Design Thinking & Innovation

What is Design Thinking does it
include Innovation?

What is innovation?

Innovation is defined and understood in many ways.  Literature on innovation provides several definitions. In 2009, Baregheh et al. listed approximately 60 definitions in various papers.  Baragheh et al. arrived at the following definition in  their attempts to define it:  “Innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into new/improved products, services or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace.”  (Baregheh, A., Rowley, J., & Sambrook, S, 2009)

The following definition given by Crossan and Apaydin was considered to be the most complete, which builds on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) manual’s definition:  “Innovation is production or adoption, assimilation, and exploitation of a value-added novelty in economic and social spheres; renewal and enlargement of products, services, and markets; development of new methods of production; and the establishment of new management systems. It is both a process and an outcome.”  (Edison, H., Ali, N. B., & Torkar, R, 2013). 

Influential scholar Everett Rogers whose book Diffusion of Innovations,  guides many scholars and the lean startup movement, defines it as follows:  “An idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption”  (Rogers, E. M, 2003).  

According to Kanter, innovation includes ‘original invention and creative use and defines innovation as a generation, admission and realization of new ideas, products, services and processes’.  (Innovation in the American government, n.d.)

Two main dimensions of innovation were degree of [novelty] (i.e. whether an innovation is new to the firm, new to the market, new to the industry, or new to the world) and kind of innovation (i.e. whether it is a processor product-service system innovation). (Edison, H., Ali, N. B., & Torkar, R, 2013).  

Peter Drucker wrote: Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution, or a new venture started by a lone individual in the family kitchen. It is the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.”  (Drucker, P. F, 1998).  

Another greatly respected academic, economist and writer on innovation, Joseph Schumpeter states that entrepreneurs will seek to use innovation to seek competitive advantage and expect to make ‘monopoly profits’, until of course others enter that market and eat away at those profits.  Over time he maintains an equilibrium is reached and so the cycle repeats itself.  Shumpeter speaks of ‘creative destruction’ as each new innovation destroys the old rules of the game and establishes new ones. (Schumpeter, J, 2013)

So, what is Design Thinking then?

Design Thinking uses Human-centered approaches, methods, and tools to investigate problems and generate innovative solutions. Design Thinking is a method to achieve innovation in your business.

Tools such as the canvas depicted here, are used extensively to move participants to a more collaborative, inclusive, and creative thinking process, as they investigate trends, markets, competitors and the company itself.

You start from what people, users, customers,  consumers, (…) need or want to do. Their motivations and the problems they are trying to solve. Key elements include:
> People-centered
> Highly creative
> Hands-on
> Iterative

The design thinking mindset

Tim Brown from IDEO, the world’s most respected design thinking lab alongside  Stanford’s (which is part of Stanford), writes the following;   Design thinking uses creative activities to foster collaboration and solve problems in human-centered ways. We adopt a “beginner’s mind,” with the intent to remain open and curious, to assume nothing, and to see ambiguity as an opportunity.  

To think like a designer requires dreaming up wild ideas, taking time to tinker and test, and being willing to fail early and often. The designer’s mindset embraces empathy, optimism, iteration, creativity, and ambiguity. And most critically, design thinking keeps people at the center of every process. A human-centered designer knows that as long as you stay focused on the people you’re designing for—and listen to them directly—you can arrive at optimal solutions that meet their needs.  Anyone can approach the world like a designer.  (IDEO Design Thinking. n.d.)

Throughout this process, we are reminded to remain curious, focus on the people, accept complexity, visualize and experiment constantly in our approach and mindset.

Figure 11 The design thinking mindset

Source: Lewrick, M., Link, P., Leifer, L. J., & Langensand, N. (2018)

How does Design Thinking work?

The design thinking methods follow a process first identified by Stanford University’s famous, as shown below, which has been adapted internationally many times subsequently:

Stanford’s Design Thinking process

The design council developed this double diamond approach illustrated below:

The Design Council’s  Design Thinking process

Design Council’s Double Diamond, img source:

Another design thinking interpretation is offered by Dane Nesslar  as he provides detail within the double diamonds in the figure below:

Dan Nessar’s Design Thinking process

Lastly, the figure below, depicts the method of practicing design thinking by Lewrick, M, (2020) based on Stanford’s model:

Figure 7 Lewrick, M,  Design Thinking process

Source:  Lewrick, M., Link, P., & Leifer, L. J. (2020)

Although they seem different at first glance, these methods for practicing design thinking all have the same approach of focussing on the ‘problem space’ and clarifying the problem before moving to the ‘solution space’ where products and services are built, as depicted in the double diamond.  These methods can be compared as follows the table below:  

Comparison  of design thinking methods

You will note that the two diamond shapes are very popular in design thinking.  The Double Diamond is a structured design approach to tackle challenges in four phases as depicted below:


  1. Understand/Discover/Research — insight into the problem (diverging)
  2. Define/Synthesis — the area to focus upon (converging)


  1. Ideate/Develop — potential solutions (diverging)
  2. Prototype/Deliver /Implementation — solutions that work (converging)

Design thinking double diamond

Phases of this process are either diverging or converging.  In the divergent phase, you try to open up as much as possible without limiting yourself, we allow our thoughts to drift and explore many options, open to any suggestions.  This is followed by a convergent phase which will narrow down and synthesize findings, making sense of them perhaps in a more analytical approach, it focuses on condensing and narrowing your findings and insights.  It is important to engage both the divergent and convergent processes, as they will utilize various parts of our brain’s critical thinking and creative abilities, proven to contribute toward better ideas and solutions. You will be challenged to remove from logic and deductive thinking to abductive thinking patterns.

The PROBLEM and SOLUTIONS SPACES can be explained as follows:

  • PROBLEM SPACE – In this space, we are only interested in understanding the problem and challenge we have chosen. This space includes primary and secondary research and the resultant insights which need to be assessed and placed into themes for assessment.  We seek to better understand the problem and refine it to a point where we have an actionable problem statement.  It is important to resist providing solutions until this problem statement is clarified.
  • SOLUTION SPACE – Only once we have clearly defined problem statements do we begin with our solution space which includes idea generation, prototyping and testing.  


Once we adopt the Design Thinking principles, methods, tools and process, we embark on a new journey of innovation and discovery, followed by viability and prototype testing. The Design Thinking approach is used all over the globe by the world’s most respected companies and organizations.

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