Tschimmel, K. (2012). Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In:
Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from
Experience. Barcelona. ISBN 978-952-265-243-0.
Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation
Escola Superior de Artes e Design Matosinhos (ESAD), Av Calouste
Gulbenkian, 4460-268 Senhora da Hora, Portugal.
NA’MENTE (Consultancy and Training in Creative Thinking), Rua
Padre Xavier Coutinho 61, 4150-751 Porto, Portugal.
Abstract: The research in this paper is based on a theoretical and practical
approach to the concept of Design Thinking, its background, characteristics,
process models and toolkit. Alongside the literature review, a qualitative
analysis of five well-known models of the Design Thinking process and of ten
of the most applied DT tools is made. The paper provides a critical approach to
Design Thinking to help the innovation management community to understand
better the potential the concept has for implementing and developing creative
thinking in business, and in society in general. By describing in a synthetic way
the evolution and key elements of the DT concept and its toolkit, the study
contributes to the current literature in innovation management, and also
provides practical advice.
Keywords: Design Thinking; innovation; creative process; models; tools;
observation; idea generation; visualisation; prototyping; evolution.
1 Introduc ti o n
Design was always a catalyst for innovation processes in product and service
development. But over the last 7 years, with numerous publications about Design
Thinking (Brown, 2009; Martin, 2009; Lockwood, 2010; Cross, 2011; Liedtka & Ogilvie,
2011) and the creation of special interest groups in social networks (for example the
Design Thinking Group in LinkedIn since 2007), the term has gained popularity in
business media and become a label for the awareness that any kind of business and
organisation can benefit from the designers’ way of thinking and working (see for
example in www.innovationmanagement.se). Today, Design Thinking is understood as a
way of thinking which leads to transformation, evolution and innovation, to new forms of
living and to new ways of managing business. This is one of the reasons that design
schools, such as the Design Department of Stanford University (http://
design.stanford.edu/pd/designthinking.html) or the HPI School of Design Thinking of the
University in Potsdam (http://www.hpi.uni-potsdam.de/d_school) offer graduate degrees
in Design Thinking. There is no doubt that Design Thinking has much to offer innovation
management, but what is still unclear to many managers is the added value of Design
Thinking for innovation in practice, and how to evaluate and choose the most effective
DT model for their individual innovation practices.
To the design community, the new DT concept offers an opportunity in their
professional activities: instead of applying their knowledge merely to the creation of new
products and services, they can develop new tools which help organisations to move with
more creativity and efficiency in innovation processes.
2 The concept of Design Thinking (DT)
The emergence and evolution of the concept
Two decades before becoming a popular concept for innovation, design thinking (at that
time written in lower case) had been defined and studied by an international research
group, solely as the cognitive process of designers (Cross, Dorst & Roozenburg, 1992;
Eastman, McCracken & Newstetter, 2001). The objective of these studies was to get
more insights into the important attributes of Design Creativity. Instead of looking for
universal design methods (as the movement of the 1970s had done), research in design
thinking is interested in identifying the essential mental strategies of designers while
working on a project. The objective of this research was the improvement of the
designers thinking abilities in individual and collective design processes, in education and
More recently (2005 - 2012), the concept of design thinking has been stretched, and
has broken free from its domain limits. Today, Design Thinking (now written in upper
case) is understood as a complex thinking process of conceiving new realities, expressing
the introduction of design culture and its methods into fields such as business innovation.
Two authors and their books have mainly contributed to the reconfiguration of design
thinking: Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and
Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown (2009), CEO of IDEO, one of the world’s most
influential design consultancies, and The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the
Next Competitive Advantage (2009) by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of
Management in Toronto, with a background in management consulting. Although both
authors define and describe Design Thinking differently, they both explore its role and
potential within organisations.
Thus, Design Thinking (DT) is not only now a motor for innovation promoted by
designers, but it offers new models of processes and toolkits which help to improve,
accelerate and visualise every creative process, carried out not only by designers, but in
multidisciplinary teams in any kind of organisation. The new use of the term DT,
specifically the combination of "thinking" and "design", offers fields such as Innovation
Management the opportunity to apply design tools to other problem-solving-contexts not
directly related with the appearance and functionality of artefacts, but with the form of
businesses, services and processes. Design Thinking today is not only a cognitive process
or a mindset, but has become an effective toolkit for any innovation process, connecting
the creative design approach to traditional business thinking, based on planning and
rational problem solving.
Although we note that the DT concept has declared its independence from the design
discipline, and that it is these days more explored in the fields of management and
marketing than in design, this doesn’t mean that through the training of design thinking,
managers will transform themselves into professional designers. Training managers in the
DT process with DT tools means giving them some of the abilities designers have, to
identify, to visualise, to solve and to preview problems in a systematic and creative way.
And if we differentiate Design Thinking from Design, we leave the whole aesthetic and
semantic dimension of product language to the professional designers, and we transport
merely the way of thinking in new business possibilities to innovation managers.
The main characteristics of Design Thinking
Traditionally, design thinking relies on the designer’s capacity to consider at the same
time 1. human needs and new visions of living well, 2. available material and technical
resources, and 3. the constrains and opportunities of a project or business. The integration
of these three factors demands from the designer, the ability to be at the same time
analytical and emphatic, rational and emotional, methodical and intuitive, oriented by
plans and constraints, but spontaneous (Pombo & Tschimmel, 2005). Some design
researchers call this kind of dualistic reasoning designers’ use ‘abductive thinking’ to
differentiate it from the rational deductive and inductive reasoning (Martin, 2009; Cross,
2011). Abductive reasoning is a concept developed by the philosopher Charles Sander
Pierce, who defended that no new idea could be produced by deduction or induction
using past data (in Martin, 2009: 64). Thus, abductive thinking is thinking in new and
different perspectives and about future possibilities, which do not fit into existing models.
And it is a way of thinking in which feelings and emotions are just as important as
Related to the concept of abductive thinking is the important role of perception in
Design Thinking. In earlier work, I defined ‘perceptive cognition’ as a basic skill in the
creation of new realities and artefacts. For this reason, I defended that the training of
conscious and directed perception, the searching for new nuances, should be the core of
design education (Tschimmel, 2007). We can understand perceptive cognition as the
complex process of exploiting at one and the same time the stimulus input, and also the
reasoning about its properties. Both operations are applied at several points of the
creative design process, which is the reason that I developed a model to explain design
creativity as a Perception-in-Action Process (Tschimmel, 2011a). This model is merely a
way of explaining the creative design process after it has happened, but it is not an
operative model to lead an innovation process.
Since visual perception is the dominant among the senses, perception in and through
images plays a special role in Design Thinking. This is emphasised by several design
researchers, such as Goldschmidt, Lawson or Cross. Lawson (1986, 2004) and Cross
(2011) suggesting, that designers usually apply sketches, drawings and material models
to explore the project problem and solution together. The act of visualising their thoughts
seems to clarify designers’ ideas, an observation which Goldschmidt confirms (1991,
1994, 2003). In her various publications on the central role of visual representation in the
formation and development of ideas in a design process, Goldschmidt defends that
sketching is an extension of ‘mental imagery’. By visualising his thoughts about aspects
of the project, the designer expands the problem space of the task, to the extent of
including and even discovering, new aspects. According to Cross, thinking in multiple
perspectives about future possibilities is difficult to conduct by purely internal mental
processes; the designer needs to interact with an external representation. Thus, Cross
concludes that visualising ideas through sketching “provides a temporary, external store
for tentative ideas, and supports the ‘dialogue’ that the designer has between problem and
solution” (Cross, 2011: 12). The activity of sketching is a kind of mental modulation of
the problem-solution space of the task the design thinker is working on. Apart from the
mental support that visualising offers, the playful aspect of sketching and model making
gives pleasure to the designer, which in turn helps his concentration and perceptive
In the same way that sketching helps the designer to think and elaborate ideas, early
prototyping is another way of visualising and testing new solutions, and thus is a
principal, and tool, of Design Thinking. It is a visual manifestation of concepts, the
transformation of an idea in a testable model, and thus, according to Liedtka and Ogilvie
(2011) indispensable to the creative design process. And as the designer never has
enough information about a project, and probably never the crucial, rapid prototyping
allows testing of early product or business details, forms and nuances. And as rapid
prototyping materials are cheap, it permits early failure. The understanding and
acceptance that failure and mistakes are important elements of Design Thinking,
differentiates DT from the traditional way of thinking in business. Dealing with
incomplete information, with the unpredictable, and with ambiguous situations, requires
designers to feel comfortable with uncertainty (Pombo & Tschimmel, 2005).
Another fundamental characteristic of Design Thinking is its human-centred
approach, which expresses itself in the collaborative way designers work and in
participatory methods of co-creation. We are witnessing a shift in attitude from designing
‘for users’ to the human centred approach of designing ‘with users’. In design practice
the American design agency IDEO is an excellent example of this change of approach
(see Brown 2009 and http://www.ideo.com/work/). Their HCD-model (introduced in
chapter 4 of the paper) applied in social innovation processes, foresees the involvement
and participation of impoverished communities in the whole design process, from
identifying the problems and challenges, to idea generation, prototyping and evaluating
the design outcomes. Designers not only develop innovative solutions by working in
teams with colleagues (other designers, engineers, marketing specialists, etc.), researchers
and stakeholders, but also often in collaboration with the final customers and users of
their creations. In the participatory approach, the product user is seen as a ‘partner’ in the
whole creative process, from data research on to prototyping the new ideas and design
solutions. The general benefit of collaborative Design Thinking is obvious. Besides
improving the image of a product, the well-being of the future users and their loyalty to
the brand, co-creation increases the effectiveness of creative and innovation processes. In
the design process users are considered as experts - experts in their interactions with, and
experiences of, determined products and services.
The following table compares the main characteristics of Design Thinking with the
way of thinking a traditional manager applies. It shows side by side the changes in
thought processes that managers have to make if they are to think as designers.
Table 1 How could Managers think like Designers?
characteristics of a
Design Thinking Manager
characteristics of the traditional
mainly visual, use of sketching and
mainly verbal, use of diagrams and
characteristics of a
Design Thinking Manager
characteristics of the traditional
intensive observation and
wondering, challenging stereotypical
immediate perception and quick
interpretation of a situation
emotional and rational at the same
mainly rational and objective
abductive and inventive
analytical, deductive and inductive
failure is a part of the process
looking for ‘correct’ answers
comfortable with ambiguity and
lead by organizing and planning
empathic and human-driven, deep
understanding of peoples’ needs and
understanding about what clients
would like to have for their social
Source: Conceived by Katja Tschimmel for this paper.
3 Models of the Design Thinking Process
Following on from classical design methodology, the design process has been divided
into several stages to facilitate the planning of project tasks, collective and production
activities, and timetables. The first references to a multiphase structure of the creative
process in general, go back to Poincaré (1924), who through his reflections on his own
creative thinking process in solving mathematical problems, gave the impulse to Wallas
(1926) to divide the creative process into four phases: the preparation phase, the
incubation, the illumination and the verification phase. This classification was the starting
point of the research movements into design creativity, which looked for new models to
best describe the phases of a creative problem solving process. The objective of this
research was, and remains, the development of methods, which can guide the individual
successfully and mean-fully through a creative process in design. As shown by several
design researchers, the classification and respective visualisation of the different phases
of the design process depend mainly on the methodological paradigm in which the
creative process in design is analysed and described (Dorst & Dijkhuis, 1995; Dorst,
1997; Tschimmel, 2011a). In design methodology, we witnessed a change of paradigm in
the 1980s, from the rational and analytical paradigm, to the holistic paradigm of the
emergence of design solutions. The Problem Solving paradigm changed to the
interpretation of the design process as a Reflective Practice (Schön, 1983) and as a Co-
Evolution of the Problem-Solution Space (Dorst & Cross 2001). In the new Design
Thinking Movement the Problem-Solving approach is still dominant, but in a holistic,
non-linear way (see for example in Brown, 2009; Martin, 2009 or Liedtka & Ogilvie,
2011). Instead of process phases or stages, most of these models describe the Design
Thinking process as a “system of overlapping spaces” (Brown & Wyatt, 2010: 33) and as
an iterative process (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010: 122), and thus we can also assign
them to the new design paradigm of emergence.
In the domain of Design Thinking applied in business and innovation, several process
models have been published and defended as the most appropriate. Some of the best
known models are the 3 I model (Brown & Wyatt, 2010) and the HCD model
(http://www.ideo.com/work/human-centered-design-toolkit), both developed by the
design agency IDEO, the Double Diamond model from the British Design Council
(http://www.designcouncil.org.uk), the Design Thinking model of the Hasso-Plattner-
Institute (http://www.hpi.uni-potsdam.de/d_school/designthinking) and the Service
Design model proposed by Stickdorn and Schneider (2010). In the following, these
models will be introduced and discussed, so that innovation managers can form an
opinion about the model which they feel most comfortable about integrating into their
creative working processes.
IDEO’s 3 I Model
The DT model of 3 I’s (Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation) was developed by IDEO
in 2001 in the context of social innovation. As the design agency was increasingly being
asked to work on problems far removed from traditional design (health care, learning
environments, etc.), they wanted to distinguish this new type of experience oriented
design work from industrial design (Brown & Wyatt, 2010). Inspiration, the first Design
Thinking space of the model, includes the following design activities: the identification
of the design problem or opportunity, the elaboration of the design brief to give the
design team a framework, and the observation of the behaviour of the target group in
their daily living environment. After identifying the context by observation and design
research, the Ideation space of the Design Thinking process starts: an interdisciplinary
team goes through a process of synthesis in which they distil what they have observed
and learned, into insights that lead either to opportunities to change, or immediately to
new solutions (id. ibid.: 34). During this brainstorming process, visual representations of
concepts are encouraged, to help others to understand complex ideas. The third space of
the IDEO DT model is Implementation, the space in which the best ideas are turned into a
action plan. According Brown and Wyatt (ibid.), prototyping is the core of the
implementation process. Through prototyping, new ideas and material solutions are
tested, iterated and improved. After the final product or service has been created, the last
activity of the implementation space is the development of a communication strategy, to
help communicate the solution inside and outside the organisation.
Figure 1 The DT model of 3 I’s (recreated from the bad quality example available in
http://www.flickr.com/photos/9698909@ N02/, 02/05/2012).
On the positive side of IDEOs’ 3 I model is its easy memorable name and its
associated spaces of acting, and that it was the first model, based on an acronym, on the
market. The weak point of this model is in my opinion the terms used for the two first
spaces, Inspiration and Ideation. Because of the etymological significance, they can lead
to wrong interpretations: ‘Inspiration’ leads us to the false impression of easily formed
ideas and an artistic approach of the creative process. ‘Ideation’ etymologically limits the
second phase to idea generation, excluding the material and technical contributions to
new ideas and concepts. We can even get the impression that the 3 I model does not
describe the whole design process, but only the phase of idea generation, in which we
must first observe human behaviour to get inspired, then generate ideas through
combining the observed elements in new concepts, and finally develop a strategy to
realise the new concept in practice. But this 3 I interpretation would exclude a lot of
essential moments of the design process.
IDEO’s HCD Model
In response to a call from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDEO developed another
DT model as a toolkit for NGOs and social enterprises that work with impoverished
communities in the developing world (Brown & Wyatt 2010). The kit is also based on 3
spaces which IDEOs’ designers find essential for an human-centred design process and
which form the acronym HCD: Hearing, Creating and Delivering. In this process, the
user is lead through a participatory design process, which is supported by activities such
as building listening skills, running workshops, and implementing ideas (available in
http://www.ideo.com/work/human-centered-design-toolkit/, 10/09/2011). The HCD-
toolkit is available as a free download at the recently developed online platform HCD
Connect (http://hcdconnect.org/, 02/05/2012). In the introduction of the toolkit (p. 2) we
can find the following explanation of the HCD approach:
“Human-Centered Design (HCD) will help you hear the needs of constituents
in new ways, create innovative solutions to meet these needs, and deliver
solutions with financial sustainability in mind.”
The HCD model is composed of a kit of DT techniques, organised into the 3 process
spaces, and all illustrated by examples of real projects in impoverished communities in
Africa or India. There is even a facilitator version of the toolkit. The introduction also
includes four possible scenarios in which to apply the method (pp. 13-16). Personally I
don’t think that designers or interdisciplinary teams are using the toolkit as a rigid
method to follow. But what I really appreciate in the HCD model is the invitation to
choose some of the tools, which are explained in a project context. I think the HCD-
toolkit a very good source from which to get more ideas about how to work in a
collective design process, regardless of the social context of the design project.
In comparison with the 3 I model, the HCD model is a lot more complex and
comprehensive. The double meaning of the acronym HCD happily embraces the human
centred design approach and the 3 spaces of the creative process. And the etymological
associations of Hear, Create and Deliver are in my opinion much more appropriate to
describe creative design thinking and process than Inspiration, Ideation and
Figure 2 The description of each of the 3 steps of the HCD model (available in
The Model of the Hasso-Plattner Institute
Another DT model, similar to IDEOs’ 3 I, developed in an educational context, is the
Design Thinking model of the d-school of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute at University of
Potsdam in Germany, an institution directly connected with Stanford University and
IDEO. In their model, based also on process experience from IDEO, the design thinking
process is visualised in six steps, which are connected by curved lines to indicate that
each step is performed in iterative loops. According to Thoring & Müller (2011), in the
first step of the model, Understand, existing information about the topic is gathered
through secondary research. The second stage, Observe, is based on a qualitative research
approach that includes interviewing and observing techniques, to collect insights about
the users’ needs (id. ibid.: 38). Through storytelling the insights are then shared among
the group and subsequently synthesised into a visual framework called Point of View
which reflects the user’s perspective. The stage of Ideation corresponds completely with
the Ideation phase of the 3 I model. The next two steps Prototype and Tests contain the
same activities and considerations as the Implementation space of the 3 I model.
We could observe that the three models presented here are very similar in their space-
phase sequences. Better than the other two models from IDEO, this model from the
Hasso-Plattner Institute shows that the stages of a design process are not always
undertaken sequentially, but that projects may loop back to earlier phases. The reason
that this model is not so well known as the first two models is that there is no easily
memorable name related to the phases. Thus, it is not so easy to promote.
Figure 3 The Design Thinking Model of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute (available in
The 4 D or Double Diamond Model of the British Council
The Double Diamond design process model, developed at the Design Council in 2005, is
graphically based on a simple diagram describing the divergent and convergent stages of
the design process, which gives the model the form of a double diamond
process/, 03.05.2012). The model is also called 4 D model because the name of each
phase starts with a ‘D’: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. What differentiates this
model from the one of 3 I’s or the HCD is the visual mapping of the divergent and
convergent stages of the design process, characteristic for design thinking.
Figure 4 The 4 D Model or ‘Double Diamond’ design process model, developed by the Design
Council (http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/designprocess, 03/05/2012).
The first quarter of the Double Diamond represents the initial divergent part of the
project, the Discovery phase, in which the designer is searching for new opportunities,
new markets, new information, new trends, and new insights. The second quarter, which
closes the first Diamond, marks the Definition stage, a kind of filter where the first
insights are reviewed, selected and discarded. The Define stage also covers the initial
development of project ideas, in which the designer must engage with the wider context
of the identified opportunity. The key activities during the definition phase are project
development, project management and corporate sign-off, all described in detail at the
Design Council site (http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/about-design/How-designers-
work/The-design-process/Define/). The third quarter of the Double Diamond represents
the period of Development. As in the Develop stage the project has been taken through a
corporate and financial sign-off, we find ourselves again in a divergent period. Design-
led solutions are developed, iterated and tested within the company by multi-disciplinary
teams and under the use of DT tools such as brainstorming, sketches, scenarios,
renderings or prototypes. In the last phase of the 4 D model, the convergent Deliver stage,
the final concept is taken through final testing, signed-off, produced and launched.
Every phase of the Double Diamond design process is much more detailed and
complex than we can show here in this paper, and of course we can say the same for the
other models. Of all the models presented here, the Double Diamond is the more
complete one, probably because it was produced for designers’ use, while the other three
models have been created with business and management in mind. Also the visual name,
the diamond, and the possibility of using the acronym of 4 D’s is a positive argument for
this model. For the introduction of Design Thinking to business and innovation
management environments, perhaps the model is a little too complex to be easily used in
workshops or facilitation processes. But for young designers, it is in my opinion the most
interesting one to work with, as it is also for interdisciplinary groups.
The Service Design Thinking (SDT) Model
Another way of describing the Design Thinking process is as an iterative process, as it is
in the Service Design Thinking model published by Stickdorn and Schneider (2010). The
model is composed of the following phases: 1. Exploration (understanding the culture of
the customer and the real service problem, and visualising the context), 2. Creation
(generating, testing and retesting ideas and concepts), 3. Reflection (building on ideas and
concepts, prototyping, and thus closely related to stage 2), and 4. Implementation
(communicating and testing the new concept, improving the prototype). The authors
point out that although it is possible to give an outline structure to the service design
process, it is a non linear process, because it is iterative (id. ibid.: 124). In harmony with
the paradigm of emergence, Stickdorn and Schneider emphasise that the first step of any
SDT process is to design the process itself, since the process depends on the context of
the service being created, and thus is different from project to project.
The process which is described by service design researchers as a specific Service DT
process is, in the same way as the process of DT, up to date and further developed
variation of the Creative Problem Solving process with influences from the paradigm of
emergence, adapted to the service area. The main difference is that the outcome from the
SDT method is a process with interactions and not a finished product: services need to be
understood and visualised as a sequence of interrelated actions, and thus the creative
design process has to consider aspects of the whole dynamic of the system.
As the SDT model was specially conceived for the service design field, it is in my
opinion the most appropriate method for innovation managers working in the service
area. The book related to the model, This is Service Design Thinking. Basics - Tools -
Cases (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010) gives a very good overview about the principals
and tools to apply in service innovation processes, but it is not detailed enough to enable
non-designers to work with these tools in creative processes without a professional
From the methodological point of view, this study belongs to the research paradigm of
constructivism. The constructivist perspective, that all knowledge is dependent on the
social actors and the environment of the interaction, leads us to multiple interpretations of
the DT models here presented; there is nothing objectively 'true', only meaning,
depending on the disciplinary background of each professional who is involved in a
innovation process. This is the reason why the assessment of the value of each DT model
has to be done by each innovator himself. The opinions I gave about every model are
only my opinions, somebody coming from a design and creativity background. There is
no universal best DT process model, the choice innovation managers make depends on
their disciplinary background and their personal taste. Criteria used to choose the more
appropriate process model include, amongst others, the characteristics of the innovation
task, its context, the number and composition of the team and its dynamic, and the
available time for the innovation process.
Although it can be misleading to synthesise the Design Thinking process into three,
four or six steps or spaces, the advantage of these models is that they are making the DT
process more accessible and explicit, easily understandable and applicable in
organisations and business. In comparison to the classical design methods or the CPS
approach of the 1970‘s, the focus of these process models is on the graphic synthesis of
the dynamic and phases of the DT process, and the integration of the wide range of
techniques and tools which have meanwhile been developed and which can help to make
the creative process a lot more fluid and effective. Above all when applied in
interdisciplinary groups and in situations in which the user enters the creative process. All
DT tools presented in the next chapter could be integrated in every one of the DT models
4 Classification of the Design Thinking Tools
The tools designers use to quicken and free up their thinking process, and to make their
own internal dialogue and their communication with stakeholders more effective, didn’t
all originate from the design field itself. Design, as a multidisciplinary field, took its
methods and tools from several knowledge fields, such as from the arts, engineering,
anthropology, psychology, etc. But most of the visually related tools, such as drawing,
sketching, mapping, prototyping, etc., stretch right back to the beginning of design
education, so we can say that they are design specific. These tools are so essential,
because they enable the designer to inquire about a future situation or solution to a
problem. They also serve to transform abstract immature and unrealised ideas into
something to build on and to discuss with colleagues and other stakeholders. The method
of Brainstorming and its variants Brainwriting and Brainsketching and the intensive use
of Post It’s in idea generation processes come from design related disciplines such as
publicity and marketing. They are based on collective processes and help participants to
think more flexibly and radically. Other DT tools such as Audience Observation,
Ethnography, Personas, Empathy Maps or Focus Group, important tools for the human-
centred approach of design, can be linked to anthropology and the study of human
interaction with social groups.
In the following I will outline ten types of the most used DT tools, classifying them in
relation to the phase-space inside the design process where they are applied:
Tools for observing, getting empathy and clarifying the project task
The basis of the human-centred approach of design is the idea of intense observation
(with all the senses) and empathy. To understand better the essence of a project task or
problem, designers try to get the widest possible range of information about the users of
their future products. The research frequently starts with the review of existing literature
on the project subject and context. Observation techniques, in-depth interviews with
those observed, photographs and other visual registers and interpretations of the context
of the users, are most important for getting empathy and for clarifying the project task.
They are also vital for later use as an impulse for idea generation.
1. Observation and register on place
There are many kinds of observation techniques, which are distinguished by the
following characteristics: structured or unstructured, disguised or undisguised, natural or
contrived, personal or mechanical, participant or non-participant (Collins, 2010: 132).
The version of tool the designer is composing (and sometimes renaming), depends on the
context in which the observation takes place: if the behaviour observation takes place in a
natural or artificial environment, if the people are informed that they are being observed
or not, if the researcher becomes part of the group that is being investigated or not, etc. In
Service Design, observation tools got names such as Service Safaris (going out to explore
good and bad service experiences) or Shadowing (immersion in the life of a customer)
(Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010: 154). Every kind of observation demands and involves
registration by photography or recording the behaviour pattern of people, objects and
situations in a systematic way, to make it possible to learn from it. A very useful tool for
learning from the outcome is Self-documentation: the user/customer observes himself
guided by an outline, registering his observations in a diary, by photography or by video.
The register can even be made through a mobile phone and send as a note, photo or film
to the researcher (Mobile Ethnography).
2. Mind Maps and other kind of Information Maps
Mapping, the systematic organisation of complex information in a communicable visual
form, is a process of looking for patterns and extracting meaning from the quantity of
collected information, by literature review, by observation or by interviews. The
visualisation of collected information about a project not only helps to communicate
inside a group, but also to give new insights about the project. Each visual interpretation
of collected information is a synthesis, and serves as an impulse to new reflection. Maps,
graphic representations of space or relationships of ideas or images can be simple
Diagrams, Charts, verbal or visual Associograms (Affinity Map and Empathy Map),
Expectation Maps (Stickdorn & Schneider 2010), complex Infographics as we can find in
Complexity (Lima, 2011) or process maps, such as the Journey Map, a graphic
representation of the customers’ experiences (Liedtka & Ogilvie, 2011). The use of
different colours, lines, forms and the introduction of sticky-notes or photographs help to
make the content of an information map more meaningful and a better stimulus for new
The kind of mapping managers probably know best, is the Mind Map, a method
developed by Tony Buzan (Buzan & Buzan, 1993). Being simultaneously a verbal and
visual tool, Mind Maps are very useful in the compilation of ideas and information, since
each keyword can be associated with other words and images. Starting from a central
topic/theme, a Mind Map consists of labeled twigs and branches, which represent
relationships. In its preparation, colours, images and symbols should be used to stimulate
associative operations and to make the outcome of the Mind Map clearer and more
legible. Mind Maps can be realised individually or in groups, as process maps or as
Figure 5 Example of a group Mind Map, realised by students of the 2nd year at ESAD - School of
Art and Design in Matosinhos, Portugal to explain a concept to their colleagues.
3. Personas and Empathy Map
By applying the tools Personas and Empathy Maps, designers try to understand and
interpret the perspectives of end users and the problems they face.
Personas is a tool based on fictional characters, which helps to make the abstract idea
of a group of users personal and human. Created out of the insights from observational
activities, Personas permits certain attributes of the user of a product or service to be
exemplified. A persona is not a representation of a concrete target group, but seeks to
reveal deeper insights into the various kinds of experiences that users are having, with the
objective of being an impulse for the generation of ideas about how to improve those
experiences (Liedtka & Ogilvie, 2011: 56-73).
The Empathy Map is a visual tool to organise the information got from Personas
and/or through observation and interviews. To make the Map, designers work in a team,
sometimes with the presence of potential customers. The objective is to have a visual
impulse to reflect and discuss the perspective of a user, his influences, needs, emotions,
desires and fears, related to the context of the project.
Figure 6 Examples of Empathy Maps, realised by students of the 2nd year at ESAD - School of Art
and Design in Matosinhos, Portugal.
Tools for Idea Generation and Experimentation
Probably, the DT tools for idea generation and experimentation of solutions through
visualisation are the tools best known and applied by managers. There can be nobody
working with innovation processes, who never participated in a Brainstorming session or
never expressed an idea by a quick sketch. But even so, managers still can learn from the
way designers work with Brainstorming tools, sketches or other visual thinking tools.
4. Brainwriting and Brainsketching
Brainstorming sessions, as we all know, consist of a participatory idea generation
session, without discussing the ideas or thinking them through to the end. The objective is
to produce a large quantity of ideas in a short time, where emotions and intuition are
more important than rational thinking. Although there are many groups who work
enthusiastically and with great success with Brainstorming, there are also people who do
not feel comfortable with the method in its traditional version. The reasons are, amongst
others, the predominance of verbal communication and presentation of thoughts aloud;
the presence of experts in the group, whose ideas strongly influence the other members,
the reserved attitude of the more timid; inhibition of presenting unusual and fanciful
thoughts, the frequent temptation to start discussions about the issues, the intense
dependence on the moderator. Because of these drawbacks in classic brainstorming,
variants arose such as Brainwriting and Brainsketching (production of ideas through
drawings, made by the participants or the moderator).
In the Brainwriting or Brainsketching version with Post-its’ all participants write or
draw each idea on a Post-it, which they stick to the wall or large sheet of paper (see
Fig.7). This procedure allows every participant to think more profoundly without the
immediate influence of other associations. Each new Sticky note on the wall serves as a
stimulus for new ideas. The advantage of this variant of Brainstorming is not only the
procedure of visualising ideas, but also the facility of organising and categorising ideas,
with or without a moderator. The Post-it variant is also the one, which best permits an
emergent assessment, with for example the Target tool (Tschimmel, 2011b). As shown in
the photographs, concentric circles are drawn on a paper. At the end of the evaluation
process, the ideas with more potential should be in the interior of the target. Everybody is
permitted to move and remove Post Its’, but in a limited time frame.
Figure 7 Examples of a session of Brainwriting in a sensitisation workshop, realised by the author
at INESC Porto, Portugal in 2011.
As we saw in chapter 2, the transformation of ideas and information into images plays a
special role in Design Thinking. Some authors even call visualisation tools “the mother of
all design tools”, because they are used in every stage of a DT process (Liedtka &
Ogilvie, 2011: 49). Particularly for generating new ideas and perspectives, sketching,
rapidly executed freehand drawing, is essential to make ideas tangible and concrete.
Sketches don’t have to be sophisticated, simple drawing on a whiteboard or big paper can
be a powerful tool to explain, clarify and discuss ideas.
Figure 8 Examples of simple sketches, realised by students of the 2nd year at ESAD - School of
Art and Design in Matosinhos, Portugal.
6. Visual and Semantic Confrontations
Thinking of new combinations is one of the main strategies of Design Thinking. The
underlying principle in the tools of semantic and visual confrontation is the alienation of
customary perspectives and stereotypes (Tschimmel, 2011b). The most original ideas
arise when elements of one knowledge domain are combined with elements of another
knowledge domain, distant from the first. It is a diversion of attention to other areas,
which later, with other associations in mind, returns to the initial problem. During a
semantic confrontation, an associative relationship between a problem or task, and words,
phrases, images, photographs, textures, flavours, etc., chosen from a particular
perspective or found by chance. The remoter their relationship, the better the outcome.
Well known tools, which encourage visual and semantic confrontation are, among others,
the techniques of Visual Sinectics, Forced Relationship or Semantic Intuition (see
Tools for Elaboration and Development
DT tools for elaborating and developing generated concepts are dominantly visual and
material. Detailed Sketches, Storyboards, Technical drawings, 2D and 3D Drawings, and
Rapid Prototyping are more frequently applied in design.
A Storyboard is a series of images (drawings, illustrations or photographs), displayed in
sequence, to visualise a process, service or event. In the elaboration of a concept it is very
useful to test a sequence of users’ interactions with a new product, service or business
model. This process of visual thinking and planning promotes a dialogue between the
participants. The draft storyboard is frequently made with Post It notes (because of their
mobility) (Fig. 9), which are replaced when the final sequence is decided. Fully
elaborated Storyboards can be used in presentations to clients of a new product, a
campaign, a new service or a new business.
Figure 9 Examples of a storyboard, realised by web design students in a DT class at ESAD -
School of Art and Design in Matosinhos, Portugal.
8. Rapid Prototyping
As with Sketches and Draft Storyboards, Rapid Prototyping is a quick way of visualising
and materialising concepts. Concept details, forms and nuances with a crude and
unfinished appearance, are brought to life and tested. The sooner Rapid Prototyping is
done the better, because early failure with the concept development saves a lot of money
in later development. The purpose of Rapid Prototyping is to swiftly create something
material that can facilitate conversations with partners, be tested with users, refined and
improved, and final discussed with a broader audience.
Figure 10 Examples of Rapid Prototyping, realised by students of the 2nd year at ESAD - School
of Art and Design in Matosinhos, Portugal.
Tools for Communicating and Delivering
In the last phase of a DT process, new ideas and products are communicated to a public,
composed of colleagues, stakeholders or customers/users. Before the final delivery to the
marketplace, high-fidelity 2D or 3D prototypes are tested and improved.
Storytelling is a tool, designers use for sharing new concepts, situating the new product or
service within a narrative context. Presenting a project in an emotional context allows the
public to follow much more closely the details of the new proposal. Stories are generally
illustrative, symbolic and easily memorable to create a strong emotional bond with the
audience. The Storytelling tool is frequently combined with Role Play or Storyboard to
communicate visually the story about the use of the new product and the new experience.
10. Learning experiences/Test
To test, demonstrate and promote a final product, product designers build mock-ups, a
scale or full-size model, which provides the most important parts of the functionality of
the design. Graphic designers call their high-fidelity prototype a proof. Mock-ups and
proofs are very useful to get feedback from users and customers, to detect weak points
and mistakes. To learn from a new concept, in service innovation, the prototype can even
be launched at the market to be tried out and to promote feedback before the final
commercial launch (Liedtka & Ogilvie, 2011). A provisional launch should feel real to
both launchers and customers, and should be open to further changes. Another possibility
of testing a new service, event or business idea is Role-play (Stickdorn & Schneider,
2010). In a project specific scenario, staff members interact with customers testing the
dynamic and materialisation of the new service or process. The experience should be
filmed to serve later for an evaluation and subsequent improvement of the new service.
5 The integration of Design Thinking into Innovation Processes
For every entrepreneur and business manager, it is useful to apply Design Thinking when
moving through a creative process of problem solving, or when looking for new
opportunities and challenges. With deeper insights into the dynamic and power of the DT
process and its tools, innovation managers can improve their participation in, and their
facilitation of, innovation processes. As a synthesis of my academic and my professional
approach of teaching and training Design Thinking, I apply three measures to give
managers the possibility to experiment and to evaluate the DT process and its tools:
1. Teaching Creativity and Design Thinking for non-designers at University of Porto;
2. Running Sensitisation Workshops; and 3. Coaching creative processes in companies
with the application of DT tools.
Design Thinking as a discipline in Business and Engineering Courses
After 3 years of teaching Creativity and DT tools in a Master Course of Technological
Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Porto, I have now also been
teaching Creativity and Design Thinking in the Post-Graduation Course of Marketing
Management in the University of Porto Business School for 2 years. Both teaching
experiences, the first with engineers, the second with managers and marketers, showed
me how important the procedural knowledge about creative processes and DT tools is for
future innovation managers. The students confirmed to me several times that knowledge
and conscience about the process dynamic, its characteristic and models, and the
application of the related DT tools, help them in their professional life to participate more
effectively in innovation processes and to give new impulses to their colleagues. Some of
the students even started to implement systematic creative processes in their SMBs’ and
to facilitate them. Design Thinking, in my opinion, should not only be a discipline in
Business Schools, but also in other university courses, such as psychology, sociology or
politics. Learning how to move in creative processes through the application of DT tools
is useful to everybody who wants to identify new human needs, who wants to create and
communicate new visions in a visual way; everybody who provides change in the
material or immaterial world, who’s working in a collaborative way and who’s future
Sensitisation workshops for companies
As an introduction into the process dynamic of Design Thinking, I conceived a one day
workshop for managers, in which they are conducted through a whole creative process
and can try out DT tools in several exercises. The activities in the workshop should help
them to decide which DT tools are useful and provide added value for their daily work
If a manager understands that the designers visual output is rarely the result of a wish
to produce a sketch or model, but rather to understand and discuss a problem, perhaps
they wouldn’t be so afraid to include visual tool in their daily routines of thinking and
speaking about problems. Thus, one of the objectives of the workshop is the better
understanding of the skills of DT and an increased motivation to innovate in general.
Concretely, the workshops aim to familiarise the participants with all the stages of a
creative process and the techniques, which support collective creation.
Coaching Creative Processes in companies
Another way of raising awareness of the importance of Design Thinking in innovation
processes is the facilitation of DT sessions, which are integrated into real creative
sessions in companies. The moderation of sessions of Brainsketching or Storyboarding in
which the participants are skilled in quick sketching in real project situations, or the
moderation of a session of Empathy Map, where the participants are instructed in
mapping techniques, is the best form to convince managers of the utility and potential of
DT tools. But to get to this point is not always easy, above all in countries such as
Portugal, where the design culture in companies is still very weak.
How does a manager integrate Design Thinking in his innovation processes?
At the end of this paper, I want to give some practical advice in a kind of resumé:
1. Design Thinking is not merely the designer’s mental ability, but can be
developed and trained by anybody who wants to solve problems in a creative
way, who wants to conceive new realities and who wants to communicate new
ideas. The advice: encourage cross-training, which means giving design training
to engineers and marketing people, and business training to your designers.
2. Innovation managers should encourage their teams to be more visual. Invite
them to express their ideas on whiteboards, free walls and notebooks. To sketch
on wallpapers without fear that the drawings are not good enough to be seen. To
create quick and rough prototypes.
3. An aesthetically stimulating working ambience is an impulse for more design
thinking in companies. Free space on the walls invites everyone to fill it with
Post It’s, Sketches, Mind Maps and other visualisations.
4. Because of their strong visual character, DT tools can help interdisciplinary
teams to understand each other and to create together. Furthermore they support
creative process in which the end-users are involved.
5. Every innovation process is guided by a kind of road map, which could be the
Stage-Gate model or others. To get an idea of the potential of DT tools,
managers could little by little introduce DT tools into the existing stages of their
innovation processes, without being attached to a specific DT process model.
6 Future Re se arch
At the moment, I am working on my own DT process model, which I am testing in my
methodology classes with design students and in workshops with innovation managers.
The model is called E.volution 42: Evolution because the creative process is an
evolutionary process in which a lot of individuals and situations are interacting. E.4,
because in Portuguese language the division in 4 process spaces, which I consider the
most appropriate ones, are starting with an ‘E’: Empatia (Empathy), Experimentação
(Experimentation), Elaboração (Elaboration) and Entrega (Deliver, which I call in the
english version ‘Exit’) (an visual model is available in www.namente.pt, Formação -
Modelo de processo). Since there are moments of Exploration (divergence) and Entering
(convergence) in every phase of the model, this model is called E.42. In future research, I
have to examine whether it is easy for innovation managers to work with this model in
practice, how to integrate some of the most important DT tools in the most
understandable way, and whether the model could be used without an external facilitator
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