The design process
Map and walking guide

We use the metaphor of going for a walk in the park to explain the design process. This map also shows you how co-design can be used to make your design process more inclusive.

Before you go on your walk…

Questions to think about before you start

Who are you walking with and what’s the goal?

Who are you walking with?

Who's on your team?

Who’s a part of your team? What expertise does everyone have? What expertise and lived experiences are you missing?

What are your viewpoints?

What's your goal?

What goals do you want to achieve together? How do you know when you’ve achieved your goal?

How to build your team and set a goal

Build partnerships

Involve the community

What’s your process?

What’s in your backpack?

What materials do you need to bring?

What does your team need to bring to make sure everyone can walk together?

What’s your route?

What's your process?

Based on the viewpoints your team wants to reach, what’s the best route to get to them? What’s the route that will allow everyone to be able to come along?

How long is your walk?

What's your timeline?

How long do you want to be on this trip for? Is it rigid, or is there some flexibility to it?

Where should you start?

How to know which area of design to go to


Try discovery if you're asking…

“I understand my stakeholders’ perspectives, but what about my users?

“What do the different people in the community really think about this issue?”

About discovery

Gain a deep understanding of a topic or issue and how it affects different community members.

Make sense of what you heard to share with others and move forward in the project.

During discovery, co-design can look like…

Picking the topic or issue to tackle together with the community

Gaining a deep understanding of the issue from different community members’ perspectives

Making sense of what you found out with the broader community, to make sure it’s representative and accurate


Try brainstorming if you're asking…

“I’ve done so much research. Now what do I do?”

“I’ve been stuck on this one idea for a long time, and it’s not working. I need to come up with new ideas.”

About brainstorming

Come up with and explore lots of ideas — at this time, more ideas are better!

During brainstorming, co-design can look like…

Creating space for the community to come up with their own ideas.


Try refinement if you're asking…

“How do I know which is the right idea to pursue?”

“I know the general idea, but how will it work exactly?”

“I’ve been working on this idea for a long time, but what does the community think about it?”

About refinement

Pick which idea(s) to go further with

Create a functional version of the idea (prototype)

Get feedback on the prototype to see how well it works

During refinement, co-design can look like…

Picking ideas to pursue together

Designing different elements of the idea (ex. different features of an app, different aspects of a program, etc)

Defining who to get feedback from, and what to ask them about

Other features of the park

The Bridges of Synthesis

Synthesis is often done when you go from one area of design to another. You do synthesis to make sense of what you learned. In discovery, you may be synthesizing community needs. In brainstorming, you may be synthesizing different ideas. In refining, you may be synthesizing feedback on your idea.

The River of Community Involvement

Instead of involving the community at a specific point in the process, it’s best to share whatever you’re working on throughout the process. This way, community feedback willl inform your design at every point in the process.

How to involve community

Involve community

The Cloud of Reflection

During the process, it’s important to take a bird’s eye view and reflect: What’s working well? What’s not working so well? How can we improve?

How to do reflection


Walking routes you can try

Linear and non-linear design processes

The classic

The classic version of the design process goes in a linear order, from discovery to brainstorming to refining.

Start where you are

Often when you jump into a project, what you need may not start with discovery, but rather brainstorming, refining, or even reflecting. You can start with what makes most sense for your team and project.


Your group already has an idea, and you want to see how well the community thinks the idea is working.

The loop

You can go through each area quickly, and repeat this cycle again and again. This iterative process can help you run through your idea and gather feedback quickly.


Your group wants to get basic essential features for an app working. You start there, and then do another cycle to think through the “nice to have” features.

The shortcut

Sometimes you only have a very short amount of time for design, so you might pick and chose which phase is most important to you, and do a quick version of it.


You only have a few weeks to come up with a design, so you spend one hour doing lightning rounds of brainstorming and refining.


Sometimes you need to take detours because of unexpected events, like if your planned route doesn’t work for everyone in your team. Embrace the detour - sometimes you might discover unexpected wonders there.