The six phases of the Design Thinking process

The HPI D-School in Potsdam uses a systematic approach that consists of six phases. The Design Thinking process is non-linear and iterative. Depending on the project, the focus on specific phases and iterations can vary.

The Design Thinking process starts with the formulation of a design challenge - the so called „How-might-we-Question“. The design challenge defines the problem and the search-space for possible human-centered solutions. Multidisciplinary student teams develop innovative prototypes after running through the Design Thinking process. On their journey they are supported by experienced Design Thinking coaches and the HPI School of Design Thinking staff.



In the first phase, the team clarifies the problem space: in collaboration with the project partner they identify and specify relevant dimensions of the problem. In this phase, an in-depth analysis of key findings in research and best-practices is central. Secondary analysis, expert interviews and user opinions provide important insights. The project partner and the team should continuously review their common understanding of the problem. At the end of this stage, the research design is being developed in order to deepen the understanding of the problem.


In the phase of observation the team approaches the problem from the users' perspective. For this purpose, they explore the worlds of the users, their imaginations, expectations and experiences, as well as the context of use by means of different, mainly qualitative methods. The following triad of methods has proven of value: narrative interviews with customers and experts, process analysis and stakeholder analysis. The findings are summarized in so called "insights" that allow the identification of patterns and the forming of types.

Define the point of view

In this phase, the findings of the preceding research-oriented phases are merged with each other. For this purpose, the team develops a conceputal frame for describing possible solutions for the design challenge. Defining a conceptual frame allows to specify a target audience by means of creating a so called "persona" for whom a specific innovative solution is then being tailored.

Develop ideas

In the ideation phase the team uses different brainstorming methods for generating, summarizing and clustering ideas. Here, one central focus is to identify those ideas that can be most easily and efficiently implemented from an entrepreneurial or organisational perspective ("quick-win"). The user perspective prioritizes ideas according to their estimated appreciation („most delightful for the customer“). In addition, the team evaluates ideas also according to their visionary potential ("most advanced, not yet acceptable").

Build prototypes

In prototyping, Design Thinking teams implement those ideas that illustrate innovative, future-oriented solutions. The prototypes can have various forms: new product developments, new service designs, new business models or new forms of collaboration. The interplay of multi-layered solutions with differing complexity leads to an optimal solution for the design challenge.   


It is essential for the design thinking process to test the prototypes with the user. The team starts by collecting feedback from current and potential users and adds feedback loops with experts (f.e. concerning the technical feasibility) and with the client. The solutions that are developed in the project are documented and presented on the basis of prototypes. The ways in which the prototype is presented can be very diverse, f.e. a model design out of wood, lego bricks, modeling clay or other materials, an illustrated and filmed display of the process or a scenic play. The design extends the classical conceptual description of the solution: the prototype renders the approach directly accessible and is especially suitable for presenting the idea fast and comprehensible to a third party and to convey a concrete idea of the final solution.