Is design thinking is an iterative process? Have a look at the process flow and descriptions here (Interaction-Design Foundation).
- The first step is to ’emphasise’, i.e. to gain an empathic understanding of the problem being solved; “Depending on time constraints, a substantial amount of information is gathered at this stage to use during the next stage and to develop the best possible understanding of the users, their needs, and the problems that underlie the development of that particular product.” The purpose of the ‘Emphasise’ step seems to be to kick-start the process as there is no link back from any of the subsequent process steps.
- The second step is to ‘define (the problem)’, to “put together the information you have created and gathered during the Empathise stage.” There is no looping back to emphasise suggesting that whatever you collected as information and insights is good enough.
- The third step is ‘ideate’, i.e. “to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.” There is a loop back to ‘define (the problem)’, since the process of creating a solution teaches you about the problem (see previous post).
- The fourth step is to ‘prototype’, i.e. to “produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so they can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage.“
- Final step of the iteration is to ‘test’, i.e. a process during which “alterations and refinements are made in order to rule out problem solutions and derive as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.” Following the testing phase the model loops back to ‘define (the problem)’.
In my experience, each step of the progressive elaboration of the problem space goes through most if not all of the stages at some level. Continuously iterating slowly gaining more insights. For instance, when ’emphasising’ we are always asking ‘what-if’ helping to understand the problem, formulate the problem. If questions come up in trying to define the problem we move back the the users, basically re-iterating our ability to emphasise. Similar when designing solutions. By trying to design solutions questions come up about the problem. That is in the nature of designing solutions; ‘What if we do this, would that work?’ Every sketch challenges the problem definition, and in case there is sufficient doubt, it will trigger a redefinition of the problem. In turn, if the redefinition of the problem triggers questions about the problem space, we talk again to the users (re-iterating our emphasis). Etc.
Assuming that design thinking is the approach where by defining the solution you try to understand the problem, it is a process not unlike climbing the stairs of an apartment building; continuously going in circles through the various stages until you arrive there where you need to be, whether this is or is not the place where you thought you had to be.