Defining Design Thinking

by Luke Wroblewski June 5, 2006

A while back I attempted to distill the differences between the traditional business approach to strategy and the “design thinking” approach. The end result was the Difference of Design table that included points from Tim Brown, Roger Martin, Richard Florida, and my personal experiences.

Recently, I’ve been exposed to additional attempts at defining what makes design thinking a unique strategic value for business:

Strategy as Design (PDF), Jeanne Liedtka

“Design thinking is synthetic. Out of the often-disparate demands presented by sub-units’ requirements, a coherent overall design must emerge. Design thinking is abductive in nature. It is primarily concerned with the process of visualizing what might be, some desired future state and creating a blueprint for realizing that intention. Design thinking is opportunistic: the designer seeks new and emergent possibilities. Design thinking is dialectical. The designer lives at the intersection of often-conflicting demands – recognizing the constraints of today’s materials and the uncertainties that cannot be defined away, while envisioning tomorrow’s possibilities.”

How do business people traditionally make deicions?, John Zapolski

“A design approach tries to construct or shape reality. The worldview difference is that a business viewpoint defines a situation objectively, from the outside. "The world is out there, and we if we can understand it better than a competitor, we can respond more appropriately." A design viewpoint looks at a situation subjectively, participating in it from the inside. "We're making the world up by the choices, stories, products, and experiences we make. If they are compelling enough, other people will want to join in."

Follow Your Heart, Daniel Pink

“Well, one, of course, is Design. The others are Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. Mastery of them—I call them the "six senses"—will increasingly mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't. Fortunately, design is one profession that relies on all six of these abilities.”

Management by Design, Richard Farson

“Design achieves its power because it can create situations, and a situation is more determining of what people will actually do than is personality, character, habit, genetics, unconscious motives or any other aspect of our individual makeup. Nobody smokes in church, no matter how addicted.”

What is Design Thinking?, Victor Lombardi

“Design Thinking is collaborative, abductive, experimental, personal, integrative, and interpretive.”

The Design of Business (PDF), Roger Martin

“When it comes to innovation, business has much to learn from design. The philosophy in design shops is, ‘try it, prototype it, and improve it’. Designers learn by doing. The style of thinking in traditional firms is largely inductive – proving that something actually operates – and deductive – proving that something must be. Design shops add abductive reasoning to the fray – which involves suggesting that something may be, and reaching out to explore it.”

Strategy by Design, Tim Brown

“Because it's pictorial, design describes the world in a way that's not open to many interpretations. Designers, by making a film, scenario, or prototype, can help people emotionally experience the thing that the strategy seeks to describe.”

Innovation Through Design Thinking (video), Tim Brown

"At IDEO, a design thinker must not only be intensely collaborative, but empathic, as well as have a craft to making things real in the world.”

The design thinking way to brand management, Niti Bhan

“Design thinking is one of enlightened trial and error wherein one observes the world, identifies the patterns of behavior, generates ideas, gets feedback, repeats the process, and keeps on refining.”

Thinking About Design Thinking, Dan Saffer

“If there is such a thing as design thinking it is probably shorthand for: a Focus on Customers/Users, Finding Alternatives, Ideation and Prototyping, Wicked Problems, A Wide Range of Influences, and Emotion.”

Creativity that Goes Deep, Roger Martin

“Designers induce patterns through the close study of users and deduce answers through the application of design theories. However, designers value highly a third type of logic: abductive reasoning.”