What is Design Thinking? The Ultimate Beginners Guide

Your guide to Design Thinking. Get to grips with every stage of the Design Thinking process and learn how to run your own Design Thinking workshop.

Maybe your colleagues have taken an online course on it, or maybe you’ve just heard the term thrown around so ubiquitously that it feels like a phenomenon you’ll never really understand in a tangible sense. Design Thinking, put very simply, is a human-centered approach to creative problem-solving, and has made loads of noise all over the internet and beyond in recent years.

Although the buzz around Design Thinking has been on the rise just in recent years, the concept itself has been around for a few decades already. And as it often happens, the more popular it became, the more it got thrown around out of context and the more confusion ensued.

To set things right once and for all, we’ve developed this nifty beginners guide to Design Thinking. Read on to find out what Design Thinking is, how it works, why it’s important, the process behind it, and how it ties in with methodologies like Agile and the Design Sprint.

Don’t have time for the whole thing? Navigate through the article with the table of contents:

What is Design Thinking?

In simple words, Design Thinking is a mindset that helps you solve problems creatively.

More specifically, Design Thinking is a human-centric approach to innovation. It helps teams find the intricate balance between what makes sense to the end-users, what is technologically doable, and what is viable for a business to undertake.  

Design Thinking has also been described as a way to “encourage organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes” by Design Thinking leaders at IDEO. In businesses and social context, it’s about how we design products and a new way of thinking that’s based on user needs.

So why is design thinking important?

All this sounds nice, but … why bother? Can’t the old frameworks do the trick?

While it’s tempting to dismiss Design Thinking like one of those shiny buzzwords that create a stir and disappear into the abyss a few years later, in its various shapes and sizes, Design Thinking has proven itself integral to business success many times over.

Companies which are ‘design-led’ have been proven to outperform the competition. Just take a look at this graph by Design Management Institute:

A graph showcasing design value index from 2005 to 2015

Besides, design is never a stand-alone discipline and comes in a bundle with user experience. Good design is characterized by a buttery smooth experience, and just what exactly does Design Thinking help you do? You guessed it.

The ‘Norman Door’ phenomenon might just be the best illustration of why Design Thinking and a human-centred approach are important. 

‘Norman Door’ is a figurative term for any product that is cumbersome to use and was designed poorly. A Norman Door has a handle that you can grab, so you think that you need to pull it. But when you pull you realize it’s actually a push. While logically thinking, placing a handle on the door is perfectly normal, in the world of real people and real experiences, the handle is obsolete and confuses the user.

By thinking from the needs of the user, a Design Thinking approach helps designers bridge the gap between something that just works and something that solves a problem.

What are the cornerstone principles of design thinking then?

ThThe entire Design Thinking mindset rests on three main pillars:

Empathy‍

Empathy is the foundation of Design Thinking. Unless you get into the wants and needs of people you are designing for, what you’re doing can’t be considered Design Thinking.

Ideation

Ideation is the core of creative activities in the Design Thinking process. Simply put, it is when multiple ideas are pitted against each other, where creativity is unleashed and innovation happens!

Experimentation

Are your assumptions correct? Did you hit the right spot with your product? What are users thinking about it? Don’t just guess – test it!

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What are the phases in the design thinking process?

Design Thinking has five steps: empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. We’ll get into what these look like in practice a little later on, but first let’s take a look at what they mean in theory and why they’re important to the Design Thinking process .

The 5 phases of the design thinking process
The 5 phases of the design thinking process

Empathy

Getting to know your users’ needs, challenges, perspectives, and goals is how the Design Thinking approach enables you and your team to effectively unlock new solutions and ideas that will reveal new opportunities for your brand. It may sound obvious, but many organizations forget that in order to effectively empathize, you need to actively observe user behavior and engage with real human beings! This real life interaction will help you to internalize the user’s experience of your company, products, service, and brand and understand your users’ emotional and psychological responses to them. The empathy stage also involves putting aside personal assumptions and gathering insights. Taking into account the culture and context of the consumer will also be crucial. Ask yourselves: How are users responding to other companies in our space? What is the visual language of our industry and culture right now? What can we do to both stand out from the competition and assist the user as they navigate this category?

Definition

The definition stage is all about drilling down into what you’ve learned during your research in the empathy stage. Using the insights you’ve gathered, you’ll begin to have a much clearer idea of ongoing issues and possible solutions; you’ll notice patterns and themes emerging. This stage is all about identifying the key needs to be addressed and articulating the main challenge or challenges for the workshop. Getting everybody on the same page at this early stage ensures that the goals of the problem-framing and problem-solving stages are clear and aligned.

Ideation 

With the challenge articulated and the customer’s POV thoroughly understood, the ideation phase is when the collaboration and problem-solving really begins. Different techniques are often used in the ideation phase in order to bring about the best in the group and motivate different approaches. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, landscape mapping, bodystorming, lightning demos, and 4 step sketching are all brilliant and effective ways to prompt innovation and inspire the group to look at the problem from new angles. The key to a successful ideation session is to establish and nurture an environment within which every kind of option, approach, and opinion are accepted and rigorously assessed, with the ultimate objective being to converge on the strongest ideas which solve the issue at hand.  A simple assessment tool with which to approach potential solutions is a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) assessment. This will also build confidence around the ideas that the group eventually decides to move forward with. 

Prototyping 

This is the experimental stage where the team gets to turn abstract ideas and theories into tangible experiences. Rapid iteration is crucial here, as solutions are put forward, improved upon, rejected, or restructured. This process forces the team to drop any ideas of perfectionism, promotes collaboration, and embraces mixing and matching ideas from different sources to come up with the right solution. 

Some common types of prototyping in a Design Thinking workshop include:

  • Sketches and diagrams
  • Paper interface
  • Storyboards
  • Role-playing

Testing 

The value of testing to the Design Thinking process cannot be understated. It is perhaps even the most important stage in the workshop, as it enables the team to see if their solution effectively solves the user problem that was uncovered during the Empathy stage. 

Testing is your team’s opportunity to get the product out into the real world and tested with real users, in real time. You’ll be able to verify if the problem was framed correctly, and uncover new insights by observing users interacting with the product. It’s also likely that you’ll uncover new user needs and wants that were not previously articulated in other stages of the workshop. 

Some tips for testing: 

  • Try to conduct the testing in the same or a similar environment to where the user would usually interact with the product or service
  • Consider offering users alternatives to compare to your product or service. It’s much easier for a user to say what they like about each when they have a comparable object
  • Get users to vocalize their experience with the product or service as they use it. You can take notes while they do this 
  • Be open to negative feedback–these comments provide valuable clues on how to improve your offering

It might seem at first glance that Design Thinking is a linear step-by-step process with the exact tools and activities you need to use for every stage. Well…not quite.

In real life, Design Thinking is as far from a linear process, as french fries are from a healthy diet (but hey, we’re not judging, we love french fries).

Design Thinking is a mindset, a way of thinking about solving problems. So you can go through the process phase by phase, or decide to conduct the phases simultaneously.

You will almost certainly have to go back to some phases and reiterate (multiple times), and the tools you’ll be using are not concretely defined either. As David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and godfather of Design Thinking put it: “Design Thinking is not a cookbook where the answer falls out at the end. It’s messier than that. It’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.”

The whole process might feel intimidating right now, but don’t bail on Design Thinking yet! After you’re done with this guide you’ll have a solid understanding of how to tie it into your work routine. 

So let’s dive a bit deeper into what each of the Design Thinking phases means practically in the context of the entire process.

Empathize – stage 1 of the Design Thinking process

Although Design Thinking is a non-linear path, most of the projects begin with the empathizing phase. Quite simply because empathy towards the end-users lies at the very core of the Design Thinking mindset (remember the three pillars of Design Thinking?)

The goal of this stage is to gain a deep understanding of the actual users you are designing for. What moves them, what troubles them? How do they go about their day? What causes friction for them? What are their actual problems, and what is the solution they really need for them?

So, what’s the best way to get in the head of your target user?

Like with any Design Thinking phase, there’s not a single ‘correct’ way you should use to get the best results. It all depends on the nature of your project, time-frame, budget, and available resources. Here are a few examples of some of the techniques that are often used by Design Thinking practitioners:

  • User-based studies

As the name suggests, this technique is all about drawing insights and observations from studying your users. This can take on any form you’d like, be it a video or photo study or actual research. 

  • Beginner’s mind approach

Invite some zen into your life, and for a moment – just observe, without judging. Too cliché? Don’t let the spiritual references put you off. Beginner’s mindset is a useful tool to uncover deep insights. Leave your assumptions, previous knowledge and experiences at the door and 

invite curiosity into the process.

  • User interviews

Lots of times, nothing does the trick quite like…just asking. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to tell you all about their feelings and emotions! Be careful how you craft your questions though, to not steer people in the direction you might want them to go. For some advanced guidance on this, watch this handy video we made.

Spoiler alert: outcomes from this stage will include an enhanced understanding of your target audience, their thoughts, and feelings.

Define – stage 2 of the Design Thinking process

Phase 2 of the Design Thinking process is focused on defining the problem statement (or design challenge in Design Thinking lingo) that you’re trying to solve for the user.

Clearly defining a problem is like pinpointing a North Star in the sky – it guides your decisions and keeps you on track when shiny distractions compete for your attention. So when you do get distracted you’ll easily be able to find your way home, just look to the North Star. 

The ‘Define’ stage builds on the observations you collected about your users in the ‘Empathizing’ phase, synthesizing the results of your analysis to single out the design challenge that is the most worthwhile to take on. 

Since the definition of your design challenge really shapes the entire project,  this step is one of the most important ones in the whole process. Get it wrong – and you’ll end up wasting precious time and resources, with a team that’s not aligned on the challenge, working towards a goal that’s not important. Yikes! 

What makes up a good problem statement in a Design Thinking mindset?

The perfect problem statement should clearly answer the following questions:

  • What are we trying to solve?
  • For whom are we trying to solve it?
  • What are the different ways we can approach this from?
  • How can we act on it?

Your problem statement should be guiding your team towards searching for a feasible solution. Keep in mind that Design Thinking is all about empathy, and users are the center focus point of all activities –  so keep on championing the human-centred approach and frame the problem with real people in mind. 

If you still have doubts on how to frame your challenges, here are a few helpful points to consider:

  • Keep your design challenge broad enough, so that your team has enough creative freedom.

Don’t fall prey to the “cursed how’s” (e.g. how could that system possibly work with our current setup?), don’t get stuck on any particular method and don’t bring any tools or technical details into your problem framing.

  • Don’t broaden it too much, though

Narrow the problem down to a manageable size, so that your team doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Hint: anything that starts to feel like a mission statement is too broad of a challenge.

  • Make it actionable

Although you shouldn’t get too bogged down by details at this stage, your problem statement should be something you can actually take action on. 

How to frame your problem statement?

When it comes to the choice of methods and techniques that can be used for problem framing in the Design Thinking process, you’ll have a wide selection to choose from.

  • Space Saturation, Group, and Affinity diagrams

Creating collages of grouped insights, stories, observations, so that the individual pieces (notes, insights, etc,) can be interconnected with each other, creating even deeper insights. This method is quite popular for problem framing because it allows you to present the findings visually.

  • Empathy Maps

Empathy Maps help the team dig a bit deeper into their observations of the target audience. They try to depict what the users said, did, thought and felt when taking certain actions. While the first 2 parts of the map are easy to fill in, the thought and feeling bits are the ones that require intense thought-work. They are often the parts that offer the deepest insights and help in problem framing. 

  • Point of View (POV)

Drafting a Point of View statement requires combining user description, need and insight elements into one compelling, actionable statement. 

  • The 5 Whys 

An easy-to-use technique that will let you delve deep into the cause and effect of your problem. The interrogative and iterative nature of ‘the 5 Whys’ lets you get to the bottom of the problem in as little as five rounds of whys. 

Start at the very top of your problem, its most obvious effect, and keep asking the question until you feel you’ve gotten to the ultimate cause of it. 

  • Why are our users not using feature X? – Because they don’t understand our product.
  • Why don’t our users understand our product? – Because they don’t do the onboarding
  • Why don’t they do the onboarding? – Because they don’t have time for a 2-hour call.
  • Why don’t they have time? – They are working long hours and have little free capacity.
  • Why are they working long hours? – They aren’t able to effectively manage their time. 

The root cause, in this case, is the inability to manage their time efficiently. Your problem statement would likely focus on topics of time-efficiency, or time-savings. 

  • The four Ws

Yet another technique to synthesize your findings from the empathizing stage. The four Ws method helps you pinpoint the problem by answering the following questions: who, what, where and why. 

  • Who is experiencing the problem? Who are you focusing on, while trying to solve the problem?
  • What is the problem? The main pain point that stands in the user’s way.
  • Where is the problem happening? Is it physical, mental, or digital? What’s the context around this problem?
  • Why is it important? Will the user get substantial value out of that problem being solved?
  • “How Might We” statements or HMWs

A great technique that lets a team reframe a challenge into a more positive statement. How Might We statements are aimed at sparking ideas, opening the challenges to a broader set of solutions, and ultimately – innovation. HMWs are based on the observations made during the empathizing stage and are ultimately problems, reframed as questions.

For example, you’ve noticed that a certain area of your product is not intuitive for your end-users, your HMW statement might look something like this:

“How might we make step 2 more intuitive for our users?”

Now that you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to solve and why you can move on to the next phase of Design Thinking.

Ideate – stage 3 of the Design Thinking process

Our motto for this stage: Quantity over quality!

It’s time to challenge the status quo, think outside of the box and let your creativity flow!

The goal of this stage is not to come up with a ready-to-go, polished solution, but instead to spark ideas. Don’t worry about feasibility or viability just yet. Lots of ideas that your team will generate will have to go into the rejection pile, and that’s totally fine.

For the ideation phase to be the most effective your team will have to feel safe to challenge the norm and wide-spread assumptions. So lay judgment by side, there is no space for “that’s the way it’s always been done” at this stage.

What are the techniques for Design Thinking ideation?

With Design Thinking, whatever suits your team best, will do. There’re a ton of ideation techniques to set you on your way, and here are just some of them.

  • Brainstorming

Ahh, who doesn’t love a good ol’ brainstorm? Although this is, arguably, one of the most famous ideation techniques, we’d recommend steering clear of it. Brainstorming tends to reward the loudest, most extroverted group members, and punish the silent geniuses among us.

It’s not the best option, but if you must implement it, we’d recommend coupling it with another technique. 

  • Bodystorming

This technique lets you get in your users’ skin and experience the problem first-hand. It’s all about setting up a real physical experience which resembles that of your user – with props, people, and prototypes. Outcome? New ideas sparking off in the heat of the moment, as you progress through the same flow as your user does. 

  • Lightning Demos

A great way to get your creative juices flowing. Look at examples of how other companies (not necessarily in your industry) are trying to solve the same problem. What tools, tricks, and workflows are they using? Why do you like that? Reflecting on the way someone else has solved a similar challenge kicks off your thinking process in the right direction and allows you to capitalize on great ideas while giving them your own spin.

  • 4 Step Sketching

Ideally implemented in conjunction with the Lightning Demos, this exercise is great for group settings. Team members work alone, together, to pour their ideas out on paper in the form of a sketch. Curious for more details? Check out this video here:

After the team worked hard and came up with a bunch of amazing ideas it’s time to select which ones to prototype. For this step, we’d suggest refraining from open discussion when trying to decide on which ideas to go forward with. This method of decision-making tends to favor the eloquent extroverted speakers and neglect more reserved people. 

Our go-to ideas selection technique is dot voting, and it’s as easy as it sounds. The team looks at ideas (in silence!), and votes are distributed by placing a dot on the idea they like most – no discussion involved. 

If that doesn’t fit your team dynamics, feel free to choose any other technique from the Design Thinking toolbox – like categorizing, running ideas through the validation boards, or anything else that you fancy.

Prototype – stage 4 in the design thinking process

The prototyping phase of Design Thinking is crucial to the whole process.

Let’s rewind to why we’re trying to implement a Design Thinking mindset in the first place. 

Ahh, right! Because we want to get to that sweet spot on the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. Prototyping can bring us one step closer to that goal!

The goal of good design is the intersection between feasibility, desirability and viability
The goal of good design is the intersection between feasibility, desirability and viability

By creating a prototype we get a cheap and cheerful way of testing our solutions out in the real world. The key with prototyping is to keep it simple. 

Don’t invest too much time, or too many resources (or emotions, for that matter!) into it. The goal of this stage is to make informed design decisions, so keep in mind: both validation of ideas and their rebut are equally valuable. 

There is an abundance of prototyping forms and techniques, but to make the most out of the process we recommend making prototypes high-fidelity so that your testers won’t question their authenticity.

Here’s a rundown on what kind of tools we use while prototyping:

As well as some tips on how to make prototyping easier and quicker:

Design thinking is all about empathy, and users are the center focus point of all activities

Test – stage 5 in the Design Thinking process

How do we know whether we’ve done a great job without asking real users themselves? Well, we don’t. That’s why testing is an essential part of the Design Thinking process.

The testing phase is the most straightforward one out of all 5 – we put the prototype in front of real users, let them test it and gather their feedback. After the testing phase, you’ll know what features of your product users love, and which they’d rather trash. 

Testing gives teams solid ground and insights for iteration and further improvement. But ultimately, it reveals how viable the product is and lets teams save both time and money.

Curious on how to conduct user testing for maximum insights? Then check out this video:

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How is Design Thinking different from the Design Sprint and Agile?

Design Thinking influenced the creation of loads of other methodologies out there (including the Design Sprint!). So it’s only natural that people get confused by which method to apply when, whether they fit together, or can be interchangeable. Let’s break it down.

The Design Sprint takes the philosophies of Design Thinking and translates them into a process that can be worked through logically. Design Thinking, on the other hand, is a mindset. A way of thinking about solving problems, that can be applied in different ways for each new project. Both are equally valid and useful. While Design Thinking takes a lot of knowledge building up, expertise and understanding of how to apply different tools, the Design Sprint is a clear process to be followed for certain types of projects.

Agile on the other hand is an ongoing structured way of work, for projects. It’s a workflow for teams to follow on how to communicate more effectively, run meetings, implement things or decide on priorities. So while Agile is a workflow guide, the Design Sprint is a recipe for a one-off clear process, which doesn’t conflict with the way people are working. 

So your company can be using Design Thinking or Agile as a structure but use Design Sprints as part of these processes. There is an overlap between them, but they don’t necessarily conflict with each other. 

Now that you’ve equipped with the best understanding on what Design Thinking is, and how it ties in with other methodologies out there, which ones would you use for your next project?

What are the pros and cons of Design Thinking?

For its many fans, Design Thinking has its share of critics, and, as practitioners of Design Theory, it's important for us to understand the theory’s weaknesses in order to fully utilize and benefit from it. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the host of benefits Design Thinking brings about, coupled with some of the criticisms of this influential and impactful design theory.  

Cons of Design Thinking 

  • Educating yourself on Design Thinking theory, without extensive practice and application within your specific organization, will lead to failure 
  • It requires continuous, significant involvement from user groups throughout an entire project
  • Design Thinking–when truly embedded into internal processes and structures–tends to increase the duration of projects, not shorten them
  • By focusing so heavily on the end-user’s experience, other users can be easily forgotten or neglected
  • Design Thinking has a tendency to oversimplify certain issues or challenges
  • Design Thinking is seen by some as a purely linear process, thanks to the Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, trajectory. However, as we have seen, Design Thinking is a process that can go any number of ways, depending on the outcomes of research and tests. 

Pros of Design Thinking 

  • Allows for creative problem solving and innovative solutions
  • Teams are exposed to a significantly more diverse selection of solutions and ideas than when more traditional problem-solving or idea-generating techniques are used
  • Potential challenges or issues can be spotted in advance due to intensive interactions with user groups via research and testing
  • Problems are viewed from multiple perspectives 
  • Facilitates the development of new products that meet specific customer needs and therefore boosts company revenue
  • Teams are driven towards innovation and away from assumptions or complacency
  • Provides an opportunity to gain a full understanding of the customer
  • Enables issues to be more swiftly identified and resolved

What tools are used in Design Thinking? 

There are a number of tools and exercises that can support your Design Thinking workshop. Let’s run through some handy idea-generating, problem-solving, and problem-framing aids. 

Visualization

Visualization is the act of thinking visually, moving beyond written or spoken words and forcing the group to unlock different brain functions which prompt new ideas. 

Journey (or experience) mapping 

Journey mapping (sometimes called experience mapping) is an approach that sees the group follow the customer’s journey from their first interaction with a company or service through to a sale and then afterservice. During this process, the group spends time looking at the customer’s emotional highs and lows and identifying specific needs.  

 Value chain analysis 

The value chain is all the activities a company performs in order to create and launch a product. The value chain partners are any external actors in this process, and the value chain analysis involves taking a look at every interaction the company has with these partners to see how value for the customer might be increased at every stage. 

Assumption testing
Assumption testing begins with the group identifying any underlying assumptions that might influence a new business idea, product, or feature, before using available data to evaluate how likely it is these assumptions will become true. Testing is done through thought and field experiments.

Prototyping
Most of us are probably already familiar with prototyping, whereby a product or feature is created in its simplest form in order to be tested with user testers or within the workshop group itself. Feedback from these testing rounds enables the product to be iterated upon and improved before a high-fidelity version is created.

How to facilitate a Design Thinking workshop

Learning about Design Thinking and actually implementing Design Thinking principles in a workshop are two very different kettles of fish. To help you run your first Design Thinking workshop, we’ve put together a detailed article with clear steps to follow and our best tips and tricks, here: How To Run a Design Thinking Workshop. However, for those of you who just want the headlines, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to do. 

Preparation 

Preparation will be key to the success of your Design Thinking workshop. Think carefully about what you want to achieve and what you’ll need to make that happen in terms of participants, tools, location, and schedule. 

  1. Define the challenge - what are you hoping to achieve with this workshop? 
  2. Prepare the location - is there space for both comfort and creativity? 
  3. Write and distribute the agenda - concentrate on deliverables (and check out How to Write a Meeting Agenda: Templates & Examples)
  4. Gather your equipment - think coloured Post-Its and lots of wall space at a minimum

The workshop itself 

If you’re not sure where to start, consider using this simple plan of action for your first workshop. If you get the chance, consider implementing some of these steps in smaller meetings or workshops (where relevant) to give you an opportunity to practice leading a group and discussing Design Thinking principles.

  1. Participant introductions and outline of workshop objectives - inform the group of who you are and remind them of the goals of the workshop
  2. Ice-breaking session - check out these ice-breakers if you need inspiration
  3. Explanation of Design Thinking and how you hope to apply it - run through the benefits, and provide examples of successful Design Thinking workshops
  4. Think about the user-their needs, wants, feelings, and language. 
  5. Write a problem statement - what’s the user’s main challenge? 
  6. Ideation and problem-solving session - try out reverse brainstorming or rapid ideation 
  7. Map out the user journey -  map out each step the user needs to take for the chosen solution to work
  8. Build and test prototypes - team members should create low-fidelity prototypes, with one piece of paper representing each screen  
  9. Debrief and next steps - conduct a brief retrospective and come up with actionable next steps for the team

Examples of Design Thinking process used in action

If you’re looking for some Design Thinking inspiration from some of the big players out there, check out some of these real life examples of Design Thinking principles in action. From the Bank of America to Netflix and IBM, Design Thinking has been transforming these industry giants from the inside out, streamlining processes, aligning desired outcomes, and keeping the focus on the user’s needs and experiences. 

Bank of America and IDEO 

Design firm, IDEO, was hired by the Bank of America to address the challenge of boosting their customer numbers and prompting more individuals to open accounts with the company. Bank of America collaborated specifically with a design company in the hope that IDEO’s empathetic, human-focused approach would help bring innovation to a typically conversative, slow-to-change industry and find new ways to attract customers. 

To start the project, IDEO conducted extensive user research with real users across a number of American cities to learn as much as they could about user spending and saving habits. Starting from a place of empathy for the user–in particular users who struggled to obtain or retain financial control–IDEO came up with the “Keep The Change” service and campaign. The idea behind the new service was that users could sign up to a savings account that would round up each purchase made with debit cards, with the extra money (from the rounding up) then moved into a savings account. Additionally, the bank would match the extra money to a certain dollar amount to give the savings an extra boost. 

The campaign proved to be a huge success. Why? Because it not only helped customers save money it brought about a change in their attitudes towards spending and saving money, a result that came about because of IDEO’s empathy-driven approach. 

Netflix

Netflix has famously followed the following principles in all aspects of company management and growth, demonstrating the company’s early commitment to Design Thinking principles: 

1. Think big - Netflix has never been afraid to follow the beat of technological advances and stay ahead of the curve. A key example of this is how the company moved away from its successful DVD delivery business and into online streaming.

2. Start small - The company typically experiments with smaller scale projects before launching into the implementation of a new, larger product, waiting for the right moment before surprising audiences. 

3. Fail quickly - When new features, shows, or products aren’t a hit with viewers, the company isn’t afraid to quickly abandon them and move onto something else. 

4. Scale fast - By branching into creating its own original content, Netflix has been able to grow at lightning speed. 

In addition to these principles, Netflix has a user-centric approach to its platform design, too. From card design, to AI-powered recommendations, the user comes front and center of every design decision. 

IBM 

IBM’s commitment to and deep investment in Design Thinking, including building a large internal design team, led to numerous successes for the conglomerate. They’ve also made their enterprise Design Thinking assets publicly available via this toolkit, meaning we can all reap the benefits. 

Here are just some of the tangible advantages IBM saw when the company integrated Design Thinking into how its teams structured processes and approached customers: 

  • 75% reduced time for initial designs and alignment
  • 33% reduced development and testing costs
  • 2x faster time to market
  • 38% increase in portfolio profitability and reduced risk
  • 50% Reduction in Design Defects

How to learn Design Thinking 


Now that you’ve got the basics down, you might be wondering how you can learn more about Design Thinking and how to apply these principles to your own work and role. There are numerous ways to delve deeper, such as reading Design Thinking blogs, listening to podcasts, and following influencers in the field. We’ve listed some of our favorites below. For those of you who are really serious about onboarding Design Thinking theory and practice, we’ve also listed the best books and courses on Design Thinking for you to consider, too. 

Read Design Thinking blogs 

These are our favorite Design Thinking blogs. They’re written by passionate designers and innovators who are constantly evolving in the field and reporting on their work. Get inspiration for your workshops or sprints and think about starting your own blog!

Views from the Pond by Frog Design
The Knowledge Vault by Zurb
IDEO Design Thinking by Tom Brown
Design Thinkers Academy London Blog
Experience Point - The Prototype Blog
AJ&Smart - Workshopper Blog 

Listen to Design Thinking podcasts

Podcasts can be a great way to tune in to the latest discussions from industry experts around a theme and Design Thinking is no different. If podcasts are how you like to learn, then check out our list of Design Thinking essential listens. 

The Big Question: an IDEO Podcast

Design Mind Frogcast 

Design Thinking 101 

The Decentralized Design Thinking Podcast

Follow Design Thinking influencers

If you’re active on social media, following Design Thinking influencers can be a great way of picking up practical tips and advice for your own workshops or sprints. It’ll also keep you abreast of industry changes and new perspectives in the field. The following influencers are making waves in Design Thinking and are definitely worth a follow. 

Other learning methods

In addition to reading, training, listening, and following, consider also: 

  • Shadowing a Design Thinking facilitator 
  • Practicing implementing Design Thinking principles in your current company 
  • Speaking to Design Thinking facilitators about their work 
  • Speaking to those who have attended successful Design Thinking workshops or meetings run by trained Design Thinking facilitators 

What are the best books on Design Thinking?

Blogs and podcasts are great, but for in depth analysis and detail on Design Thinking there are some amazing books on the subject out there. We’d highly recommend the following list of Design Thinking books  if you’re serious about knowing the field inside and out. 

  1. Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
  2. The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger L. Martin
  3. The Design Of Everyday Things By Don Norman
  4. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown
  5. The Art Of Innovation By Tom Kelley
  6. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz
  7. The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, by IDEO.org
  8.  Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, by David Sherwin
  9.  101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization by Vijay Kumar 
  10. This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider
  11. The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick

What are the best courses on Design Thinking? 

If you’re someone who learns best when working with others and learning by doing, a Design Thinking course is a great option for onboarding the practical and theoretical skills needed to implement and succeed with Design Thinking principles. Due to the increasing popularity of the field,  there are now a host of courses to choose from, many of them online, flexible, and with price points and payment plans that won’t leave you bankrupt. 

  1. Udemy - Design Thinking in 3 Steps
  2. Global Knowledge: Design Thinking Bootcamp
  3. Udemy - ​​Develop your innovation - Certified Design Thinking Bootcamp
  4. The Design Gym: Design Thinking Bootcamp
  5. Coursera - Design Thinking for Innovation
  6. Design Thinking Program by MicroMaster on edX
  7. IDEO U: Foundations in Design Thinking Certificate
  8. Cornell University: Design Thinking Certificate