Design Thinking as a Discursive Phenomenon 

Design Thinking can be described as a discipline, a methodology or more broadly “a human-centered, creative, iterative, and practical approach that is used to find the best ideas and ultimate solutions” (1, 2), or simply a method for innovation, which requires creative thinking (3, 4). Creative thinking is the cognitive capacity of an individual or a group of individuals to intentionally generate new ideas – something that used to be considered as design thinking still some 30 years ago (3).  

Tschimmel argues that creative thinking has a dialogue format with four distinctive phases:  
1) perception, meaning stimulation of multi-sensoriality, 

2) interrogation, meaning provocative, procedural and imaginative questions, 

3) comparison, meaning thinking in uncommon associations, in new combinations and in analogies, and  

4) language, meaning narrative thinking and transition between expressive languages (3). 

Using this kind of creative thinking, the analogue of it as a dialogue can be extended to Design Thinking: If creative thinking is kind of a dialogue either inside the head of an individual or between different individuals, Design Thinking is the language as a system, which he/she/they speak. The language may have different dialects meaning the different ways how the Design Thinking process is structured – three, six or seven phases with changing names, doesn’t matter – but the content is still the same (3).  

Furthermore, the different Design Thinking methods can be considered as words of the language: The findings are what these words represent but the insights are what they really mean, when they join with other words and form sentences.  

As language is influenced by the discourses within and between societies, so is Design Thinking. Critical rethinking of Design Thinking continues, although it is claimed to be ‘undertheorized and understudied’. Whether one conceives design thinking as a cognitive style, a general theory of design or an organizational resource, we should move beyond individual, cognitive and organizational spheres and explore the design in its context and the flourishment of its practices across other developments (e.g. socio-cultural).(5) While considering the activity and the materiality and objects involved, a practice approach can elucidate the design within discursive practices. (ibid.) Given, the necessity of this rethinking in terms of concepts, evaluations, contributions, and applications exceeds the disciplinary discourses leading to a framework. This framework incorporates various contexts, spaces and concerns ranging from the practice of service design to the ramifications of its resulting services in culture, ethos and the society. Therefore, other authors, in line with Kimbell’s work, suggest that design should be replaced with designing – which is in essence, nonlinear, ongoing, collective and organizationally overarching. (6) Similarly, the term service encompasses an ongoing transformational, value co-creation process beyond its usual collocative pair product. “Designing for services” thus as a framework considers an ongoing engagement in transformational development and an approach to incorporable and accommodable innovation within practices attempting to render services beneficial to individuals’ daily lives and society. (7)  

A similar approach was also taken in the lectures, as thinking out of the box, considering all individual and collective ideas across practices and professions, bearing in mind all cultural angles and socio-economic aspects of both designing and the resulting services were emphasized.   

Written by Service Innovation and Design MBA students Kaisa K. and Daniel M.


1: Brown, Tim. 2020. ”Design Thinking”. In: On Design Thinking. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press  

2: Brown, Tim & Martin, Martin L. 2020. “Design for Action”. In: On Design Thinking, Boston: Harvard Business Review Press 

3: Tschimmel, Katja. 2022. “Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation”. In: In: Raposo, D., Neves, J., Silva, J. (eds) Perspectives on Design II. Springer Series in Design and Innovation , vol 16. Springer, Cham. 

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

5: Kimbell, Lucy. 2011. “Rethinking Design Thinking: Part I.” Design and Culture 3 (3): 285–306.

6: Kimbell, Lucy. 2012. “Rethinking Design Thinking: Part II.” Design and Culture 4 (2): 129–48.

7: Sangiorgi, Daniela, and Alison Prendiville. 2017. Designing for Service. Key Issues and New  Directions

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