Guide to Learning Design Thinking, incl. Free Tutorials • Discoverology
29 items | 267m read

Ultimate Learning Guide To Design Thinking

7m read | Introduction
Ultimate Learning Guide To Design Thinking

The history of this term dates back to the 1900s when this term was first used by John E. Arnold in 1959, in his book ‘Creative Engineering’ and later by L. Bruce Archer in 1965, in his book ‘Systematic Methods for Designers’. Both these authors were the first ones to acknowledge the existence of a concept called design thinking and write about it from their respective perspectives.

Today, after decades of researches and studies, the application of this concept is very popular among businesses, educational facilities and computer science industries. Leading businesses and brands, such as Google and Apple, have been using the design thinking approach and the concept is also being offered as a course at leading higher educational institutions including Harvard, MIT and Stanford. However, it is important to note that design thinking is essentially applicable to everybody in every aspect of life and encompasses many diverse fields. (This article will have its focus tilted slightly towards its application in the business field).

Let us now fully understand the concept of design thinking and its principles, to perhaps increase your chances of being a design thinker, because knowledge about this intriguing subject will help in cultivating genuine interest and effort in its purest forms!

What Exactly Is Design Thinking?

‘Design Thinking’ is a problem-solving approach involving an iterative process in which the design thinker seeks to understand the user comprehensively, challenge available assumptions & redefine problems at hand with the aim of deriving alternative solutions and strategies that may not be ‘visible’ with our previous approach and related thinking capabilities. Design thinkers use solution-based ‘way of thinking’ while solving problems innovatively; innovation is key during this entire process.

The process indulges the designers in developing a clear and deep understanding of their target users (those people that will be targeted with your services or products) which ultimately gives birth to empathy-a quality that allows designers to come up with relevant and feasible solutions.

As defined by the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

To put it out more simply and generally, the term refers to the practical, cognitive and strategic processes that are used by design teams and/or individual thinkers in the development of ‘design concepts’ (proposals for existing and new products, services, machines and buildings, etcetera).

The Phases of Design Thinking

Many versions of the Design Thinking process are in use in this modern era, with some 3 to 7 phases, modes or stages. We will be briefing you about the model of this process that was proposed by one of the leading teachers and applicants of design thinking Stanford’s ‘Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design’. The aforementioned model comprises of 5 phases which are mentioned below.

— Empathize; with target users.
— Define; their needs, problems and your intuitions about them.
— Ideate; by questioning & challenging normal assumptions and coming up with ideas for ‘innovative solutions’.
— Prototype; to indulge in the creation of solutions.
— Test; the proposed solutions.

Remember: It is very important to not consider these stages (or other variants) of design thinking to be sequential; the process we are discussing does not necessarily have to work step-by-step to yield relevant results. These phases do not occur orderly and can occur in a parallel fashion and even repeat (iteratively).

How Is Design Thinking Different?

Trying to understand the difference is quite simple after having read what the term means, its principles and the stages involved. The difference lies majorly in the patterns of thinking. 

Normal patterns of human thinking are naturally based on frequently accessed knowledge and repetitive activities. Both of these assist humans by aiding quick application of the same knowledge and actions in familiar or similar situations. But the drawback here is that they restrict our minds from easily and quickly developing alternative and innovative ways of understanding & solving problems. Such ingrained patterns of thinking are usually known as ‘schemas’. Schemas are ‘preset’ organized sets of relationships and information between thoughts, things and actions and are initiated in our minds whenever an environmental stimuli is encountered. This stimulation is automatic and can, hence, prevent us from viewing situations with a more innovative approach and developing new problem-solving strategies whenever need be. 

This is how a design thinking approach is different from ingrained thinking patterns. 

Outside the Box Thinking 

Design Thinking is also called ‘outside the box’ thinking because designers are constantly attempting and looking for new and alternate ways of thinking that do not classify among common and mainstream problem-solving methods. 

We know by now that the core principles of design thinking revolve around designers being customer-focused (human-centered); thinking about improving products by analyzing & understanding the interactions between products and target users as well as investigating and questioning their operating conditions and assumptions.

One major element, however, of this outside the box thinking approach is the designer’s ability to falsify prior assumptions and dig deeper into the problem at hand by carrying out extensive & relevant research, viewing the problem from every angle and experimenting (prototypes and testing). The results and conclusions derived from the questioning and investigating phases coupled with others will direct a thinker towards generating innovative solutions that will help in improving designs, products or services.

A Great Example of Design Thinking Success: Oral-B/Braun Smart Toothbrush

When founders, Kim Colin & Sam Hecht, of the agency ‘Industrial Facility’, were given the task of creating a ‘smarter’ toothbrush, they were suggested two client ideas: brushes that tracked ‘brushing performance’ and those that played music. Now this approach, the two designers thought, was not addressing the customers’ experience in an empathetic manner.

Instead of going with the two presented idea, Kim and Sam identified two key issues faced by most users, solved and marketed them as the new value-added (very rightly so!) features of the toothbrush-ordering new brushes and charging the ‘smart’ device. Their smart toothbrush turned out to be a product customers actually valued because it solved their problems.

This inspirational project is a very simple, yet perfect example of design thinking that helps in understanding what the concept is all about in its practical form. It shows that only serving briefs isn’t going to add value to your end product/service/design. You need to go beyond it, be empathetic towards your end users & put them first. It’s all about addressing issues innovatively, thinking outside the box and not confining your creativity!

About This Design Thinking Guide

This guide offers the most insightful articles, educational videos, expert insights, specialist tips and best free tutorials about design thinking from around the internet. The learning guide is split into four levels: introduction, basics, advanced and expert. You can learn at your own pace. Each item shows an estimated reading or watching time, allowing you to easily plan when you want to read or watch each item. Below you’ll find a table of contents that enables you to easily find a specific topic you might be interested in.

10 items | 66m read
13m read | Basics

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.
4m read | Basics

The Origins of Design Thinking

Design thinking is created because big corporation lack the ability to be creative and on extreme cases, aren’t able to create new products and services that meet unmet needs of their customers. Because of 20th-century education system that fostered dominant logic and disregard creativity, people grew up with an overpowered mindset and skill-set of managing value. Hence, defines the corporations today that are run by boomers and Gen X.
5m read | Basics

Why Design Thinking is a Game Changer

Design Thinking has grown past its original applications in Product Design and Website Development. It is now a standalone discipline with clear set of methods and wide spectrum of application – from traditional consumer products and mobile apps to enterprise systems, construction, procurement and vendor management. So look and feel is no longer the only focus.
5m watch | Basics

The Design Thinking Process

This 5-minute video discusses the basics of the Design Thinking Process.
3m read | Basics

How to Introduce Design Thinking into Your Organization

Design thinking is a human-centric, iterative process to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems. It’s made up of five core phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

While more and more organizations are recognizing the power of design thinking, it naturally raises the question: how can you best introduce this mindset into a new environment?
6m read | Basics

Design Thinking: Combining Traditional Methods with Empathy

In essence, the Design Thinking process is iterative, flexible and focussed on collaboration between designers and users, with an emphasis on bringing ideas to life to see how real users think, feel and behave, as a way of empathising with those who will ultimately use these products in the real world to inform the overall design process.
10m read | Basics

How to Solve Problems Like a Designer

Design Thinking is a problem solving framework. The concept has been around for decades, but in the past five to ten years, IDEO, a design consultancy, has championed the process as an alternative to a purely analytical approach to problem-solving.

Tim Brown, IDEO’s president and CEO, defines design thinking like this:

“The mission of design thinking is to translate observation into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives.”
6m read | Basics

Design Thinking Mindsets for Human-Centered Design

People who want to innovate their work and create better experiences, products and services for their users or customers might benefit from applying certain attitudes that can empower their thinking and creativity. Here is our collection of design thinking mindsets from leaders IDEO, Stanford, and PDMA to inspire your design thinking activities.
6m read | Basics

Why Human-Centered Design Matters

When done well, a human-centered approach fuels the creation of products that resonate more deeply with an audience — ultimately driving engagement and growth. As proof, one needs to look no further than the recent success of design-driven companies like Warby Parker, Fab, AirBnB and Pinterest. We’ve also recently seen digital stalwarts like Google, eBay and LinkedIn invest in the design of more cohesive and sophisticated user experiences.
8m read | Basics

Design Thinking Is Not A Process, It's A Mindset

A mindset that can help us adapt to the process of being more mindful, and open to the right direction towards innovation. But while we do that, we must also know that it is no magic bullet. Methodologies and processes are important, but these are mere tools. What one needs to do is to get the right mindset to make that difference, and to really find the right direction towards the right solution.
9 items | 76m read
10m read | Advanced

Essential Ideation Techniques

Due to the nature of ideation, it is extremely important to make use of techniques that match the type of ideas you’re trying to generate. The techniques you choose will also need to match the needs of the ideation team, their states of creative productivity and their experience in ideation sessions. Here is an overview of the most essential ideation techniques.
3m watch | Advanced

Brainstorming and Other Ideation Techniques

David and Tom Kelley of IDEO discuss alternatives to traditional brainstorming in this 3-minute video.
8m read | Advanced

Useful Tools for Design Thinking

One of the reasons for its popularity is that it is human-centered, putting users and customers at the center of creation in order to understand their problems, thus making products and services more user-friendly. Design Thinking may seem like just a tool, but this is not the case. Design Thinking is more of a mindset or a process with several different stages, and each stage can be supported with different tools to help in the understanding-designing process.
11m read | Advanced

Prototyping Methods and Best Practices

Before we begin looking at the common prototyping methods, let us first briefly examine the prototyping and testing process. You will need to pay attention to these four key components of prototyping and testing, no matter what method you choose to utilise:

People – including those whom you are testing and the observers
Objects – static and interactive, including the prototype and other objects the people and/or prototype interact/s with
Location – places and environments
Interactions – digital or physical, between people, objects and the location
8m read | Advanced

What is Rapid Prototyping?

In this fast-moving modern-day consumer market, companies need to develop and introduce new products faster to remain competitive. Since faster product development and technology innovation are key to a company’s success, rapid prototyping becomes the most important element of new product development.
8m watch | Advanced

Sketching & Paper Prototyping

Mariam Shaikh and Melissa Powel talk about sketching and paper prototyping. Have you ever struggled with how to get from an idea to a high fidelity prototype? Every design has to start somewhere and even at Google we often start with low fidelity prototyping options such as sketching and paper prototyping. After all, the fidelity of your prototype should match the fidelity of your idea, so stop worrying and start sketching.
11m watch | Advanced

Digital Prototyping

Chris Conover and Parteek Saran talk about digital prototyping. Have you ever struggled to explain your idea during a pitch, while working with your team, or testing a concept with users? Digital prototyping allows you to rapidly explore an idea by building interactive experiences that run on real devices — no coding required.
8m watch | Advanced

Native Prototyping

Carl Sziebert and Kaushal Shah discuss native prototyping and how to bring ideas to life by coding on native platforms and SDKs. Want to unlock the full hardware functionality for your explorations? Need to test how motion, animation, interaction and moments of delight come together to shape an experience for your users? With native prototyping you can build a realistic version of your idea, start validating your design direction and start pitching to the world!
9m read | Advanced

Rapid Prototyping Programs And Techniques

The basic idea behind rapid prototyping is one of quick cyclical creation, revision, and iteration–as represented in the image above. This process allows you to get from idea to working product as quickly as possible. Every problem encountered along the way is acknowledged and dealt with as fast as possible, ideally resulting in a better product on a faster timeline.
9 items | 118m read
7m read | Expert

Improve Change Management Through Design Thinking

Design thinking is often referred to as “human-centric” because its focus is on the affected people; their feelings, knowledge, beliefs and attitudes. This alone challenges the more analytical approach to change management that has traditionally applied. It is a process that is iterative in that it seeks to devise multiple solutions to a single problem.
5m read | Expert

How to Become a Design Thinking Advocate

Why is design as a strategic driver so valuable? Because it lays out a framework that helps organizations understand their future trajectory and what steps they need to take to reach their goal. It answers the question of “What should that integrated, design-driven team or business look like?” For every organization, the answer to this question would look different.
5m read | Expert

Why Design Thinking Fails

‘Design Thinking’ has become one of the most popular programs for organizations who want to achieve transformation through innovation. Many organizations are trying their hands at implementing ‘Design Thinking’, but surprisingly, even after running the full cycle of ‘Design Thinking’ a number of times, they are still not seeing the results and benefits they expected.
12m read | Expert

Design Thinking Success Stories

I’m incredibly optimistic of the power of DT but also always on the lookout for design thinking success stories and examples. As I’ve shared my knowledge of design thinking with others, I’ve frequently been asked how often it delivers demonstrable results and how broadly it can be applied. Below is my collection of design thinking success stories that have helped reinforce my conviction that design thinking can deliver incredibly powerful results and be applicable to everyone.

16m read | Expert

Saving a Product: A Detailed Design Thinking Case Study

Some time ago, I found myself at a meeting with an entrepreneur, a few managers, and many ideas flying around the room. Their direct competitor had recently released a new application and the tension was palpable. The company wanted to go out with something new on the market, to avoid losing ground to their competitor.

They prepared a document with some requirements, a vague idea of what the product should look like, and how much should it cost.
13m watch | Expert

Speed up Innovation with Design Thinking

Innovation made simple, that is Guido’ Stompff’ s passion. Elements of design thinking are the core of his idea. In 2005 I attended a lecture delivered by a famous Dutch politician. To be honest, he made me angry,” Guido says. “He was explaining how difficult politics are, talking about the dilemmas he faces every day. But he did not present solutions. Not one. And not even a plan to get one.” In his anger Guido, a designer with many years of experience, suddenly understood he had an entirely different way of thinking. Designers always explore new ideas. Problems are challenges for their creativity.
60m read | Expert

Best Design Thinking TED Talks

Design thinking is a methodology focused around creative solutions to problem-solving, innovation-led mindsets, and customer-centered design. One way to learn about design thinking – and how you can apply it to your own organization – is through watching videos from innovation professionals. Here we have laid out top design thinking TED Talks to aid in your organization’s innovation efforts.
10m read | Expert

Further Reading: Best Design Thinking Books

The Design Thinking Playbook: Mindful Digital Transformation of Teams, Products, Services, Businesses and Ecosystems. This book describes how Design Thinking is applied across a variety of industries, enriched with other proven approaches as well as the necessary tools, and the knowledge to use them effectively. Packed with solutions for common challenges including digital transformation, this practical, highly visual discussion shows you how Design Thinking fits into agile methods within management, innovation, and startups.

Mastering Design Thinking: The Systematic Approach to Improve Considerably Your Business Success Rate. This book provides an in-depth introduction of what design thinking is. It explains in detail why design thinking should be at the core of business development and how it should be a part of all business strategies. Furthermore, the book also gives important tips on how to take advantage of the dynamic approach of design thinking.

Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers. Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie educate readers in one of the hottest trends in business: “design thinking,” or the ability to turn abstract ideas into practical applications for maximal business growth. Liedtka and Ogilvie cover the mind-set, techniques, and vocabulary of design thinking, unpack the mysterious connection between design and growth, and teach managers in a straightforward way how to exploit design’s exciting potential.

Innovating for People Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods. This handbook is your essential resource for innovation. It’s a compact reference book describing thirty-six methods of Human-Centered Design, organized by way of three key design skills. Looking: Methods for observing human experience. Understanding: Methods for analyzing challenges and opportunities. Making: Methods for envisioning future possibilities.

10m read | Expert

Further Learning: Best Design Thinking Courses

Design Thinking for Innovation. In this course, The University of Virginia provides an overview of design thinking and work with a model containing four key questions and several tools to help you understand design thinking as a problem solving approach. They also look at several stories from different organizations that used design thinking to uncover compelling solutions.

Managing Innovation and Design Thinking. Go beyond general management with structured models and techniques used by successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. You will learn how to drive innovation at any stage of business development — from developing an idea to leading a company.

Cooper Crash Course: Design Thinking in 3 Steps. Through this interactive course, you’ll learn a different approach to strategic problem solving so that you can create experiences customers love. You’ll practice design thinking on a real-life project and equip yourself with a powerful set of tools to become more collaborative, innovative, and effective.

Design Thinking: Ideation, Iteration and Communication. Designing a successful and innovative solution requires creative ideas and their iteration. As critical phases of the design thinking process, ideation and iteration are often what distinguish design thinking from traditional or linear problem-solving approaches.

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