3 Stages of Design Thinking for Startups

It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

 – Steve Jobs

Ever wonder why Apple fans camp out for days and stand in long lines to purchase the latest product? Or the fact that they held candlelight vigils at Apple stores all over the world upon Steve Jobs’ passing? It’s not just because they love their iPhones, iPads and Macbooks. It’s because, to them, the Apple founder and CEO was a deity. Jobs was the living embodiment of an “intelligent designer.”

Apple products are addictive not only because they make people’s lives easier, but they’re just cool products period. They’re beautiful to look at it. That’s what great design thinking is all about. And there are three basic stages of design thinking that produce fanatic results. Here they are.

Stage 1: Inspiration

What problem do you want to solve and, more importantly, why?

In the popular TED Talk by Simon Sinek, he notes that the greatest leaders and innovators, including Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers, were successful because they were passionate about why they wanted to create change in the world and not just about enacting one law or creating a certain product. It was about how the world would be a different and better place in the future if they could get their ideas out there.

Great design begins with the end in mind. Or more specifically, the end-user. This is the phase of design thinking in which you do everything you can to become your future buyer. What world do you want to live in as this person and how will the product or solution you’re developing be relevant?

During this early phase of development, buyer personas, mock user groups, and other types of focus studies can prove instrumental in getting you to the next level of design thinking: innovation.

Stage 2: Innovation

What is the best way to develop the solution?

Now that you have a concrete idea of what your solution should look like in the real world, and why the real word needs said solution, it’s time to get innovative.

One of the most important features of great design is in the simplicity of use of a product. In this phase of design thinking, it’s important not to over-design. Too many features make a product intimidating and can lead to less-than-stellar adoptability by your target audience. This is when you need to focus on the minimally viable product (MVP).

Once you’ve developed your MVP with the end-user and problem-solving aspect in mind, then you can focus on making it pretty…giving it the “wow factor.” Consumers want beautiful things to use in their everyday lives. By cutting back on the unnecessary features, you’re able to devote more resources to the product design itself.

So now you have an amazing product that solves a real-world problem. And it’s gorgeous. The next step is to convince your target audience that they have to have it.

Stage 3: Implementation

How do you deliver your solution to the masses?

Design thinking doesn’t end once your product has been developed. It continues through the marketing and launch phases. In the same manner in which you considered why you’re developing this product, how you can make it easy-to-use, and how to give it the “wow” factor, you have to apply that thinking to your marketing strategy.

Again, we think back to Apple. Apple has had some of the most amazing ad campaigns in history. Remember the famous 1984 television commercial that launched the Macintosh? Or any of the first-generation iPod commercials that featured the music of the Black Eyed Peas? These were brilliant marketing campaigns. The campaigns had the same wow factor that the actual products themselves had.

This is what is meant by carrying design thinking throughout the entire lifecycle of a product. Everything that touches your product should be analyzed and synched to tell the original story of why you created the solution in the first place.


Design thinking is simply the process of creating a product that solves everyday problems. It is applied throughout the entire lifecycle of a solution, from ideation to market delivery, with major emphasis placed on user experience.

Just as an artist contemplates a painting and the emotions it will evoke in the observer, a good designer immerses him or herself in the persona of the one who will be using their product, and like Steve Jobs, makes them feel something that keeps them coming back for more.