We’re pretty sure you’ve heard of design thinking by now. But do you know what it refers to? Very simply, design thinking is a mindset and approach to problem-solving and innovation anchored around human-centered design.


Design thinking has a history extending from the 1950s and ’60s, with roots in the study of design cognition and design methods. It has also been referred to as “designerly ways of knowing, thinking, and acting” and as “designerly thinking”.


As a process of designing

Design thinking is an iterative process that includes activities such as context analysis, idea generation, and prototyping. Key characteristics of this approach include the ability to deal with different types of problems, the adoption of solution-oriented strategies, and the use of creative thinking and graphic tools such as sketches and prototypes.


Design thinking deals with problems that range from clearly defined to extremely complex, such as “wicked” problems that have no single solution. Designers explore the context of a problem and reinterpret it to shape a path toward a solution. In creating new proposals, they use abductive reasoning and focus on the co-evolution of problems and solutions, using visual languages ​​such as sketches and prototypes to communicate and explore solutions.


Hands of business plan discussing general plans of company development at a business meeting.


As a process for innovation

Plattner, Meinel, and Leifer outline a five-stage design innovation process: problem definition, need finding, idea generation, building, and testing. They stress that while the stages are straightforward, selecting the right points demands learned adaptive expertise. This process resembles overlapping spaces: inspiration, ideation, and execution, revisited for idea refinement and exploration of new directions.


The inspiration phase in the design innovation process begins with observing the real world and noticing problems or opportunities. Empathy for users is key to understanding their needs and wants. Ideation includes divergent and convergent thinking and finding solutions through brainstorming. Implementation refers to turning the best ideas into concrete products through prototyping.


Design Thinking Stages

   1. Clarify

The first phase of design thinking focuses on defining the problem and identifying it through observation and analysis of obstacles. The use of tools and frameworks enables concrete observations about users and facts. After collecting the findings, the formation of insights follows through the abstract reformulation of the problem.


   2. Ideate

After the problem is defined, but not finally solved, the ideation phase follows. Tools like systematic inventive thinking are used to generate innovative ideas. The goal is to go beyond established patterns of thinking and develop solutions that meet the user’s needs. During ideation sessions, it’s important to actively avoid assumptions and keep the user at the center.


   3. Develop

The third phase involves the development of concepts through the critical evaluation of various possible solutions. This involves multiple rounds of prototyping, testing, and experimentation. It is important to remember that the goal is not to achieve perfection, but to try and learn from different ideas.


   4. Implement

The fourth phase, implementation, crowns the entire process. It starts with testing, reflecting on the results, and iterating. It is important to share results and learn from experience.


Man looking at papers that are on the wall.



In the business world, designers have become key throughout the product development process, driving innovation. Design thinking is increasingly recognized as an important factor for the success of organizations. In education, the integration of design thinking is becoming a standard at all levels of education. Universities have introduced new courses in design thinking, especially in the areas of ​​business and innovation. In computer science, design thinking plays a key role in the development of interfaces and software.



The value of design thinking is that it offers a defined process for innovation. Although the trial and error method is a good way to test, it is often expensive and time-consuming. According to data from Harvard Business School in 2021, some of the occupations that most often require design thinking skills are Marketing Managers, CEOs, Industrial Engineers, Graphic Designers, etc. In addition, jobs that require design thinking statistically have higher salaries.


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