Design Thinking

Cite this article as:"Design Thinking," in The Business Professor, updated April 22, 2020, last accessed December 4, 2020,

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What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is the cognitive process associated with new concept development. It looks at problems collaboratively to garner a deeper understanding. The objective of design thinking is to address difficult problems through:

  • Framing Problems – Exploring the problem, recognizing the context, and reorganizing and restructuring the problem in pursuit of a method of addressing the problem or a solution.
  • Focus on Solutions – Solution-focused cognitive strategies are distinct from problem-focused strategies (scientific). This allows an alternative approach to understanding the problem at hand.
  • Abductive Reasoning – Inferring solutions to a problem from information, experience, and non-deductive methods of thinking. This generally includes elements of emotion or affect in the reasoning process, rather than just logic.
  • Modeling – This concerns the translation of abstract concepts to fixed, concrete objects.

Note: Creative designers go back and forth between their understanding of the context and their focus on solutions to better understand the problem at hand. The effect is a deeper understanding of the problem and the generation of more ideas as solutions. There is a heavy focus on observation and inquiry.

Design thinking concerns such processes as:

  • Context analysis
  • Problem finding
  • Ideation
  • Creative thinking
  • Modeling
  • Prototyping
  • Testing and Evaluating

What are the Phases of Design Thinking in Innovation?

Researchers Plattner, Meinel, and Leider developed a 5-phase model for the design innovation process:

  • Redefining the problem
  • Needfinding and Benchmarking
  • Ideating
  • Building
  • Testing

Interestingly, these steps make up a system for design thinking, rather than a step-by-step approach.

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