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Design Thinking Phase 2:. Define

Updated: May 6

This is the second post from our Design Thinking Series

Bank of America, Oral B, Apple, Toyota, Pepsi are the companies that use design thinking process in their work. They are the companies that use this skill to make the workplace much comfortable and easier. We have learnt about the first stage of design thinking before, now let's discover more about the second stage!

Let us think of a situation when you are working and your boss arrives, then he asks you to fix a problem. Now, you will question about what to fix and how to fix it. This will take a significant amount of time and effort. This is the second stage of design thinking, which is called "define." This is the stage that deals with all types of creative thinking in solving the problems. Known as the "define stage," it is designed in such a manner as to assist the team in defining the problem or set of problems that has been detected in the "empathize" stage.

It is mainly done to get a proper solution to the problem. In the case of consumers, it can be anything from packaging that is a difficult process to a cleaning material that is streaking the bathroom mirror. Typically, it is the stage that is all about gathering data from the design-thinking empathy stage and implementing the methods of synthesizing raw data to create a meaningful and usable body of knowledge. It is a much more crucial stage.

Analysis and Synthesis

The define stage is mainly dedicated to defining the problem involved. It is preceded by the empathize phase where one will learn more about two things which is analysis and synthesis. Now what is analysis? It is all about breaking the concepts and problems into smaller parts for better understanding of each part. On the other hand, synthesizing is all about creatively piecing the puzzles to form and get the whole idea. It actually takes place during the define phase when we interpret and also organize and make use of the data that has been gathered for the creation of a problem statement.

What Creates a Good and Proper Problem Statement?

A problem statement is always required in the design thinking process because it will enable the whole team and its members to focus on the specific needs. A good problem statement is required to have a proper element, such as:

  • Human centered - It requires to frame the problem statement according to the specific need of the users and the insights that the team has gained in the Empathize stage.

  • Good thinking process for creative freedom - It indicates that the problem statement should not be focused too narrowly under any situation.

  • Narrow mind set to make things manageable - It signifies that a problem statement such as “improve the human condition” is much broader and it may help the team members to become daunted.

How to Create Problem Statement?

A suitable example will make everything clear at this stage. Just imagine yourself creating or making an app that will provide people with healthy and pre-made meal services, mainly for seniors. Instead of demonstrating that you intend to increase food sales among seniors by 5%, the issue can be placed or stated to be that seniors require meal delivery in order to have proper access to nutritional meals. However, the primary aim is to create and form an actionable problem statement that is based on a deep understanding of the user’s specific requirements and not on the company’s needs and bottom line. So, it is crucial and vital to see that there is a proper and good foundation.

Here the problem statement is not all about creating a specific solution or fulfilling the users' needs in the service, experience, or product that is being designed. Instead of this, it must have the purpose of providing enough space so it can help begin thinking about solutions beyond the obvious or the normal ones. When there has been a successful framing of a problem or a problem statement, it is good to create a point of view that will be both inspiring and informative at the same time. When the define stage is completed successfully, the other stages become much easier and more convenient for the users.


During the define stage most designers try to define the problem. In this connection it is good to mention about POV or Point of View which means and refers reframing a design challenge into an actionable problem statement. POV consists of three elements, and these are need, user and insight. The designers mostly confine on the matter of why and how ladder in which the aim and focus is to find on how one can solve the problems. The matter or the subject of why and how laddering commences with why to work out and how to solve the problem or the design challenge.

How Might We

You may begin to come up with solutions to your design challenge once you've identified it in a POV. Asking a particular question beginning with "How might we" or "In what ways might we" will help you begin to use your point of view. Questions like "How Might We?" can kick off brainstorming sessions and other ideation processes. They ought to be both broad enough to support a wide range of solutions and specific enough to support the development of customized solutions. The observations you've obtained during the Design Thinking process' empathize stage should serve as the foundation for your "How Might We" questions.

WHY - HOW Ladder

During the define stage, designers attempt to define the problem and typically inquire as to why. The ultimate goal of the so-called Why-How Ladder, which is where designers use why to advance further, is to discover how to address one or more problems. Your How Might We? questions will help you move from the define stage of design thinking to the ideation stage, where you will begin looking for specific creative solutions. In other words, you could say that the Why-How Laddering begins with a "why" question before figuring out "how" to address a particular issue or design challenge.

Bottom Lines

It can be easily inferred from the above discussion that the primary aim of the define stage is to create a meaningful and properly actionable statement. POV, or point of view, means or denotes that there is a written expression that requires a proper solution. The solution should always be customer oriented. The majority of problem statements are based on the understanding of the customer or consumer as well as their specific needs or requirements. As a result, define stage as the most important in all aspects. The define stage is the one in which the user’s problem is to be identified and solved as much as possible.

Ready to unlock the full potential of Design Thinking? Our IT consulting experts can guide you through the crucial "Define" stage, helping you clearly articulate challenges, gather invaluable user insights, and establish a strong foundation for innovative solutions. Partner with us today to master this critical phase and drive successful design outcomes.

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