Free Design Thinking Models to Help You in Your Project

by Miikka Paakkinen

Design in a business context looks to answer two questions: what problems are your customers facing, and how might we solve those problems while providing the best possible experience? Design thinking models can help you in your quest for the answers. Along the way, they might also assist you in asking better questions and finding the biggest underlying problems worth solving.

In this blog post, I will introduce three design thinking models that offer free toolkits for you to use.

Why does design thinking work?



Before going to the models though, let’s take a quick look at what design thinking can do for you.

In her recent Harvard Business Review article, Professor Jeanne Liedtka explains in depth why the different phases and tools of design thinking actually work in organizations.


She argues that the blend of design thinking tools and insights applied to work processes can be thought of as a “social technology”, and likens the effect of design thinking to what Total quality management (TQM) did to manufacturing in the 1980’s.


Her research results go on to show how design thinking tools help overcome the human and organizational tendencies that come in the way of innovation:


  • “The structure of design thinking creates a natural flow from research to rollout.”
  • “Immersion in the customer experience produces data, which is transformed into insights, which help teams agree on design criteria they use to brainstorm solutions.”
  • “Assumptions about what’s critical to the success of those solutions are examined and then tested with rough prototypes that help teams further develop innovations and prepare them for real-world experiments.”


A similar viewpoint is provided by Idris Mootee in his 2013 book Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation. He argues that design thinking can be the new competitive logic of business strategy by applying design tools and techniques alongside engineering, economic and humanities approaches. The end result is a highly productive dynamic that provides a multi-disciplinary and holistic view.



Models and application


So, the stuff above is a lot to unpack, huh? Let’s look design thinking models to take a peek at what all of that might look like in practice.


There are various different design thinking models out there. In their core, the models all try to help you to:


  1. Find what the problem is
  2. Immerse in users’ world to get insight
  3. Turn insight into ideas and concepts
  4. Test the concepts and get feedback early
  5. Iterate
  6. Implement solutions


They do this by defining different phases to a project and assigning appropriate tools to use in each phase. For example, the Evolution 6² model by Mindshake consists of the following phases:




  1. Emergence – What is the challenge?
  2. Empathy – Who is the user?
  3. Experimentation – Which are the best ideas?
  4. Elaboration – Which is the best concept?
  5. Exposition – How to present the new concept?
  6. Extension – How to implement the solutions?


Below are pictures of some of the tools suggested in action from a workshop at Laurea Leppävaara:



Opportunity Mind Map – a tool to use in the Emergence phase to visualize data, reveal opportunities, and find connections between information and ideas.


Idea Hitlist – a tool to use in the Experimentation phase for ranking a list of ideas to find the best ones to work on.


Service Blueprint – a tool to use in the Elaboration phase for visualising all touchpoint of a service while incorporating the perspective of the user, the service provider and other relevant stakeholders.



For comparison, the Double Diamond by Design Institute divides a project in to the following phases:


Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 14.41.20.png


  1. Discover insight in to the problem
  2. Define the area to focus upon
  3. Develop potential solutions
  4. Deliver solutions that work



And the Human-centered Design Kit by IDEO goes for:


  1. Inspiration
  2. Ideation
  3. Implementation


So, in short: different names and sometimes different tools, but the objective stays the same.



3 Models With Free Tools



Here are links to the three models I mentioned:







In my opinion, The Double Diamond comes with the best overall instructions. The Human-centered Design kit provides excellent info cards for the tools suggested, and they sometimes come with instructional videos. The Evolution 6² model’s online resources do not come with instructions, but they provide superb downloadable templates to use.



I’ll also throw in a book recommendation for those of you who prefer a physical format: This is Service Design Thinking similarly contains instructions on how and when to use various tools. It also provides a good general overview of what design thinking is.



Have you encountered other good models? Let us know in the comment section below!




The author Miikka Paakkinen is an MBA student in Service Innovation and Design with a background in business management and information technology.




2 thoughts on “Free Design Thinking Models to Help You in Your Project

  1. Miika – thanks for your profound blog post and espcially hint for further reading and links to the models with free tools – I will definately take my time to go through them! I also got interested in Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation by Idris Mootee – I found the comparison between business challenges and appropriate service design tools very interesting and would like to know more about Mootee’s thoughts in that issuu.

    • Thanks for your feedback Kati – nice to hear that there were interesting bits and pieces there! Mootee’s book is definitely a good thought-provoking (if not that practical) intro on how design thinking can be utilised in business problem solving.

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