Natural Born Designers

The ability to design is undeniably an essential part of human intelligence. Everyone is a designer. Just like everyone is capable of creative thinking. We may not be equally talented at it but using Design Thinking tools can amplify our chances for success tremendously when working on tasks or problems at hand.

Over the span of the two-day intensive Design Thinking course taught by experts of the field Dr. Katja Tschimmel, Design Professor at ESAD Portugal, and Gijs van Wulfen, Innovation Consultant, I was exposed to some already familiar Design Thinking tools as well as completely unfamiliar techniques I had never used before. The course emphasized the importance of visual triggers and sensations for our idea developing process and collaboration within your design team. Collaboration is known to be especially fruitful when the team members have diverse backgrounds and are experts in different fields (Brown, 2009), which put us into a perfect setting for our hands-on group design project carried out as part of the course. Working through the different stages of a service design project within a diverse multi-background team also presented the already familiar tools in a new light to me – as being much more applicable in a business environment than I used to think before.


Figure 1: Visual triggers during idea generation: Moodboard, Brainwriting, Mindmap

Especially to my liking among the previously unfamiliar techniques and something I will definitely adapt to my professional life are visual and semantic confrontations, part of the group of tools used in idea generation and experimentation (Tschimmel, 2012). Combining and connecting unrelated things with each other can lead to very unique and new ideas. This technique reminded me of a quote by David Byrne from his book Arboretum: “If you can draw a relationship, it can exist” (Byrne, 2006). The creation of relationships and links between so far unrelated things can be an ideal source for new innovations and is therefore a very good starting point for any design process.

Another important takeaway from my first close encounters with Design Thinking is the understanding that designing means exploring (Cross, 2011). It is an expedition, a journey filled with explorations – a concept Gijs van Wulfen brought to the world of innovation with his FORTH method. Previously I was prone to stick easily to the first idea and develop it further, by all means, to the end product – without even considering other options. I will put much more emphasis on the idea generation process in the future to start with a pool of ideas I can then dive into to find connections and pathways that will lead my work onwards.

Since I spend a lot of time designing user experiences in a digital context, prototyping has been already a familiar and often used tool. However, I learned that it can be even more effective when used much earlier in the design process – early prototyping. This goes hand in hand with another realization I made: I always used to keep much of the design process inside of my own mind. But designing is not a solely internal process (Cross, 2011). The design tools that we use serve as bridges between our minds and the physical world – exactly that strange and foreign place where the final product or service we design is going to be used, by real people. Regarding yourself as a user throughout the design process and to test your ideas early on in a physical way, e.g. through early prototyping, is therefore highly recommended when wanting to achieve a usable and user-friendly outcome. Design Thinking is, after all, human-centered (Brown 2009, Tschimmel 2012).


Figure 2: Getting physical – Lego desktop walkthrough to design a service


Byrne, David, 2006. Arboretum. New York, United States: McSweeney’s.

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

Brown, T. 2009. Change by design: How design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York, United States: HarperCollins.

Cross, Nigel 2011. Design Thinking. New York, United States: Berg

Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an Effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

Written by Corina Maiwald, first year SID student

4 thoughts on “Natural Born Designers

  1. Hi Corina! I was inspired to read your blog post. After our very first days I felt a bit confused: Can i really be a Designer? But your text kind of encourages me to say: “Yes, I CAN be a Designer”. This journey is going to be long, but definitely inspiring. And little by little I can also feel more like a Designer. Hope we will have great time with our studies and improve our Designing skills! 🙂

    • I also think it will still take time to fully adapt to the thinking that we all are designers and that we all can innovate. But this will nicely develop throughout the studies and by continuously mixing our ideas together, using Design Thinking tools often enough so that applying them becomes an innate procedure. 🙂

  2. Thank you for an interesting blog post, Corina! Just like you (and Ulla), I began the course by not thinking of myself as a natural born designer and was surprised when so many raised their hands when Gijs asked “how many of you consider yourself a design thinker?”. However after learning to use the DT tools, I now believe I possess the necessary skills to start developing as a designer. The collaboration aspect is something I will focus on in the projects I do in my work. It is often common practice – for me and my colleagues – to hide a great idea until you have developed it further, but in the Design Thinking course I realized that collaboration is the best practice in designing. I believe we worked very well as a team, and even though with the assigment we got a uselful idea very early on in the process, we still managed to have around 50 other ideas, which could also be tied in to the original idea.

  3. Thank you Corina for an excellent blog post! I especially liked your way of bringing up the insights and key learnings from the the process we went through. For me the experience was similar as yours. I have worked many years related to service development and innovation and facilitated creative workshops. However, I haven’t used that much visual thinking or Design Thinking tools before. Some of the methods were familiar, but I also learned many new tools, which I plan to use in my professional (and why not personal 🙂 ) life as well going forward – especially the rapid prototyping. My experience has also been that it is quite easy to start developing the initial ideas, without considering other options as you said as well. I’ve used to jump into the idea generation phase much sooner than we actually did in the Design Thinking course. For me it was a great learning experience to see the effect of really studying and researching the context for the innovation assignment through visual tools before the actual idea generation.

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