Design Thinking in a nutshell

some thoughts and pictures from the world of design thinking

Chris Lennon
3 min readMay 8, 2020
artwork by Arty Crafty Kids

What is design thinking?

design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.


The People

Design thinking has been described as a global conversation, and it’s a conversation with some deep and inter-twining roots. In the spirit of a ‘nutshell’ summary I will list only three of the many key players in this conversation.

R Buckminster Fuller — Image

R Buckminster Fuller (1895 –1983) was an American architect, designer and futurist who over the course of a generation espoused a confidence that design could positively impact humanity. Although Fuller would have been more familiar with the term ‘Design Science’, his creativity was a spark that ignited many of the design thinking innovations that businesses today are beginning to embrace.

David Kelley entrepreneur, designer, engineer, and teacher Kelley played a founding role in the birth of the Stanford University d-school, creators of a well-known design thinking process (illustrated later in this article), and IDEO, a global design company credited with coining and popularizing the phrase ‘Design Thinking’. Many design thinking concepts like the Desirable | Feasible | Viable model illustrated below bear the fingerprints of David Kelley and IDEO

David Kelley Founder of IDEO and Stanford University’s d-school
the sweet spot of design thinking. Source: IDEO

The embracing of Design Thinking by tech giant Google has further brought design thinking into the business and technology mainstream. Google Ventures have themselves contributed significantly to the Design Thinking body of knowledge with the release of Jake Knapp’s Sprint

For a fuller history of design thinking, as well as some great imagery have a read of this blog post

The principles

Various design systems principles have been described. A 2015 HBR article Design Thinking Comes of Age distills 5 principles from the Design Thinking body of knowledge:

  • Focus on users’ experiences, especially their emotional ones.
  • Create models to examine complex problems.
  • Use prototypes to explore potential solutions.
  • Tolerate failure.
  • Exhibit thoughtful restraint.

The Process

The most well known design thinking process comes from Stanford University’s d-school. The phases are drawn as adjoining hexagons, making the point that this is not a linear step-by-step process, rather a fluid and creative process.

Image credit: stanford university d-school

The Practices

Many practices have sprung from the rich soil of Design Thinking; three of the most well-know are shown below. In keeping with the spirit of a blog about design, I will simply let the pictures tell their thousand words.

Empathy Mapping

Image Nielsen Norman Group

Customer Journey Mapping

Image Nielsen Norman Group

Design Sprint

Image Credit: Google Ventures



Chris Lennon

Agile coach. Ways of Working researcher. I live in beautiful New Zealand and work for Spark. I am also the founder of a start up — Views are my own.