Design Thinking - Design
   6 min read    Bharath Sabesan

Design phase is the second blog of this series and is the first step towards a tangible solution to any problem. This phase has three key activities (i) Ideation (ii) Prototyping and (iii) Validation that will incrementally move towards a robust solution.


Design phase is the trickiest of the three as practitioners tend to fall trap for certain pitfalls or often overlap into other phases. So before getting to know more about the activities within the Design phase the top three cautions for anyone who is starting of this phase.

  • Play within the Design Phase - Synthesise the information that is already collected in the Discovery phase. If the information is insufficient then you will have to go back to Discovery phase. Do not use the design phase to ask those missed questions which will put your effectiveness at risk of achieving this
  • Don’t Restrict! – Design phase is to think of all possible solutions before you select the way forward. So never restrict your solution options based on known or unknown constraints in the system. The end of design phase is to validate each solution which is when you will narrow down to pick your way forward
  • Love to fail – the key intent of the design phase is to get a solution that solves the problem. If you get to it in first run, you’re lucky! But luck is not often. So look forward to fail, take feedback and get to the best solution design iteratively

The First lap

Design phase will have to start as a recap of the discovery phase to give you the head-start. This is where you will articulate the problem statement and highlight the compelling and most interesting insights for you to drive inspiration. The first lap is the widening zone to start with a lot of ideas and solution options. Don’t worry if you burn out pads of sticky notes or flipcharts whilst you are ideating as that is the intent of the first lap of this phase. The trick of having a successful ideation phase is to get them to talk visually as it makes it tangible and relatable. It does sound a bit abstract to keep coming with ideas isn’t it? – don’t worry there are quite a few practices that gives some structure to bringing thoughts into ideas.

  • Lightning Demos – consolidate your thoughts and draw some rough sketches to bring your thoughts out. Now set a 3-minute timer and demo your thoughts to the others in the session (refer to previous blog for who all need to be part of the session). Now you could repeat this with different ideas and also have the others in the session to do the same. At the end of 30 minutes you are assured to have at least 5 different ideas on the table


  • Crazy 8s – this is to have a collaborative go at ideation – so work in groups (least in pairs). Give 8 minutes to come up with as many ideas for the problem that you think and pen them down as sketches or stick diagrams. Don’t worry about quality as quantity is important here. Make it effective by thinking of divergent ideas rather than improvising on the same idea. At the end of 8 minutes talk through all the ideas and make sure everyone understands your thoughts



Ideation is like preparing the canvas and colours whilst prototyping is like putting the skeleton in place before the actual painting is done. Prototyping starts giving a shape to the ideas either in the form of sketches, paper or clay models, etc. There are two levels of prototype which are differentiated by the degree of detailing called Low Fidelity (Low-Fi) and High Fidelity (Hi-Fi).

  • Low-Fi prototypes generally are draft level collaterals with placeholders for key information that need to be surfaced or the key parts of solution. These prototypes focus on aesthetics – look and feel and the information architecture – what is shown where? These prototypes aid customers to validate our solutions by having something tangible to compare and comment on rather than having slides and documents of the solutions.
  • Hi-Fi prototypes have more detail and clarity on the solution aspect. These could include interactions – user touches and navigations, inputs and controls, etc. Hi-Fi prototypes are evolution of Low-fi prototypes based on validation with end users.


How do you narrow down?

We have talked quite a bit about having a lot of ideas come out through the ideation activities and giving it some shape through prototyping. But how do you get to the solution that you want to proceed with. This stage is the most important part of the Design phase as it validates the ideas in alignment with the problem at hand and the environmental constraints. This is where we need to get back to the previous blog where we talked about achieving the sweet spot between desirability, feasibility and viability. During ideation we generally need to avoid looking at achieving the sweet spot for us to have a lot of ideas pour in but the validation activity is to ensure we pull our strings back and stay within the boundaries of these three fulcrum points.

Validation is not a one size fits all process. It entirely depends on that specific business context, user base and the ecosystem around the problem. But as a generic framework there are a few ways to make it interesting and effective such as Group Observation and Rapid Testing. Group Observation gets you different perspectives in one go whilst Rapid testing can be more focussed and with a limited user base. Continue validation until you have picked the solution to go with and also have a back-up if required.


Where do we stop?

So it is well known that design thinking is iterative and shall continue every time you have an improvement to achieve. But you need to stop somewhere to get yourself moving. So the answer to the question of where do I stop is key. But the answer is a giveaway in the previous blog – MVP. Your design phase needs to be aligned to achieving your MVP at all times and also validate the ideas against the same. Customers/Users will always be tempted move away from the MVP to achieve a lot more features but it will tend to loosen up if you start deviating.

Well, let me stop here!! Keep waiting for the next blog in this series on Deliver phase.

Please reach out to me if you would like to have a conversation around this. I am better at voice blogging!!! (if talking through can be called so)