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Design Thinking: Research and Observations (September 2019): Specific Design Thinking Concepts

by Gundars Kaupins

Specific Design Thinking Concepts

This section focuses on books that emphasize specific, important aspects of design thinking such as prototyping, frame innovation, brand building, and blue ocean strategies.

The concept of prototyping is common in books related to design thinking. One of the most significant books on prototyping is Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. In this book, Ries notes that prototypes can start out as the most minimal products or services that would solve customer problems. This is like creating several cardboard models of a soapbox car before making the real thing with other materials. If the minimal fails to work well, this may be an indication that the new idea does not work or needs tweaking. It is okay to fail as long as you learn from the failure.

One aspect of design thinking is frame creation, which looks at design as a process of understanding the context around a paradoxical consumer problem rather than directly confronting it. Dorst’s Frame Innovation: Create New Thinking by Design goes through a series of steps such as understanding the history of the problem, what makes the problem difficult to solve, understanding stakeholders needs, and getting a wider perspective on issues surrounding the problem. Ultimately, you find emerging themes and identify patterns (or frames) from which to draw lessons.

A discussion of design thinking cannot be done without linking the process to the actual business plan and brand. Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, edited by Thomas Lockwood, discusses the major themes of design thinking such as developing a deep and empathetic understanding of the consumer, collaborating with multidisciplinary teams, learning through visualization, and developing and testing prototypes. He adds concurrent business analysis and branding to the discussion. Branding can help showcase what a company does for the consumer using integrated touchpoints with the consumer and emotional image. Lockwood includes thirty-four authors and cases from Whole Foods, Ritz-Carlton, Coca-Cola, State Farm, and others.

Marty Neumeier’s The Designful Company: How to Build a Culture of Nonstop Innovation also discusses brand-building in relation to design thinking. To him, branding involves a person’s gut feeling about a company’s product or service. Design thinking can help consumers understand how the company connects with their needs. A major part of the book looks at consumer needs by analyzing wicked problems such as finding unclaimed market space and aligning strategy with customer experience.

One of the most significant books on creativity that has been directly used by design thinkers is Tony Buzan’s Mind Map Mastery: The Complete Guide to Learning and Using the Most Powerful Thinking Tool in the Universe. The book has a concept in the center of a diagram and various lines, colors, words, and pictures radiate from that point that cover different aspects of the concepts. It helps organize (or map) the brain on the topic.


There are many tools available to
foster design thinking. There is no “one size fits all” set of tools to design new products and services that disrupt markets. Though all of the books discussed in this section contain great summaries of design thinking and provide corporate examples, they emphasize many of the tools that can help with the process.

Robert Curedale’s Design Thinking Processes and Methods is filled with numerous charts, step-by-step processes, exercises, templates, images, and survey research, and many ways to complete design thinking. The most significant characteristic of this 666-page book is the numerous lists on almost every page. The lists cover classic design thinking topics such as storyboards, business model canvas, empathy maps, balanced scorecards, divergent thinking, rules for brainstorming, and journey maps. Some lists come from design thinking practitioners, researchers, and historical figures. Executives can use the lists to come up with examples of considerations to help design a new product or service. If you need to “shop” for lots of tools, this book provides the most detail.

Through numerous drawings and colorful charts, Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer’s The Design Thinking Playbook: Mindful Digital Transformation of Teams, Products, Services, Businesses, and Ecosystems shows how design thinking helps with understanding potential user needs, observing, creating ideas, prototyping, testing, and reflecting. The authors include common features of design thinking such as creativity, empathy, visualization, mind maps, and team building. It is very easy to read its step-by-step processes. It even discusses the roles of the design thinking program facilitators. The book’s drawings and charts make it great for informal, easy reading for anyone considering design thinking.

This Is Service Design Thinking, by Marc Stickdorn and Jacob Schneider, is based on the research of twenty-three authors and covers major principles of design thinking, tools that can be used, and case studies of five companies within the field of service design thinking. It is a very comprehensive look at design thinking covering tools such as journey and stakeholder maps, and many ways to research consumers, do ideation, create prototypes, and finally implement plans.

Editor Natalie Nixon’s Strategic Design Thinking: Innovation in Products, Services, Experiences, and Beyond describes why design thinking should be used, how to apply design thinking concepts, and examples of design thinking that have been successfully applied. Some design thinking methodologies include using imagery to develop strategies, creating journey maps showing steps customers go through when they buy the company’s products or services, emphasizing potential customers, and prototyping products. Some design thinking examples come from Kaiser Permanente, Independence Blue Cross, and Chipotle. A final “big list” book Vijay Kumar’s is 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization, which is designed for anyone who undertakes innovation challenges.

There are many other books that provide methodologies on how to do design thinking. Each book has different twists on the topic. All of these books are an excellent introduction to design thinking with corporate examples, and each has unique aspects. Emrah Yayici’s Design Thinking Methodology Book discusses mind mapping, empathy mapping storyboards, cause-and-effect diagrams, brainstorming, brain dumps, reverse brainstorming, journey maps, benchmarking, and prototyping. Idris Mootee’s Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School discusses storytelling, strategic foresight, sense-making, value redefinition, humanization, rapid prototyping, and business model design. Jon Kolko’s Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis covers sense making frames, mental models, visual design, and affinity diagraming. Bernard Roth’s The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life discusses ideating, brainstorming, mind mapping, and feedback methodologies.

Jeanne Liedtka et al.’s The Designing for Growth Field Book: A Step-by-Step Project Guide discusses napkin pitches, prototypes, posters, observation, jobs to be done, 360 empathy, brainstorming, and anchors. Patrick van der Pijl et al.’s Design a Better Business: New Tools, Skills, and Mindset for Strategy and Innovation discusses high-intensity sessions, thinking and working visually, and small experiments.

Works Cited