Design Thinking – Discussion 1


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • identify the types of problems that can be effectively solved using Design Thinking,
  • differentiate between the tools and mindsets for Design Thinking, and
  • articulate the differences and commonalities between Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile approaches

Solving problems with Design Thinking

First popularized by David Kelley, co-founder of the consultancy IDEO, Design Thinking is a broad term that includes specific mindsets, processes, and methods for solving complex problems. At its core, Design Thinking is a mindset focused on, and rooted in, empathy and understanding.

Design Thinking was inspired by the processes and methods employed by designers—meaning graphic designers, industrial designers, and other specialists within the broader design community—to solve the sorts of problems they encountered. The aim is to leverage insights from these methods to help solve a much broader range of problems across a wide variety of issue areas and contexts. Design Thinking is especially well-suited for challenges where the problem definition itself is vague, unclear, or not fully developed.

By adopting a mindset centred around understanding and empathy, Design Thinking practitioners see the world through the eyes of their users and customers, and use this insight to develop innovative solutions to the problems they face.

The textbook for this course, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, will introduce you to a range of cases where Design Thinking helped not only to reframe the problem at hand, but also to discover an innovative solution. In this sense, the course textbook is meant to serve as a source of inspiration, rather than providing a set of tools or instructions on how to implement Design Thinking processes. In other words, the book has been selected to complement the course curriculum and share real-world success stories of how a Design Thinking approach has helped solve complex problems.


As you work through the following readings and videos, start thinking about some of the problem-solving approaches—whether more analytical, best practice-based, or otherwise—that are currently used in your practice or organization. How might a Design Thinking mindset reduce risk and potentially create solutions that are better aligned to the needs of your users or customers?

The Mindsets vs. Methods of Design Thinking

While there exists no single, universally accepted definition of Design Thinking, it is useful to differentiate between the “mindsets” and “methods” of Design Thinking to help understand why it is effective and how to implement it in practice. Let’s consider each of these briefly in turn.

In order to get buy-in for Design Thinking inside of your organization (a topic we will explore in depth in our final module), you will need to shift the mindsets of your stakeholders. Some of the mindsets that are closely related to the practice of Design Thinking include:

  • empathy
  • curiosity
  • unconstrained thinking
  • openness to alternative viewpoints
  • willingness to learn
  • willingness to experiment and fail.

While this list could be much longer, these are some of the fundamental principles that inform the mindset of a Design Thinking practitioner.

The list of methods for implementing Design Thinking in practice is even longer; but some have emerged as indispensable for effectively leveraging Design Thinking’s potential. The following are some of the most important tools and techniques used in Design Thinking, organized according to the relevant stage of the Design Thinking process.

  • Understand/Empathize:
    • user journey maps
    • empathy maps
    • user interviews
    • surveys or other quantitative research methods
  • Problem Definition:
    • problem reframing
    • “How Might We” statements
  • Ideate:
    • brainstorming tools
    • challenge mapping
    • futures thinking
  • Prototype:
    • rapid prototyping
    • idea selection
    • dot voting/energy voting
  • Measure and Test:
    • usability testing
    • utility testing
    • split or A/B testing

We will be exploring several of these methods in more detail as the course progresses, and you will be given the chance to practice them yourself as part of your assignment.


As you begin to read through the first article below, start to think about how you’ve encountered Design Thinking in your career so far. Has it been presented as a hard-coded set of processes and tools or rather a philosophy/mindset around problem solving? Looking ahead to the final module of this course, when we explore gaining peer and stakeholder adoption for Design Thinking, it will help a great deal to understand the different ways in which to describe and position the approach.

Intersection with Lean and Agile approaches

Design Thinking is closely related to two other approaches: Lean (and in particular Lean Startup, a term coined by Eric Ries) and Agile. Let’s consider both of these briefly.

Lean Startup(hyperlink opens in a new tab) is an approach that was first developed by Eric Ries for the development of businesses and products with less waste. It involves a specific emphasis on what Ries calls validated learning, which he describes in the following way:

“Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high quality goods. The unit of progress for Lean Startups is validated learning—a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty. Once entrepreneurs embrace validated learning, the development process can shrink substantially. When you focus on figuring the right thing to build-the thing customers want and will pay for-you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company’s direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.”

(Ries, n.d.)

Agile was born out of the software development industry, and was first presented in what is known as the Agile Manifesto(hyperlink opens in a new tab), which reads as follows:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

(Beck et al., 2001)

Within the world of Agile, a number of specific processes/approaches have been developed, including Scrum, Kanban, XP (extreme programming), and others. What they all share in common is the adherence to the principles outlined in the manifesto.

While initially created for the software industry, Agile methods can be applied to just about every field, as is well captured in Jeff Sutherland’s book: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

Lean and Agile intersect with Design Thinking around the principles of iterative improvements based on user feedback, continuous learning, and an experimental mindset. By understanding how these three approaches relate to one another, practitioners are better suited to choose the right tools for specific types of problems. As you work through the study materials below, look for ways to adapt your thinking to be inclusive of these related methodologies.


These two articles first introduce how these three mental models relate to one another and then describe how the three can be integrated to support systems-level transformation.


Finish up this first module by posting to the corresponding discussion forum. In this graded activity, you will share a post related to the article you read in the Connect section at the beginning of the module.

To complete this activity, read the instructions and post in the discussion: Module 1 – Introduction to Design Thinking. To learn how to access and use the discussion forums, read Discussions under the Evaluations module.

Take Away

Now that you have completed this module, you have a better understanding of what Design Thinking is, and how the mindset or philosophy of Design Thinking relates to—and differentiates from—the tools, methods, and specific approaches used to implement it. You should also have a clear understanding of how Design Thinking intersects with other commonly associated topics including Agile and Lean Startup.

Design Thinking is a topic that is riddled with buzzwords; but by the end of this course, you will be able to cut through the jargon and recognize its full potential for solving complex problems!

Thank you for completing this module. Before moving forward, make sure you review the Module To-Do List to ensure that you have completed all learning activities.


To learn more about how your learning is graded in this course, review the Evaluations module. Due dates are listed in the Detailed Course Schedule in the About the Course module.

Coming Up

Now that you have an idea of what Design Thinking is about and how it relates to other aspects of the broader innovation field, it is time to begin putting theory into practice. In Module 2, we will begin to look at the Problem Definition stage, and will consider some methods for problem framing and creating point-of-view (POV) statements.


Beck, K et al. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved from

Lawson, S. (2014, Oct. 10). The Trouble with Design Thinking. Retrieved from

Gothelf, J. (2017, Dec. 14). How Blending Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking Will Transform Your Team. Retrieved from

Glaveski, S. (2017, Nov. 28). The Difference Between Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile. Retrieved from

Harvard Business Review. (2015, Aug. 25). The Explainer: Design Thinking [Video file]. Retrieved from

Ideo (n.d.). Design Kit: Mindsets. Retrieved from

Ideo (n.d.). Design Kit: Methods. Retrieved from

Kelley, D. (2012, March). How to build your creative confidence [Video file]. Retrieved from

Liedka, J. (2016, Jun. 19). Bringing design thinking into your business. Retrieved from

Maagensen, M. (2017, Oct. 16). Design Thinking as a Mindset. Retrieved from

Ries, E. (n.d.). The Lean Startup Methodology. Retrieved from

Sutherland, J. (2014, Sept. 30). Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. Currency.


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