We never talk about engineering thinking (just engineering) or scientific thinking (at best maybe the scientific method). So why do we talk about design thinking? Following this logic, we should talk about design, not design thinking. Maybe was introduced to distinguish from the more common use of design referring to how something looks, it’s appearance.
At the moment when we talk about design thinking, we talk about a set of tools and methods. Interaction-design.org defines it as ‘a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test” and consists of 5 phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Most importantly, it is a process that us especially useful when the problem is ill-defined or unknown (typically wicked problems).
Although this is all true, there is one aspect of design thinking that is either too obvious it does not need any special mention or that is overlooked. It’s a little like the vintage advertisements for the Citroën 2CV; “ceci n’est une voiture….c’est un art de vivre“
Kees Overbeeke first explained me the difference between how engineers work compared to how designers work, after reading the dutch book; “Kleine methodologie voor ontwerpend onderzoek” (1992) by Taeke de Jong. Kees’ summary was simple; engineers create a solution after understanding a problem whereas designers create a solution with the purpose of understanding the problem.
What makes design thinking special is that it takes you through the process of designing and further refining solutions based on a progressive understanding of the problem. IMHO, unless you understand this, Design Thinking lacks purpose and is reduced to a bunch activities.