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The Ultimate Guide
to Design Thinking

Explore everything from basic principles to cutting-edge applications in the 2021 Guide to Design Thinking.

An Innovation in Collaboration

Design Thinking provides a powerful framework for making human-centered decisions in our increasingly digital climate.

Human-centered

Design Thinking aligns complex teams by focusing on the user experience

Strategy-driven

The Design Thinking process was built to balance multiple strategic objectives

Process-oriented

Design Thinking steps and guided workshops facilitate defining opportunities and developing ideas

Inclusive by design

The strongest Design Thinking ideas come from the most cross-functional teams

69% of global executives report Design Thinking makes their innovation process more efficient [1]

Get Started with Design Thinking

Learn how to use the Design Thinking process to build better products, services and solutions. Fully updated with thoughtful examples, tools and templates ready to use today.

What is Design Thinking?

Learn the key principles and core concepts of Design Thinking

The Design Thinking Process

Explore the moving pieces behind the Design Thinking process

How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop

Apply Design Thinking principles in any situation

User Stories, Maps and Examples

Create end-to-end understanding of user goals and requirements

Design Thinking Thought Starters

Not sure what Design Thinking is or where to start? Browse top questions and click through to see more.

Design Thinking is a human-centered design process that helps cross functional teams solve complex problems together. Design Thinking has become increasingly important since it was first described in the 1970s, as rapid technological development has turned most problems organizations face into ill-defined — or “wicked” problems. That is, problems where even the problem itself needs to be discovered.

Design Thinking was created through the combined efforts of engineers and industrial designers beginning in the 1950s. As a term, Design Thinking is often attributed to Herbert A Simon, who in 1979 described “a designerly way of thinking” that was both different from “scholarly” methods, yet equally powerful when applied to ambiguous, human-centered problems.

Design Thinking methodology helps teams apply the Design Thinking principles and mindsets to real-world situations. It outlines a set of stages and steps, which are completed through activities conducted in Design Thinking workshops or sprints.

Every Design Thinking project starts in the Discovery stage, where a cross-functional team maps out the opportunity space. The output of Discovery is commonly called the “Current Landscape”, and it includes insights that answer three big questions: WHO are we designing for? WHAT do we have? HOW will we measure success?

94% of global executives are dissatisfied with their organizations’ innovation performance [2]

Top Design Thinking Activities

Explore the activities that guide the innovative solutions we use every day.

Image of an Empathy map. Empathy maps are a design thinking activity that helps organize insights from user interviews. They are generally in the form of a canvas divided into sections focused on what the user Say, Do, Think, Feel, Hear, and See, as well as their top Pains and Gains (or Goals and Frustrations).

Empathy map

Develop a deeper understanding of your current or potential users and their motivations

Learn More
Image of a User Persona. User personas are typically presented as a brief profile describing the fictitious user and their relevant goals and behaviors. User Personas help teams create a shared understanding of who their users are. They are built on robust research with real people, and play an integral role within the Design Thinking process.

User persona

A rich, realistic profile of your user that bring them to life for the entire team

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Image of a User Journey map. User Journey Maps are a fast, flexible way to visualize the end-to-end experience of one or more users. They are created by arranging insights about a user’s experience into a timeline. This makes identifying opportunities to improve the experience easier. Given the amount of iteration required, sticky notes and whiteboards are commonly used.

User journey map

A bird’s eye view of one user that encompasses all key touch points relevant to your solution

Learn More
  1. Harvard Business Review, Brown T, Christensen CM, Nooyi I, Govindarajan V. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Design Thinking (with featured article “Design Thinking” By Tim Brown). Harvard Business Press; 2020.
  2. Schmiedgen J, Rhinow H, Köppen E. Parts without a whole?: The current state of Design Thinking practice in organizations. Universitätsverlag Potsdam; 2016.