Why Design Thinking is Relevant

“Design thinking is not a linear path. It’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.”
—David Kelley, Founder of IDEO


As founder of IDEO, for over 30 years David Kelley has been tackling complex problems using design. We sat down with David and IDEO U Managing Director, Coe Leta Stafford, to discuss why design thinking is more relevant now than ever. 

At times it looks a lot like common sense, but thinking like a designer is more difficult than it seems. In many ways, design thinking is about having a methodology that helps you feel comfortable wading into the messy complexity of creating something new to the world. The better you get at it, the more you’ll build creative confidence to take on bigger challenges.

So, why is design thinking relevant to the challenges we’re facing today?

Design Thinking Builds Creative Confidence

With time and practice, the methods and mindsets of design thinking will lead you to something even more important—creative confidence. The subtle techniques of design thinking can unlock mindset shifts that lead people (many for the first time in their lives) to see themselves as creative. You come to a place where you understand what’s going on and you believe you can set out to do what you want to do—and that’s creative confidence. It’s the opposite of insecurity.

Creative confidence gives people the ability to navigate ambiguity. By building on the foundations of design thinking, it makes people capable of solving these complex problems in the world.

Design Thinking is Here to Stay

The impact of design thinking will continue to become more evident and accepted in the same way the scientific method is a widely adopted approach. Design has moved from the kid’s table to the board room with C-level executives recognizing creativity’s role in strategy. For example,  a global IBM survey of over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries found that executives believe that beyond rigor, management discipline, integrity, or even vision, successfully navigating an increasingly complex world requires creativity. From Fortune 500 companies to universities, we envision a future where design thinking is a common part of company and school curriculums.


Design Thinking is Not a Cookbook

There’s a notion about design thinking that it’s a cookbook where the answer falls out the end. But the truth is it’s messier than that. As you go along, even if you’re not getting anywhere, if you haven’t unlocked new insight or if the prototype hasn’t unlocked a clear path that everyone agrees on, you have to stay there. Design thinking is not a linear path. It’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.

There’s also confusion around knowing how to navigate divergent and convergent thinking. There’s skill in knowing when a team is stuck and that’s a moment to diverge—let’s go out and get inspired, let’s think a little different. When are moments in the process you need to think differently? It takes practice knowing when in this messy process to give yourself permission to diverge and when and how to creatively converge. The bad news is you do actually need to have the insight to make creative leaps to a new place.

Every day there are new ways to think about and apply design thinking. If you’re new to design thinking and looking for an introduction, check out our latest class, Hello Design Thinking.

Interested in more design thinking information? Check out our Design Thinking Overview page and Design Thinking Resources page.

David on Design Thinking Webinar Chapters

(2:40) David's Story

(5:00) Introducing Hello Design Thinking

(18:26) An Interactive Lesson

(27:18) Q&A

(27:29) Prototyping at IDEO

(34:16) Misunderstandings of Design Thinking

(38:23) Design Thinking Related to Innovation

(41:58) Future of Design Thinking

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