What on Earth is Design Thinking???

Although I had previously read a few books on Design Thinking as well as participated in a Service Design course organized by Aalto PRO, I still learned so many new, exciting things at Katja Tschimmel’s course on Design Thinking at Laurea. And that learning of new aspects to Design Thinking is also what inspired the topic of this blog post. Because to me it felt like since Design Thinking is not a process with strict rules, it might sometimes be a little difficult to get a thorough overview of what is actually Design Thinking? Even though you kind of know it, but you might still struggle a bit if you need to explain it to someone else.  Katja did a great job of giving us space to figure this key concept out by ourselves and didn’t give us pre-determined answers.


As Katja explained during the course, there are several Design Thinking models and tools available (IDEO’s 3 I model, Double Diamond model of the British Council and the Service Design Thinking (SDT) Model, just to name a few). In my opinion this just goes to show that there is no one, correct way to carry out a Design Thinking project. Therefore I felt like it might be easier also to explain Design Thinking via examples of its typical elements and principles rather than in one, all-inclusive phrase or explanation.


With the help of Katja’s course and her article ”Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation” (2012), as well as the book “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation” by Tim Brown (2009), I collected some examples that I think describe the core elements of Service Design quite nicely. Below you can find my two cents as to what is Design Thinking:

  • It’s a process for creative problem solving where the tools (and abilities) typically used only by designers are now applied by diverse people in a wide range of organizations.
  • It can be applied to a wide range of problems in all aspects of business and society. The focus is no longer in the appearance and functionality of products, but has shifted from the design discipline to identifying, understanding and solving complex problems.
  • It’s a human-centered approach where instead of designing “for users”, Service Design utilizes different types of co-creation methods where users actively participate in the design process. By gaining deep knowledge about the wants and needs of the users, you are able to create products and services that future users really want, instead of just developing incremental improvements to already existing products.
  • Design Thinking process is iterative and nonlinear by nature. It typically consists of different spaces (Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation, known as IDEO’s 3 I’s model) (Brown, 2009) that might be overlapping and visited more than once during a project as new directions might need to be explored. As Katja wrote in her paper, there are also other ways to name and divide the project into different spaces, but in the end the main principles of the Service Design process remain somewhat similar.
  • It embraces failure. As Tim Brown wrote in his book: “Fail early to succeed sooner”. Service Design process is all about being iterative and open-minded: trying out different things (often with quick prototypes), sometimes failing, then going back with that knowledge, and trying something else. Over and over again.

Don’t you just love Design Thinking? You get be a detective, a designer and an inventor all at the same time ❤



Design Thinking – course at Laurea September 8-9, 2017, teacher Katja Tschimmel and Sanna Marttila

Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

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. http://www.academia.edu/1906407/Design_Thinking_as_an_effective_Toolkit_for_Innovation


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