: how design works? (UX Design)
  3. Service: why and what should we create? (Product as a solution)

the 3rd one is the most important, because every product, both physical and digital, provides value for you! your phone helps you to connect with your friends and family, have fun, and more… at the next level should be usable and at last, should look great!

So everything is designed to solve a problem or satisfy one of the needs, in that state we have a service/product.

The Function is about how we can interact with the service/product? how exactly do they work, for example, you should turn on your phone, find the Spotify app and enjoy your favorite music.

The Form is about visuals design that we can feel, see, hear and touch them. The Interface that serves you the solution is called form (UI Design).

So where is the user experience design?

User experience or UX is all experience that you have through consuming a product or service in your mind. It’s about your emotions and feeling about the solution that the designer/s designed it and it can become better and better, for example, we can see the design of a phone through time!

We improve experience of a solution for our users through the process of design!

The Take Away

Designing a digital product/service is a wicked problem that can tackle by the design thinking process, which generally includes these 3 stages:

  1. Identify Problem
  2. Generate Hypothesis
  3. Experiment and Iterate it,

Until we archive to an innovative solution that is desirable for users (get value to users), feasible to implement with current technologies and make money for the business (bring back value to the business).

We provide value to users, it comes back from users. value loop


This article was originally published on my blog. check it out!

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Mohammad Sharifi

✨ Product Designer, Engineer. 🚀 Helping Designers to be more productive. 👉 https://mmdsharifi.com