Design Thinking is one of the more recent buzz words in the design community. I would therefore like to ask, “What is Design Thinking?” and suggest a few answers.

A Design Methodology

Basically, Design Thinking is a design methodology, which differs from traditional design approaches in specific ways. For example, it is characterized as more creative and user-centered than many traditional design approaches.

A Problem-Solving Approach or Process

Design Thinking can be regarded as a problem-solving method or a process for the resolution of problems.

As a solution-based approach to solving problems, Design Thinking is particularly useful for addressing so-called “wicked” problems. Wicked means that they are ill-defined or tricky. For ill-defined problems, both the problem and the solution are unknown at the outset of the problem-solving process. Even when the general direction of the problem may be clear, considerable time and effort is spent on clarifying the requirements. Thus, in Design Thinking, a large part of the problem-solving activity is comprised of defining and shaping the problem.

Much like any other problem solving process, Design Thinking consists of a number of stages or phases, which differ slightly between various Design Thinking proponents. The d.schools in Stanford and Potsdam, for example, distinguish the following phases:

An Approach to Encourage Creativity

Unlike analytical thinking, which is associated with the “breaking down” of ideas, Design Thinking is a creative process based on the “building up” of ideas. While analytical approaches focus on narrowing the design choices, Design Thinking focuses on going broad, at least during the early stages of the process.

In Design Thinking, designers do not make any early judgments about the quality of ideas. As a result, this minimizes the fear of failure and maximizes input and participation in the ideation (brainstorming) and prototype phases. “Outside the box thinking”, also called “wild ideas”, is encouraged in the earlier process stages, since this style of thinking is believed to lead to creative solutions that would not have emerged otherwise.

A User-Centered Approach That Brings Design into the Business World

Design Thinking is seen as a way to apply design methodologies to any of life’s situations. It is often used to explore and define business problems and to define products and services. In other words, Design Thinking brings the design approach into the business world. As a style of thinking, it combines empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality and feedback to analyze and fit solutions to the context – All this helps derive a solution that meets user needs and at the same time generates revenue, that is, drives business success.

Where to Learn More…

For a more thorough discussion of Design Thinking, please read my article Introduction to Design Thinking. You might also want to take a look at the book Design Thinking by Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel and Ulrich Weinberg from 2009.

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  • Simon Kemp   7 years ago

    Hi, nice concise summary. Seems like the link to the image is broken though.

  • Anonym  6 years ago

    Great job. Thanks.