Agile Design vs Design Thinking. Which is right for your software project?

There isn’t one “right” way to do UX, and the tools and activities will vary project to project. There are two distinct approaches to UX design, but before you start the UX process, you need to first decide why you need UX design and how it will support the development process of your digital product. The best way to determine this is by talking to your design team and asking them some key questions.

Deciding which UX design process to proceed with can feel daunting, and software houses tend to give you their recommendations which might make the deciding more difficult. But you need to be sure it’s the right process for your project, and what you’ll get out of the UX design process will be of value to your business and digital product’s performance.

We’ve compiled some information about the activities and deliverables achieved by two distinct UX design processes: Agile Design, and Design Thinking. The hope is that these insights will assist you in your decision making. But the first step to making the choice is to make sure that your design team is asking the right questions.

Is your current design team asking these questions about your product?

You need to make sure your design team is using the UX design process to provide value for your business. Some of these questions might seem obvious, but we’ve seen countless projects that hadn’t covered these fundamentals and suffered as a result - which delayed or even killed projects. Some of these questions include:

  1. Are you trying to replace an existing legacy product with a new product with the same set of features? Or different features?
  2. Do you need to create a clear vision of your product to be validated by your investors and/or for your team to start the project?
  3. Are we working on desktop software, a mobile application, or both?

These questions, answered, can help to determine exactly which UX design approach will work best for your specific digital product.

The difference between Agile Design & Design Thinking

The two distinct approaches to the UX design process are Agile Design and Design Thinking. Understanding how these processes work, the activities involved, and their deliverables, will help you decide which process to go with and what to expect when working on your software’s user experience.

Agile Design, Step by step

Agile Design is best suited for when you have an existing product and you want to use Agile to iteratively improve your product. What this means is that developers will be designing and redesigning every sprint, and you, the client, are involved in the process continuously. Your UX team will be helping to prioritize the backlog, using real-time user testing. They will also help to define the requirements and user stories to make sure the product designs are “dev-ready”.

The Agile Design process helps to inform ways of improving the UX of your product or gradually changing it completely, to drive optimal business outcomes. In short, the Agile Design process is iteratively improving an existing product, changing the UX to drive more results.

Design Thinking - Product vision prior to development

On the other hand, if you’re looking to establish a vision for your product, or validate your ideas with investors, in the case of replacing a legacy product or a brand new MVP, the full Design Thinking toolset is better suited. In these scenarios, you can proceed with something that looks more like a waterfall, rather than Agile, but the deliverable will be designing a possible vision of the entire application in some future state. Simply put, you could use the Design Thinking approach to design your whole app, before starting on the development process.

Sometimes starting with a vision based on product and market research is more beneficial on a budget, because it will give you a clear picture of what your digital product will look like. With this final deliverable, you can estimate the work to build its components, and construct a viable roadmap from early prototype validation, MVP development, and future ambitious versions of the product. With the roadmap and clear vision of your product, you can have investors and stakeholders provide the greenlight to begin the development process.

Activities and deliverables for UX processes

UX design process: Activities and deliverables

To help you determine which design process is best suited for your digital product, it can also be useful to know what some of the activities are involved in them, and the deliverables you receive.

Agile Design - Your analytical approach

In the Agile Design process, some of the activities you can expect to work on are user analytics, using google analytics or your audit logs, to identify problems and opportunities. These help you figure out what is working and what isn’t, but can also help you configure your analytics tools to be more pointed. This can also include A/B testing, and analyzing those results.

Another great tool for user analytics is Hotjar, or similar tools, which review how real customers are using your application. You can view website heatmaps, record sessions and see how they’ve scrolled through your application.

UX design should not ignore your products’ performance, which is why the Agile Process also looks for performance issues, like how fast your application responds.

Your UX team will also look for user feedback by reading reviews on app stores, for example, while also looking at the flow of data coming at you from customers.

The deliverables you can expect from each Agile Design sprint include:

  • Results of A/B testing
  • Clear user stories making features “dev ready” for next Agile development sprint
  • Mockups for developers to use when coding
  • Adjustments to your priorities in the backlog

Design Thinking - Understanding of your buyer persona

Similar activities can take place in both design processes, but in full Design Thinking product visioning, it’s more common that there aren’t existing users or an existing product. This is why persona workshops are conducted, determining who your ideal users could be, and using an empathy map to better develop the personas.

Benchmark analyses will show how your existing product or competitors’ products are performing. While also working on a Business Model Canvas, which should be part of the discovery process, to outline what your business is trying to achieve and what your software can do for your business.

Following this discovery, you should expect to work on user story mapping, user stories, user flows, and wireframes/mockups.

Some of the deliverables from the early Design Thinking phases include:

  • Business Model Canvas
  • Completed user personas
  • Identifying the key terminology; a glossary of the language that the whole team will use
  • Benchmark Analyses and a report of key findings
  • Insights that define and validate the product and what it will look like
  • Clear decisions about what is being built and how

Choosing the right UX design process for your digital product

Choosing Agile Design or Design Thinking for your UX design process will depend on what your needs are. We believe that Agile Design is better for existing products that need elements redesigned or need to revisit and improve existing UX. Whereas Design Thinking works better for new products or ones replacing their entire system.

Although we’ve outlined two common UX processes, some of their activities and deliverables, you will find that the UX design process can vary, and SHOULD vary depending on the project. You can expect variations in everything from the activities to the tool used. The most important part for you is to understand what you should be getting out of the UX design process and what it’s going to do for your product, and therefore business.


  • Two main UX design process to choose from: Agile Design & Design Thinking
  • Agile Design is great for existing products that need to improve their UX
  • Design Thinking is ideal for taking your vision to investors when developing a new product
  • Expect activities and deliverables to vary from project to project, as they should be tailored to your specific digital product

Determining which UX process to go with is a breeze when you understand exactly what your goals are. We’ve successfully created exceptional UX for a plethora of clients. Ask us which UX design process is best for your business and product goals, or schedule a meeting with us on our website.

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