The design thinking process takes a human-centered approach toward developing training and consists of five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. In the first stage, designers connect with users or learners and gain insights into what drives and motivates them. They use interviews and observations, empathy mapping, and learner personas.

Once designers know who their audience is and what really drives them, they can move on to the second stage in the design thinking process: define. In this stage, designers define an actionable and meaningful problem statement. They leverage all the information they gathered in the first stage and organize, interpret and make sense of it. This definition will guide the designer and help kick-start the ideation process rather than just defining learning objectives.

This stage is about clarity and focus. Without it, the designer is stumbling in the dark. Let’s bring some light into the design thinking process.

A good problem statement guides the designer, adds focus to his or her work and is the starting point to spark new ideas in the ideation stage. A good problem statement is:

  • Human-centered
  • Broad enough for creative freedom
  • Narrow enough to be manageable
  • Actionable

There are multiple ways to define a problem statement, including space saturation and group and affinity diagrams, point of view, and “how might we” questions.

Space Saturation and Group and Affinity Diagrams

In this approach, designers collect their observations and findings in one space (for example, by placing sticky notes on a wall), creating a collage of experiences, thoughts, insights and stories. Once all the thoughts and insights are gathered together, it is easy to draw connections among them and develop even deeper insights, which help define the problem.

Point of View

A point of view (POV) is a meaningful and actionable way to develop a goal-oriented problem statement. A POV allows designers to reframe a design challenge by combining three elements: user, need and insight. The following sentence can be helpful when developing a POV:

[User] needs a way to [verb] because [surprising insight].

The measure of a successful POV is the number of different questions it leads to, as these questions are the base for the ideation stage. Keep in mind that a POV should never contain a specific solution or a statement on how to fulfill a user’s need, but it should provide a wide enough scope to help the design team start brainstorming.

“How Might We” Questions

Start using the POV by asking specific “How Might We” questions (HMV). Build these questions on the observations a designer collected in the empathize stage. HMW questions should be broad enough for a wide range of solutions but narrow enough that you can create specific solutions. Just like with POVs, the more questions a design team can come up with, the better; they open up the design challenge to more solutions. HMW questions are the launchpad for brainstorming sessions in the ideation stage. To take it even further, ask, “What is holding us back?” for each HMV question to develop additional insights for ideation.

The define stage is the crucial link between the empathize and ideation stages. It is, however, important to note that these stages don’t necessary happen in a linear way, and a design team might realize it has to go back and forth in order to find the best solution for its design challenge. This stage will help your design team gather great ideas for your training solution.

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