What is design thinking? Design thinking is at the core of Overlap’s identity. We believe it is our purpose, as an organization, to make design thinking accessible to those who see its value and are interested in applying it. A major hurdle standing in our way is the lack of a common, concrete definition of what is (and what isn’t) design thinking.
In this post, you’ll learn more about design thinking as a methodology and explore the parts of a design thinker’s mindset.
This post received updates since its original publication on Nov. 1st, 2016.
New to Design Thinking?
💡Start with our Beginner’s Introduction to Design Thinking.
Many people talk about design thinking as a methodology.
We might say things like “it’s thinking like a designer, using abductive logic”, “applied to real-world complex problems”, “to find feasible solutions that are human-centred” and “solutions that are viable for the business”. We may talk about it being a non-linear process, or outline a set of steps or phases and stress that they are iterative. We may show you the graphic below or something like it.
While it’s true that when we say the words “design thinking”, we are most often talking about a methodology, when Overlap says design thinking, we’re often talking about a philosophy. It is a fundamentally different way of interacting with the world around us. We may do this in a linear, iterative way, and we may not.
The definition of design thinking depends on where it is being applied—the organization’s specific context—and from where the organization is sourcing its knowledge.
Five Parts To A Design Thinker’s Mindset
A team out of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden recently investigated this question of how to frame design thinking. They came up with five themes that seem to consistently arise in organizations that practice design thinking.
Within each theme, the researchers point to a set of principles, practices and techniques. Although the words below all sound familiar, the researchers are not pointing to a five-step process for doing design thinking you typically see. Instead, they are pointing to a set of interconnected behaviours that design thinkers exhibit.
|| “the researchers are not pointing to a five-step process for doing design thinking you typically see.
Instead, they are pointing to a set of interconnected behaviours that design thinkers exhibit.”
A Sixth Part to Design Thinking
I would add a sixth theme or behaviour that I’ve observed in design thinkers—process navigation. It’s the ability to balance the give and take of the other five themes. It’s knowing when the team is stuck and where they need to go next. It’s having a plan and knowing when to pivot. It’s beginning every meeting by reviewing what we hope to achieve and ending every meeting with a reflection or retrospective.
There are any number of tools or processes that can be labelled as design thinking (have you heard of Empathy Maps?). That’s because they’re grounded in the themes or behaviours that make up design thinking, and because design thinking is a philosophy.
When you come across new tools or processes with the design thinking label, I encourage you to think about how they can contribute to a fundamentally different way of interacting with the world around you. When you feel stuck in the middle of solving a complex problem, I encourage you to critically think about which theme you might apply to get you unstuck.
📚 Find additional Design Thinking resources in A Beginner’s Introduction to Design Thinking.