2 min read

The History of Design Thinking

The History of Design Thinking
Maggie Franz

Maggie Franz

A novel school of thought that’s not so new


While the concept of design thinking is new to many of us, myself included before coming to Idea Hunt, the school of thought isn’t quite so new.  Yes, companies around the world are implementing design thinking as a problem solving strategy as we speak, but it’s actually been around since the 1960’s.  

Design Thinking Then

Design Thinking came out of the creative engineering movement, where leading experts realized that there was a problem, with our problems. Let me explain a bit. Designers were being face with poorly designed problems. When you don’t have a clear starting point, finding an answer is like wandering through the clouds. You can come up with some pretty neat ideas as you wander around, but those run the risk of not acutely solving the problem, or not resonating with your customers.

As you’d expect with a name that contains the word engineering, design thinking was mainly used in new product development efforts. Designers would redefine a problem to better understand a customer pain point, frame is as a challenge or question with research to provide additional reference. Then as a group, they’d draft ideas for products that would fit the needs of their customers, prototype them, and when they worked, implement the new product.

While it clearly makes sense how one can use design thinking to develop new products and services, today it’s widely used to solve a variety of problems.

Design Thinking Now

If in the early stages design thinking was largely found in manufacturing industries, and in customer service departments, it is now found across a wide array of organizations and their departments. In a 2015 study, Parsons found that information and communication services providers were among the fastest growing adopters of design thinking methodologies, followed by other service based companies, and education. The study showed that companies in finance and insurance, arts and entertainment, construction, health and human services, and more are implementing this method of design based problem solving.

While more and more companies across different industries are adopting design thinking, those that create a cultural shift to fully embrace it are far and away more successful than those who limit it to a department or sector of their business model.  

The rapid and wide adoption of design thinking in recent years leads some experts to believe that confusion is building.  With so many people learning these methodologies in unstructured environments that could definitely be the case. Everyday there is new literature published showing yet another point of view, definition or experience with design thinking.

Become an Expert Yourself

Leverage professional templates for your design thinking process, gaining the skills and experience of experts in the field.  Each Idea Hunt Design Thinking Template, from Empathy Mapping to Roadmapping, has been carefully designed, tested and built for your team. Make workshops fun, engaging and drastically cut down the amount of time it takes to host them.   Learn more about our template pack here.

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