Five Habits of Design Thinking (2023)

There are three thinking styles that have transformed how we develop new products today: Agile, Lean (Startup) and Design Thinking. Design Thinking is the least defined and most problematic to explain. Agile gets engineering to work iteratively in cadences rather than invest in a lot of upfront planning, only to execute a plan that may be wrong. Lean (Startup) is about running constant business experiments whose outcomes reduce risk.

Design Thinking is often explained in a tautological fashion: it’s how designers think. But what makes this different than ordinary thinking, or Agile or Lean approaches? I believe what makes design thinking special is the “go wide, narrow, go wide, narrow” rhythm. It generates the broadest possibilities which leads to new solutions.

<draft> Design thinking is the practice of exploring research and ideas widely, narrowing insights down to likely solution candidates, then testing and generating still more wide and weird possibilities until something viable and innovative is discovered. </draft>

Five Habits of Design Thinking (1)

Design Thinking is not the fastest way to innovate; it is the most effective way. Move fast and break things is tired; move smart and make things better is wired. (see meme.)

As someone who has been educating designers for years now, I can attest that design thinking doesn’t come naturally — not even for designers. When I taught at CCA, I learned that sophomores majoring in interaction design didn’t work like designers at all. They’d do some research, get excited about something someone said, prototype it in some software program and show it to me, with the same look my cat gives me when he brings in a dead mouse.

Design thinking is not something you are born with. When those students become juniors, after hours of practice, some of them started to attack problems in a designerly way. By the time they were seniors, most of them used design thinking approaches, though some still backslid into how most people approach problems. Some never got it at all.

Consider that. After hours and hours of deliberate practice over years some people still cannot step into design thinking. Changing habits is hard.

Now let’s look at how design thinking is often taught: in boot camps and one day workshops. That’s design theater, not design thinking.

It’s not enough to say, look there is a better way! It takes practice. Lots of practice.

If you do think fondly of the magic you experienced over one of those one day workshops, here is a list of five design thinking methods you can practice in order to internalize design thinking. Do them often enough, and they will become habits that will transform your work. For realsies.

Five Habits of Design Thinking (2)

1. An Interview Is a Conversation

The core skill of research is interviewing. If you cannot ask effective questions about your products and services, you cannot get the information you need to succeed.

(Video) 5 steps to designing the life you want | Bill Burnett | TEDxStanford

How we do it instinctively: We write down a series of questions, then we act like a survey form. i.e. we ask the folks we’re interviewing the questions, get their answers and we are done. I see this in students and clients both.

How we do it the Design Thinking way: treat an interview as a conversation. There are a dozen little things you need to learn about interviewing (a books worth,) but the biggest and more common mistake is not listening to the speaker and following up. Think about it for two seconds: what is the one thing you can do that a survey can’t? Ask follow up questions. And in those follow up questions entire universes of knowledge lie.

Q: Do you use kanban-style software, such as Trello or Asana?

Interviewee: No.

That’s the end if it’s a survey. You never learn anything else.
But if you are a human, you can say: Tell me more?

And you may learn many things. You may learn the interviewee has never heard of any of the things you listed. You may learn they have heard of them, but don’t understand their value. You may learn that current tools aren’t meeting real needs, and the interviewee has decided to “just use Google docs.” You can learn so much just by nodding, saying “hmmm?” and “Can you say more?”

Bonus trick: Use a topic map instead of a script. It can help you from just reading your interview script out loud.

Five Habits of Design Thinking (3)

Jargon: Needfinding

2. Inhabit theData

Now we’ve gotten a whole bunch data from our interviews, how are we going to make sense of it all?

How we do it instinctively: We read through it, maybe highlight some of it, and then write down what resonates. Boo! So much bias!

How we do it the Design Thinking way: Put all interesting insights into a modular format, such as post-it notes. Sort them using an emergent classification scheme, based how patterns you discover (often called affinity grouping.) Now look at frequency of certain themes. Use this to either build a report, or do more research.

(Video) Five Habits to Design Your Wealthy Life

Five Habits of Design Thinking (4)

Bonus Trick: Sort your data based on multiple factors, including time and a 2×2 criteria such as frequency/passion. See Needfinding for Disruptive Innovation for the approach.

By rearranging the modular insights, you will discover new information. You have to coax every bit of insight out of the research if you truly wish to innovate beyond the obvious.

Jargon: Sensemaking.
We spend a lot of time talking about needfinding, but not enough talking about sensemaking. What is one without the other?

3. Get Wide and Weird

Now that we understand our research, it’s time to come up with some ideas of things to make.

How we do it instinctively: We go for a long walk, take a hot shower, etc etc and think. We think a lot. Then we have an idea we like, and we start to develop that. Yay.

Five Habits of Design Thinking (5)

How we do it the Design Thinking way: Whether it’s Crazy 8’s, 30 thumbnails or good old-fashioned Freelisting, designers get to quality via quantity. You start coming up with ideas. You don’t dismiss them, you write them down, as many as possible. when you hit the wall, you keep going. There is a moment when you think you are out, but if you push yourself, you start coming up with more ideas, ideas no one has heard of. Weird ideas. Sometimes interesting new ones. Sometimes merely dreadful ones. But this is where innovation has a shot of showing up.

Bonus trick: Bad idea brainstorming. Instead of thinking up good ideas, you try to think up the worst ideas. It’s ONE DUMB TRICK that an help you get out of a rut of the obvious. Learn more:

Jargon: Ideation. It’s a process, not a one-time event.

4. Critique, not Criticism

A designer comes up with a potential direction for something. They show it to you. You say things. What do you say?

(Video) The Design Thinking Process

How we do it instinctively: You look, you think, you say what you feel. “I don’t like that blue” “Are you sure people will know what do to here?” “You should use a hamburger menu, it takes up less space” “Facebook does it this way, can’t we just copy them.”

How we do it the Design Thinking way: First we work to understand what the designer is trying to do, then we work through what strategies they are using, and finally we try to build on it with ideas to make it even better. In other words, we aren’t offering criticism about what’s wrong with the design; we are actively partnering with the designer from our area of expertise to make the design better. Our expertise may be as broad as being a fellow designer, or it may be as narrow as just being a user of software. Work from where you are. If you are an engineer, consider how it might be implemented, if you are a Product Manager, ask how it will convert… you are allowed to have opinions about color and type, of course, but is that the highest value way you can help the work reach its potential? What is really valuable is your insight from your area of expertise.

I spent some time trying to find a way to make it memorable for you, and this is what I’ve got: GASP.

  • Goals. What is the purpose of this work?
  • Attempts: what has the designer tried to do?
  • Successes: where is the design effective at meeting the goal?
  • Possibilities: Do you know anything that could make this design better?

So look at someone’s design and GASP (you can clutch your pearls while you do it.)

Five Habits of Design Thinking (6)

Bonus Trick: Experienced designers tell people what kind of feedback they want. A working designer knows to direct the feedback in order to get something usable. “What do you think?” is death to productivity.

One trick I really love is Laura Klein’s 20/80 feedback (not to be confused with Pareto’s Principal.) When the design is 20% done, you can tell people they are climbing the wrong mountain. When it’s 80% done, you can critique their style: fonts, language, color, etc. If you’ve got something you are offering up for critique, make sure you let people know what you are willing to change and what is off limits. Otherwise expect to be weeping in the bathroom later.

Jargon: Critique

5. Iterate with Your TargetMarket

Time to get more feedback on the wonderful thing you just thought up, this time with the people who have no expertise except life. In many ways, this is just 1+2+3+4. Ready?

How we do it instinctively: Show it to someone in accounting or some such who is kinda like our audience, and see what they think. Or, if you read Lean Startup (or skimmed it. or read a book review of it) you might Get Out of the Building and show it to an actual potential customer!

How we do it the Design Thinking way: Look at point #1. Make a topic map of all your concerns, and see if you can cover them all.
Point #2: Inhabit the data you collect.
Point #3: Generate a LOT of potential solutions for any issues that arise.
Point #4: Get your team to make you smarter

Five Habits of Design Thinking (7)

As my pal Abby Covert says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Work to internalize these habits, and you will find everything you do is more effective, from writing talks to pitching VC. EVERYTHING GETS BETTER! How cool is that?

(Video) 5 habits that all stylish women have in common

Jargon: Design sprint, or if you really really want to be designerly, call it a charette.

Design Thinking & DesignDoing

Finally, while Design Thinking is all nifty pancakes and all, doing design is an entire craft and it’s a SO important to learn to do it right if you want to make things that are not just innovative but good. User experience research, information architecture, interaction design, interface design are all large bodies of knowledge with entire books written about them — and that’s just a few of the skills we need to make good software.

Design Thinking is a better way to approach innovation in problem solving, but that is never enough to make products and services that succeed. Let’s say you have mastered the five habits. You still would want to understand how to organize information in order to provide effective retrieval and use. You still need to understand how to build intuitable flows. You still need to make interfaces that tell the story of the software’s power, and teaches the dangers of abuse. You still want (as Facebook and many others have learned) to figure out how you software changes the ecosystem it lives within, and if those second order effects are going to have you called before congress.

The Design Thinking process is powerful. It can be used in many scenarios beyond designing things, from working through treaties to inventing new business models. But if you are using it to make “disruptive” change, consider all the knowledge you need to make sure you aren’t disrupting the wrong things, and that you are actually offering something better than what people already have.

Don’t get so caught up in design thinking you forget to actually design.

Booklist, if you actually want to learn to design digital stuff rather than just think aboutit

Five Habits of Design Thinking (8)
Five Habits of Design Thinking (9)
Five Habits of Design Thinking (10)
Five Habits of Design Thinking (11)
Five Habits of Design Thinking (12)

Finally, design thinking is always better with some Visual Thinking, don’t you think?

Five Habits of Design Thinking (13)

Two days later

0. Pick the RightProblem

Thanks to a conversation with Abi Jones right after I wrote this, I feel like I need to add one more habit. People who have internalized Design Thinking spend more time than most on making sure they’ve got the right problem/opportunity statement before kicking off a project.

Five Habits of Design Thinking (14)

How we do it instinctively: We trust the obvious. We see something: dropping sales, a new competitor, a difficult workflow and we assume we know what the problems is: sales are dropping! Amazon is entering our market! We need a wearable! And then we go off into a flurry of activity.

How we do it the Design Thinking way: While a single event can trigger a design effort, design thinkers will stop and question everything… sometimes to the annoyance of their teammates. But asking why five times, doing maps of the ecosystem, seeking previous research, doing competitive analysis and generally understanding the context before diving into the commitment of a project is just plain smart. Then you’ll spend time wordsmithing the language of the project goal in order to keep possibilities open. “How might we” is favored by IDEO, but there are many ways to shape the call to design.

Bonus Trick: Consider developing your own canvas for everything you’d like to cover.


Five Habits of Design Thinking (15)



What are the 5 ideas for design thinking? ›

The Five Phases of Design Thinking

The short form of the design thinking process can be articulated in five steps or phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Let's briefly explore each of these phases in relation to a practical design process.

What are the 5 or 6 stages of design thinking? ›

The design-thinking framework follows an overall flow of 1) understand, 2) explore, and 3) materialize. Within these larger buckets fall the 6 phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement.

How many key habits are there in design thinking? ›

Five Habits of Design Thinking.

What is design thinking for Class 7? ›

Design thinking is a methodology that designers use to brainstorm and solve complex problems related to designing and design engineering. It is also beneficial for designers to find innovative, desirable and never-thought-before solutions for customers and clients.

What are the 5 main design factors? ›

To help you on your way, we've put together a list of 7 important factors to be aware of when designing a product.
  • MATERIALS. ...

Which part of the 5 step strategic design process keeps the? ›

Expert-Verified Answer. Strategic design process keeps the user at the center: Meaning of Strategic design : Design thinking is indeed a non-linear, continuous approach that allows teams to better understand their customers, challenge assumptions, reframe challenges, and develop and test novel solutions.

What are key habits? ›

Keystone habits are the routines and practices by which someone operates. They mark the base level of what you do without any need for willpower or persuasion. The default. Whether positive or negative, each of these habits has a ripple effect across everything you do in life and business.

What are the 5 academic habits of mind? ›

Perspective (what is the point of view) Evidence (how do you know) Connection (how does it apply) Supposition (what if it were different)

What are the 4 keys to creating a habit? ›

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. Breaking it down into these fundamental parts can help us understand what a habit is, how it works, and how to improve it.

Why is it called design thinking? ›

Design thinking is created not only because Tim Brown coined the word that became a buzzword. There's a logical reason to it. Design thinking is created because big corporation lack the ability to be creative and on extreme cases, aren't able to create new products and services that meet unmet needs of their customers.

Why is design important? ›

A Good Design Will Make You Look Good

It allows you to make a positive first impression on potential customers. It has been shown that human beings form an initial impression within a couple of seconds, but it can take a lot longer than this to alter that perception once a first impression has been made.

Who uses design thinking? ›

Design thinking has been used to solve business problems at companies like Toyota, Intuit, SAP, and IBM. One reason for the proliferation of design thinking in industries is that it's useful to break down problems in any complex system, be it business, government, or social organizations.

What are the 5 types of design? ›

Here are 15 types of design that professionals in industries like engineering, marketing, fashion, technology, landscaping and architecture may use:
  • Interior design. ...
  • Industrial design. ...
  • Engineering design. ...
  • Software design. ...
  • Graphic design. ...
  • Fashion design. ...
  • Landscape architecture. ...
  • Architecture.
19 May 2022

What are the 5 product design elements? ›

The Five Elements of Product Design
  • Product must be authentic. Identify a clear purpose and make that purpose apparent in its design.
  • Product must provide unique experiences. ...
  • Effective product design goes unnoticed. ...
  • Do one thing extremely well. ...
  • Solve pain points elegantly.
29 May 2018

What are the 5 elements of design quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (5)
  • Space. Most basic element of design. ...
  • Line. Used to separate or unify. ...
  • Shape/Form. Describes the shape and structure of solid objects. ...
  • Texture. An object's texture is the look or feel of its surface. ...
  • Color. Color is the most important element of design.

Who developed 5 step model of creative process? ›

These stages were first articulated by Graham Wallas, a social psychologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics who outlined the primary stages of the creative process in his 1926 book on creativity called The Art of Thought.

What are the 5 stages of creativity according to James Taylor? ›

After refining his craft and reading nearly every academic article based around creativity and its process, he has done creatives everywhere the favor of translating the answer into 5 bite-sized stages: Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Evaluation, and Elaboration.

What is the most important step in design thinking? ›

Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as design thinking because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs. It's time to accumulate the information gathered during the Empathize stage.

How do the 5 stages in strategic management process help the company? ›

It helps a company better align its strategic objectives and policies to achieve long-term success. The strategic management process framework typically involves setting clear goals, devising plans, aligning business activities and allocating resources to meet the objectives.

What is the most important skill of a design thinking leader? ›

“Design-thinking leaders know how to act as a catalyst for creativity.” Deeply understands the process of creative problem solving and knows how to act as a catalyst for creativity. Within the creative process, leaders should seek to be conduits, provocateurs, shepherds, and motivators.

What are the 5 best habits? ›

5 Habits You Should Adopt For A Successful Life
  • Wake Up Early. Waking up early might not be at the top of the list of things that make you happy. ...
  • Be a Self-Motivator. Whether you work for yourself or someone else, being self-motivated is a beneficial trait. ...
  • Set Daily Goals. ...
  • Be a Lifelong Learner. ...
  • Minimize Distractions.

What is an example of Habit 5? ›

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® is the habit of listening to other people's ideas and feelings. It's trying to see things from their viewpoints. I listen to others without interrupting.

What are the types of habit? ›

Habits are divided into three types depending upon the nature of activities.
  • Motor habits: These habits refer to muscular activities of an individual. ...
  • Intellectual habits: ...
  • Habits of character:

What are the 5 scientific Habits of Mind and why are they important? ›

The scientific habits of mind taught in FroSci include a range of quantitative reasoning skills and an understanding of the scientific process: basic statistics and probability, experimental design, sense of scale, calculating with units, back of the envelope calculations, feedback loops, and graph reading.

What are good habits of thinking? ›

Listening with understanding and empathy is paying close attention to what is being said beneath the words. It's about devoting mental energy to other people's thoughts and ideas, respecting the point of view of others, and trying to understand where they're coming from—or putting yourself in their shoes.

What are the 3 types of habits? ›

What I learned was that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your daily habits and these habits can be classified into three groups; productivity habits, physical habits and mental Habits.

What are the 7 steps to making a habit? ›

7 Steps to a new habit
  1. Make a decision. Decide clearly that you're going to begin acting in a specific way 100 percent of the time. ...
  2. Never allow an exception. Don't make exceptions to your new habit pattern during the formative stages. ...
  3. Tell others. ...
  4. Visualize yourself. ...
  5. Create an affirmation. ...
  6. Resolve to persist. ...
  7. Reward yourself.
6 Sept 2017

What are the 6 habits? ›

Hal Erod discovered the six morning habits that aid in productivity and performance at work. The six tactics can are known as SAVERS; Silence, Affirm, Visualize, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing.

What is design thinking skills? ›

Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving in which the practitioner seeks to understand a potential product or service's end user, including their goals, challenges, and aspirations. They then use that knowledge to conceive solutions. As a methodology, design thinking is meant to be iterative.

What is design thinking method? ›

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. Design thinking is an iterative process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions which you can prototype and test.

What is the purpose of design thinking? ›

While design thinking is an ideology based on designers' workflows for mapping out stages of design, its purpose is to provide all professionals with a standardized innovation process to develop creative solutions to problems—design-related or not.

What design means to you? ›

Generally speaking, it is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects, interactive systems, buildings, vehicles, etc. It user-centered, i.e. users are at the heart of the design thinking approach.

What are examples of design? ›

Typical examples of designs include architectural and engineering drawings, circuit diagrams, sewing patterns and less tangible artefacts such as business process models.

Why are good design skills important? ›

Design is more than just a form-giving aesthetic function. Having design skills mean you have the capability to transform and change businesses and organisations; humanise technology; and innovate systems and customer experiences.

How can I improve my design thinking? ›

There are certain ways you can follow to improve your design thinking ability.
  1. Study the Theoretical aspect.
  2. Research on Trends.
  3. Learn from the Experts.
  4. Learn the Principles.
  5. Increase your Observation power.
  6. Get some help.
  7. Collect Feedback.
  8. Train yourself.
14 Jun 2020

What is design thinking in real life? ›

Design Thinking involves creating an environment for yourself where you are not afraid of creating unique ideas, trying new things, and failing productively. Remember, Design Thinking is a mindset and culture.

How do we use design thinking in real life? ›

It can be used to deal with complex issues that are not properly defined or human needs are not known and can be applied in any field. Solving the complexity of human problems requires creative brainstorming, prototyping and testing.

What are the 6 design steps? ›

The Engineering Design Process includes six steps. For each step, click the button for an example of how engineers might go about designing a new car.
  • Step 1: State the Problem. ...
  • Step 2: Generate Ideas. ...
  • Step 3: Plan and Select a Solution. ...
  • Step 4: Build the Item. ...
  • Step 5: Evaluate. ...
  • Step 6: Present the Results.

What are the 6 fundamentals of design? ›

Start with the six principles of design: balance, pattern, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, and unity. Just as instructional design models and methodologies shape your training strategy, so should these principles shape your basic visual strategy. By applying them, you can create high-impact visuals.

What are the 4 orders of design? ›

  • How has design evolved? Richard Buchanan, in his ideas about Four Orders of Design theory, points out how design has changed over time in its overall scope; from a context of creating tangible things to accessing intangible change.
  • 1- Design of Symbols. ...
  • 2- Industrial Design. ...
  • 3- Design of Interactions. ...
  • 4- Design of Systems.
12 Nov 2019

What are the 7 element of design? ›

So these were the seven basic elements of design – form, shape, line, color, texture, typography, and space. These various elements can make your piece successful when used right.

What are 5 of the 9 principles of design? ›

The main principles of graphic design are balance, contrast, emphasis, repetition and pattern, proportion, movement, white space, unity, and variety.

What are the 7 elements of great design? ›

Seven of these essential elements of design are: line, color, shape, form, value, space, and texture.

What are the 8 key principles of design? ›

The eight principles of design every designer should know
  • Alignment. Making sure the elements of any design are aligned is essential. ...
  • Hierarchy. Hierarchy means putting your design's most important message or purpose front and center. ...
  • Contrast. ...
  • Repetition. ...
  • Proximity. ...
  • Balance. ...
  • Color. ...
  • Space.

What are the 4 design factors? ›

The four resultant product design dimensions are affective, cognitive, ergonomic and reflective.

What are the 10 main principles of design? ›

There are 10 principles of design in total! They're also known as the elements of visual design, and are: movement, balance, contrast, proportion, repetition, rhythm, variety, emphasis, harmony, and unity.


1. 5 HABITS that will make you a BETTER DESIGNER
(Andrea Tru)
2. The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant
(Motivational Summaries)
4. Stanford Webinar - The Achievement Habit: A Design Thinking Guide for Doers
(Stanford Online)
5. How to Get in the BEST SHAPE of Your Life in 2023 | Mind Pump 1967
(Mind Pump Show)
6. We Need to Talk About “Generational Curses”
(David Diga Hernandez)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Van Hayes

Last Updated: 02/25/2023

Views: 5645

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Van Hayes

Birthday: 1994-06-07

Address: 2004 Kling Rapid, New Destiny, MT 64658-2367

Phone: +512425013758

Job: National Farming Director

Hobby: Reading, Polo, Genealogy, amateur radio, Scouting, Stand-up comedy, Cryptography

Introduction: My name is Van Hayes, I am a thankful, friendly, smiling, calm, powerful, fine, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.