How to be a good designer

You need to have the right mindset

Nigel Cross, Emeritus Professor of Design Studies in the UK describes in his book Design Thinking (2011) successful designers as optimists and opportunists, who are exploring uncertainty hopefully and dedicated to the tasks in hand. Unlike engineers who want to test, measure and prove something, designers cope with this uncertainty by analogy-making and intuitive judgements. They also use ethnographic approach in order to dig up tacit knowledge and make new hypothesis of future situation of use.

Cross compared designing to sharing a social process of interaction and to a face-to-face negotiation between different participants of the process. To make a proposal for a solution designers use a wide range of designing techniques, such as sketching, prototyping, mock-ups and scenarios. A successful designer cannot work alone in his studio; being an innovative designer requires capacity to work with a small team that shares the same passion to creative thinking and that is also capable of broad system thinking.

You need to go beneath the surface

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, an innovation and design firm, points out in his article Design Thinking (2008) that designers have a new role at strategic level in service delivery. He continues that design thinking can radically renew health care services, for instance. Rather than sudden breakthrough, a service innovation process is a systematic creative human-centered process followed by iterative cycles of prototyping and testing. It is hard work at customer interface, not only designing more attractive products, advertising or communication strategies.

You need to have right tools and process

Katja Tschimmel, Professor at ESAD Escola Superior de Artes e Design in Portugal, helps us to be good designers in her article Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation (2012) by providing tools for designing. Introducing ten best-known design methods, she also names five best-known design and innovation processes. These five innovation models are: IDEO´s 3 I and the HCD Model, the Model of the Hasso-Plattner Institute, the Double Diamond Model of the British Council and the Service Design Thinking Model. All these models were created between 2001 and 2010 and consist of different phases.

IDEO´s 3 I Model was created for social innovation and consists of Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation phases. The HCD Model was created for NGOs and social enterprises and consists of Hearing, Creating and Delivering phases. The Model of Hasso-Plattner Institute was developed for educational context and consists of six phases: Understand, Observe, Point of View, Ideation, Prototype, Test and Implementation. The Double Diamond Model of the British Council has four phases: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. The last model, the Service Design Thinking Model is adapted to the service area and has four phases: Exploration, Creation, Reflection and Implementation. Tschimmel prefers the last model as the most appropriate model for innovation managers working in the service area.

Design tools quicken and free up the design-thinking process, making it more effective. Design tools are coming from several knowledge fields, such as arts, engineering, anthropology and psychology. Despite various innovation process models, the same tools can be used for each model. At the beginning of the process several observation techniques are used as well as Mind Maps, Personas and Empathy Maps to systematically organise collected complex information and describe end users and the problems they face. For Idea Generation phase, Brain writing, Sketching and Visual Confrontations can be used. At Development phase tools like Storyboard and Rapid Prototyping are suitable. At last phase when you are communicating your new ideas to stakeholders, Storytelling and Test are suitable tools.

You also need to practice


Myself and the other 27 students undertaking the Master’s degree programme in Service Innovation and Design at Laurea University of Applied Sciences had the privilege not only to listen to Katja Tschimmel and her Dutch colleague Gijs van Wulfen, but also to have one and half days practical journey through the sixth innovation model called FORTH in five steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe and Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming. And last, but not least, we used design tools ourselves! We started with Interviews and Personas, did FOTO Safari and Brain writing, made Mind Mapping, Mood Board, and Rapid Prototyping with Legos, tried two minutes Storytelling with Desktop Walkthrough,  and as a real innovation manager sold our ideas to stakeholders at Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

This blog post was created as an assignment in SID course Design Thinking.


Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Cross, N. (2011) Design thinking: understanding how designers think and work. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

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.

More about Katja Tschimmel

More about Gijs van Wulfen and FORTH Model

2 thoughts on “How to be a good designer

  1. Generally speaking, until recently the task of a designer had been seen as making things look pretty and the blame goes partly to designers who had been just focused on making things pretty. That approach is changing rapidly where designers focus on how things work but not just how things look. IMHO, making everyday life simple needs to be the core obsession of any one who calls themselves a designer.

    Blue skies,

  2. I Agree. Before starting SID studies if I was to think that design is I would refer it to be outter-layer fashionable desing and designers merely concentrate how thing feel and work. Just like you said and this post is pointing out, the desing thinking is just much more nowadays. It concerns whole ecosystems what companies do. Desing thinking can apply from internal processes to external customer service of product delivery. This holistic approach emphasizes the fact that good desingner is a member of team charing knowledge and views hence able to create something new and innovative for customer delivery.

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