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Tools of the Define Stage

Learn more about the tools for the define stage in design thinking.

There are many ways to make sense of the data from the Empathy stage. In Design Thinking we draw upon different types of thematic analysis, which means we cluster what we know and interpret it in a way to help us identify the needs and motivations of our users or identify the underlying challenges that exist. We can keep the user involved at this stage by showing the user our findings and we may need to adjust.

There are a range of tools we can use in the Define stage and below I will explain a few of them. This list is by no means exhaustive – and we create new tools all of the time. Here are a few of my favourites:

Affinity Map: This is the tool we will use in this course. An affinity map is a tool used to organise large amounts of data. Data is placed on a blank canvas, and then sorted into “clusters” based on their “affinity” or “likeness” to each other. Once clustered these are reviewed and analysed into meaningful statements which allow us to see the “real” challenges.

Customer Journey Map: The Customer Journey map is a graphical representation of how a user experiences a service or process. It will show the interactions a user has, and commonly identifies the feelings, the pains and the gains that a user has. These pains and gains are then analysed to create intervention opportunities.

Empathy Map: An Empathy map is a method which analyses a user, or users and aids the design team to empathise with the end users. An Empathy map usually consists of the headings Hear, See, Think and Feel, and Say and do. If taste, or smell is important then you can add these to the map as well. Data is then added to each heading to create an Empathy Map of the user. This can then be extrapolated into pains and gains to create opportunities for innovation.

Personas: A persona is an archetypal character that is meant to represent a group of users who share common goals, attitudes and behaviours. They are not actual people but are synthesised from the data collected. These can be generated from Empathy maps, and used in conjunction with affinity mapping and/or customer journey mapping.

We may use any of these tools or all of them. Or there may even be tools created to fit our purpose. Once you start using the tools you will see how easily the can be adapted to suit the stage that you are in. The commonality between any tool of the define stage is that each turns data into an action for the next stage.

In our Design Thinking example we will use Affinity Mapping which we will be explained in the next step.


Have you seen any of these tools being used before and if so why do you think that tool was chosen?

Let your fellow participants know where you may have seen them before so we have some good examples of the context the tools can be used..

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Design Thinking for Sustainable Development

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