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What are Design Thinking Models?

What is a Design Thinking Model?

Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach focusing on people as the key element. In this scenario, Design Thinking Models represent steps to guide you in understanding your users, defining their problems, creating prototypes, and testing your solutions. In this article, we'll learn about the basics of Design Thinking Models and how they can help solve problems creatively and effectively. Are you ready to think like a designer? Let's go!

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking (DT) is not a magic formula, but it can certainly make you feel like a wizard! This way of thinking and working helps you solve complex problems in a human-centered way. With this mindset, these processes allow you to create desirable, feasible, and viable solutions. Yet, Design Thinking is not exclusive to designers! It's for anyone who wants to impact their work by embracing uncertainty and ambiguity. Whether you're an entrepreneur, an educator, a social worker, or a scientist, Design Thinking can help you improve your work.

What is a Design Thinking Model?

A Design Thinking Model is a framework that guides you through the different stages of Design Thinking, from understanding your users and defining your challenge to ideating and prototyping your solutions and testing and implementing them. A Design Thinking model is not a rigid set of rules or steps to follow mindlessly but rather a tool that helps you structure your thinking and navigate the complexity of the problem space.

Many DT models are out there, but they all share common elements, like empathy, prototyping, and testing. Here, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes to understand their needs, feelings, and motivations. While prototyping focuses on making your ideas tangible, testing encloses validating your assumptions and learning from feedback. 

What are the Most Popular Design Thinking Models?

Over the years, several experts and institutions developed different Design Thinking Models. Nonetheless, some rose to prominence and became widely accepted, besides the famous Design Sprint Model. Let's review some of them!

1. The Design Thinking Model

This model rose from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, also known as the Given its name, this Design Thinking framework receives the title " model” and has five main stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Regardless of their steps, emphasizes empathy, experimentation, and iteration.  

5 Steps of the Design Thinking Model

1. Empathize. This stage involves researching users' needs, motivations, emotions, and behaviors. You can use various methods such as interviews, observations, surveys, and immersion to gain empathy for your users and understand their perspectives. 

2. Define. The definition step involves synthesizing your empathy findings and stating your users' needs and problems clearly and concisely. You can use tools such as personas, point of view statements, and how might we questions to define the problem you are trying to solve. 

3. Ideate. When ideating, the focus is on generating several possible solutions to address your users' needs and problems. This stage includes brainstorming, mind mapping, sketching, and SCAMPER techniques to challenge assumptions and create ideas. 

4. Prototype. This phase involves creating low-fidelity representations of your ideas that you can test with your users. If it's a physical product, you can use paper, cardboard, clay, or digital tools to build quick and cheap prototypes. 

5. Test. Lastly, testing involves getting user feedback on your prototypes and learning from their reactions. You can use interviews, observations, surveys, and experiments to test your assumptions and measure your outcomes.

2. The McKinsey Design Thinking Model

The McKinsey model, developed by McKinsey & Company, consists of three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. This model offers an integrated approach, combining UX/UI Design, Business Strategy, and Technology in the context of Design Thinking.

3 Steps of the McKinsey Design Thinking Model

1. Inspiration. This phase involves discovering the users' and market's needs, desires, and challenges. You can use interviews, observations, surveys, and data analysis to gain insights and empathy for your users and their contexts.

2. Ideation. The second stage involves generating, developing, and testing innovative solutions addressing users' needs and challenges. You can create and refine ideas by brainstorming, prototyping, testing, and feedback techniques to succeed.

3. Implementation. At implementation, the coverage is on launching, scaling, and sustaining the solutions validated in the previous step. You can use tools such as business models, roadmaps, partnerships, and metrics to implement and measure the impact of your solutions.

3. The Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF) Design Thinking Model

The IxDF Model is a Design Thinking approach created by the Interaction Design Foundation, the design-focused online educational platform. In their technique, DT has four main phases: understand, explore, materialize, and evaluate. Further, this model covers the whole design process, from research to evaluation, and includes a continuous improvement feedback loop.

4 Phases of the IxDF Design Thinking Model

1. Understand. This phase involves gathering and analyzing user information, their needs and contexts, and the problem domain. You can use interviews, surveys, user personas, and user workflows to understand your users in different situations. 

2. Explore. After understanding, exploring focuses on developing solutions addressing the users' needs and the problem domain. You can use brainstorming, sketching, storyboarding, and wireframing techniques to explore different ideas and concepts. 

3. Materialize. The third step involves developing and testing the prototypes of your solutions with your users. You can use tools such as paper, cardboard, digital software, or hardware to materialize your ideas and make them tangible and interactive.

4. Evaluate. Ultimately, the task is to measure and assess the effectiveness and usability of your solutions with your users. You can use usability testing, data analysis, and heuristics to evaluate your resolutions and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Who Can Use Design Thinking Models?

Design Thinking is a way to solve problems by focusing on what customers need. Due to its nature, it can help several individuals and groups, in different ways, to achieve their goals with a strategic approach to enhance processes while avoiding common mistakes. 

Design Thinking for Product Developers

Design Thinking enables Product Developers to understand customer needs, pain points, and aspirations deeply. By empathizing with customers, Product Developers can identify unmet needs and create innovative solutions that meet those needs and drive revenue growth. Ultimately, Design Thinking helps Product Developers develop products and services that are functional, usable, delightful, and emotionally resonant.

Design Thinking for UX Designers 

UX Designers can leverage Design Thinking to create innovative and effective solutions. This framework helps teams to empathize with users, understand their needs, prototype solutions, and test them in real-world scenarios. By using Design Thinking, UX designers can gain a deeper understanding to achieve solutions that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional and user-centric. 

Design Thinking for Business Leaders 

In the business landscape, Design Thinking can be a remarkable problem-solving approach that helps Business Leaders empathize with their customers and stakeholders, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems creatively and collaboratively. If brought into Business Strategies, Design Thinking can encourage innovation and foster team collaboration to design products and services that meet users' needs, ultimately driving growth and success.


Design Thinking Models are not just frameworks but ways of thinking and working to help solve complex problems by putting people at the center. By helping innovate and improve your work, regardless of your field or sector, these models can be handy for everyone! Moreover, you can think of Design Thinking Models as fun techniques that help you collaborate and have an impact. So don't hesitate to give Design Thinking a try, choose a model that works for you, and start creating solutions that matter!