What is design thinking?

What is design thinking?

Reading Time
5 mins
Design Thinking is a creative approach to problem-solving that puts humans at the center of every step.

You might be asking… "Is Design Thinking an appropriate approach for me? What is it?" Answer: If you need a new, better, different solution for people, then Design Thinking is the right approach!

Design Thinking (also known as Human-Centered Design) is NOT a linear process. It's more like Principle Based Management™ - an approach based on principles. It’s a way of being! Teams use Design Thinking when they want to deliver a successful (and mutually beneficial) solution.

Check out this 6 min Design Thinking case study from Nordstrom Innovation Lab:

See how Nordstrom used Design Thinking principles to understand their customers' needs and test solution ideas live inside a store!

History has shown us that to find successful (and mutually beneficial) solutions we need to balance these three aspects of our solution. Viability, feasibility, and desirability. Design Thinking focuses on desirability - the human needs and desires.

Considering these three aspects makes this approach very entrepreneurial in nature- aligning with the foundational concepts and guiding principles of Principle Based Management.


3 Key Components

In our Principle Based Management culture we call particular attention to 3 key components. Practice these and you’ll be Design Thinking!

  1. Empathy – striving to deeply understand and empathize with the people you’re serving
  2. Creativity – focusing on the problem, not the solution, with a mindset that helps you explore new possibilities
  3. Action – choosing progress over perfection by taking urgent action to drive learning, decisions, and direction


Core activities in Design Thinking

The “flow” of Design Thinking activities typically involves:

  • Divergent thinking then convergent thinking
  • Experimentation & testing
  • And numerous loops of iteration

Divergent & convergent thinking

Divergent thinking can be described as gathering an abundance of input from diverse perspectives.

For example: coming up with a variety of potential ideas (without evaluating each as good or bad)

Convergent thinking is when multiple ideas or inputs are evaluated and decisions are made to reach appropriate conclusions.

Divergent & Convergent Thinking (2 min)

Experimentation & testing

Once ideas have been narrowed down and focused into a potential solution, a step that is often overlooked (but crucial to success) is creating experiments and tests to validate the ideas.

By testing our ideas with the real people and problems they are supposed to solve, we can know if we are heading in the right direction.

Design Thinking: Prototype (4 min)

Loops of iteration

This is often called a “loop” because as you progress you learn new information to make an informed decision on what’s needed next. It’s really Experimental Discovery!

You’re constantly progressing with the knowledge gained from numerous rapid experiments.

Iteration (4 min) - from Don Norman one of the founding fathers of Design Thinking

Want more? Recommended reading ↓

There are a multitude of methods/activities that have been designed to help systematize Design Thinking. Advance Concepts™ has experimented with endless amounts of them and has curated the "greatest hits" here in the toolkit.

The resources below share some of the best (in our opinions) and we can share/demonstrate our favorites as well. Leverage these, but also feel free to adapt them. We often string them together into workshops or sprints to “close the loop”.

Resources to understand the mindset


This article Accelerating our Vision (by Advance Concepts™) unpacks Design Thinking and its value in accelerating the application of Principle Based Management

Advance Concepts™ brings together Principle Based Management, Design Thinking, and the latest entrepreneurial practices to accelerate innovation at Koch.


A foundational book is Change by Design by Tim Brown former CEO of IDEO (2009).

Here’s a summary video (5min).


Books and videos from Don Norman (a foundational leader of Design Thinking)

Don Norman a cognitive scientist who wrote The Design of Everyday Things (1988) and Emotional Design (2003). Focusing on the interactions of people and technology.

"Norman Doors" - Bad doors are everywhere (5 min)

Resources on process & activities

More info on Advance Concepts™ Human-Centered Design approach in this pdf.

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design is a comprehensive book on application by IDEO.org. It hits on the approach, additional mindsets, and shares a collection of methods.


The “Sprint” book and 5-Day process by Jake Knapp (Google Ventures).

The book has a just-right approach for software solutions – and it’s been adapted for other applications due to it’s success.

Video of Advance Concept's experience with the "Sprint" process


IBM has implemented their own “Enterprise Design Thinking” framework. See their website for great resources (from principles to methods). It’s now free.


The “Innovating for People” Handbook by Luma Institute is also another great collection of methods.


The Lean Startup is a book (2011) by Eric Reis about rapid entrepreneurial experimentation and loops.

Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable. The Lean Startup is an approach that's changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.