What is Design Thinking?

What is Design Thinking?

Design is often used as a term to describe an object or result. Yet, in a more potent form, design is a process.

Design Thinking gained traction in 2008, when Tim Brown, back then the CEO of design agency IDEO, described Design Thinking in an Harvard Business Review article as following:

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 tech, and the requirements for business success.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

In this series, I demonstrate and explain how we use Design Thinking at Quirqie.

Design Thinking lends itself to answering challenges that are ‘wicked’, complex, or ill-defined. While the name might suggest otherwise, Design Thinking is accessible and applicable to all professions and industries.

Unique to Design Thinking is the emphasis placed on testing assumptions and findings. Testing is done, among other things, by designers empathizing with the one being designed for, reframing the challenge, and rapid prototyping. These are all attempts of designers to discover answers that they might have overlooked with their initial level of understanding.

How does Design Thinking work?

There are a lot of Design Thinking variants out there. Yet, most of them stem from the original concept of Design Thinking as presented by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in the ‘The Sciences of the Artificial’ in 1996.

At Quirqie, we use Design Thinking in the form of our 6-phase design sprint. Our approach is based on a combination of modern design sprints and Stanford’s ‘d.school’ approach to Design Thinking.







The Design Thinking process has no specific order. It is common for design teams to repeat phases and run them in parallel. Therefore, do not think of the phases as a step-by-step process.

Quirqie Design Sprint Framework

A Critical Note.

Design Thinking is a powerful approach to create user-centered answers to problems. Yet, even Design Thinking has its limits. It is argued Design Thinking is incapable of coming to radical innovations.

The first argument refers to the questions that are asked in Design Thinking methods, the “How” questions.

– “How might we encourage people to eat more vegetables?”
– “How might we inspire students to read more books in their free time?”

These questions enforce the meaning that people assign to a product, rather than challenge it. Design Thinking encourages a focus on finding solutions that answer “how” something can better fulfill its current role. Yet, restricts designers to explore new ways of “why” products could be meaningful to people.

The second argument refers to the extent to which designers empathize with the people they are designing for. While full immersion can inform the process of designing products that answer the needs of people, it can also trap designers to operate in the space of solutions that people relate to and are familiar with.

Design Thinking is a powerful mindset and collection of tools, but the approach does not suit the goal of coming up with something radical. Results and innovations of Design Thinking come from the market, but do not create markets themselves. One interesting approach we make use of at Quirqie aims to change the rules of competition by pushing radical innovations is Design-Driven Innovation.

Click here to read our thoughts on Design-Driven Innovation.

Olivier Wouters

Olivier grew up in a design office. The designers and architects there showed him how to use design to innovate. In 2016 he graduated as MSc Information Studies: Human Centered Multimedia at the University of Amsterdam. He since specialised in Design Thinking and Meaning-Driven Innovation.