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As we explore the design thinking process, we bump into the word “iteration” at nearly every turn.

Iteration is the practice of revising ideas based on new insights or feedback from team members. While iteration is an activity we can complete, it is also a mindset we can embrace.

By embracing an iterative mindset, we expect and accept change. This mindset helps us be receptive to continually adjusting a design, instead of getting attached to solutions that ultimately aren’t viable. An iterative mindset can even boost creativity as we build the habit of exploring multiple ideas and revising them.

Why Iterate?

We start a design project with a limited amount of information. We use this information to generate ideas and create a preliminary design. Throughout the design process, we gain data, feedback, and insights that provide a clearer picture of our users and our design. We must continuously adapt our ideas to align with new information, so the design reflects our current knowledge. By iterating, we fix errors, address assumptions, incorporate feedback, and transform good designs into great ones.

Define, Ideate, Iterate

Depending on the project, we will spend more time iterating in some stages than others. There’s no perfect formula that tells us when to iterate, so we can look for different cues as we design. A few reasons we might iterate include:

  • Results from a concept test or usability test
  • Additional user research
  • Feedback from a team member or stakeholder
  • Bolt of inspiration

During the “define” stage, we can use iteration to help us identify the right problem. After brainstorming, sketching, or concept testing, we can revisit our problem statement. We might have new insights that we can use to hone the problem statement to better represent users’ needs.

Iteration is inseparable from the “ideation” stage. While brainstorming, we produce an array of ideas and spontaneously iterate on ideas as they emerge. When we sketch, we can produce iterations that demonstrate different possibilities based on the same idea. Also, we can iterate on brainstormed ideas and sketches after gaining new information from concept testing, prototyping, or usability testing.

Document

We will not use every iteration of every artifact that we create, but we should build the habit of saving everything.

The process of saving iterations and other artifacts is called documentation. We can document paper artifacts by labeling them and arranging them in a folder or drawer. In some cases, we might want to digitize these papers by scanning or photographing them and uploading them to a device. Digital artifacts are often saved automatically, but we can use our own organization system to make sure we can find, access, and make sense of them later on.

By documenting our design thinking outputs, from personas to sketches to prototypes, we create a tangible record of our process.

As we investigate different possibilities and new iterations, we should keep old versions, rather than editing or deleting them. Down the line, we might need to review or revert back to earlier versions. Also, iterating doesn’t always lead to the desired results — we might iterate on a design and inadvertently make it worse. When this happens, it can be easier to get back on track if we have a record of our ideas and thought processes.

Even if we never use certain artifacts or iterations, documenting them is still valuable. Unused ideas can serve as lessons learned for lines of thinking that didn’t work out. We could breathe life into these ideas for a future project. Alternatively, these artifacts may serve as examples in a case study or presentation about the design process.

Instructions

Think about the answer to the following question to check your understanding of iteration.

What does iteration look like during the design thinking process?

Check Answer
Adjusting and improving the design based on feedback from users or stakeholders.

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