Design Thinking vs Traditional Thinking

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In this post, we’ll explore the differences between Design Thinking and Traditional thinking.

Let’s get started.

How Is Design Thinking Different From Traditional Thinking?

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that is often used in fields such as design, engineering and business.

Unlike traditional thinking methods, which are more analytical and linear, design thinking is more relational and fluid.

It allows for different ideas to be explored and combined until a solution is found. This makes it an ideal approach for solving complex problems.

Traditional thinking is a linear approach to problem solving that relies on a structured process of analysis and decision making in order to deliver a solution that is viable and feasible.

The process is heavily focused on delivering solutions based on an expert’s analysis of the problem. It goes hand in hand with the waterfall method of delivery which is a linear process of gathering requirements, exploring ideas, and building solutions.

In contrast, Design Thinking is an iterative approach to problem solving that relies on observing human behavior, asking questions, and exploring a range of solutions that are viable, feasible, and desirable.

The process is heavily focused on understanding customers’ needs. It goes hand in hand with the agile method of delivery which is an iterative process of building solutions incrementally while simultaneously experimenting, testing, and learning.

Design Thinking vs Traditional Thinking

Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving that is well suited to ill-defined or complex human problems.

Traditional problem solving approaches focus on the needs of the business and are well-suited to well-defined technical problems.

Here are the differences between Design Thinking and Traditional Thinking:

Design Thinking

  1. Focused on the needs of the user
  2. Well suited to ill-defined or complex human problems
  3. Starts with observation and explores solutions
  4. An iterative process
  5. Involves brainstorming and collaboration
  6. Flexible and open to change
  7. Relies on divergent thinking and creativity
  8. Goes hand in hand with agile management methods
  9. Relies on creativity, collaboration, and diversity
  10. It’s about innovation
  11. Reduces risk by embracing learning and change
  12. Encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
  13. It’s about making things better for humans
  14. Focused on the future
  15. Explores potential futures
  16. Open-ended and fluid
  17. Great for new products and services

Traditional Thinking

  1. Focused on the needs of the business
  2. Well suited to well-defined technical problems
  3. Starts with a problem and builds a solution
  4. A linear process
  5. Relies on analysis and decision making
  6. Relies on critical thinking
  7. Rigid and resistant to change.
  8. Goes hand in hand with waterfall management methods
  9. Relies on analysis, decision making, and specialists
  10. It’s about efficiency
  11. Often requires large upfront investments
  12. Relies on proven methods and solutions
  13. It’s about making things work
  14. Focused on the past or present
  15. Analyzes existing problems
  16. Focused and structured
  17. Great for solving specific functional problems

Is Design Thinking Better Than Traditional Thinking?

Design Thinking is a newer approach compared to traditional thinking, and it has the potential to help organizations solve complex problems more effectively.

Design Thinking is a form of human centered design that focuses on understanding user needs and developing solutions that are tailored to meet those needs. This helps create innovative products, services, and experiences that are more likely to be successful in the marketplace.

Traditional thinking tends to follow a predefined process focused on achieving a predetermined end result.

The Design Thinking process is fluid, collaborative, and focused on understanding people and their needs.

The Design Thinking methodology encourages collaboration between strategy, design, and technology teams for a holistic approach that puts the needs of people at the center of all decisions.

Ultimately, whether or not Design Thinking is better than traditional thinking depends on what you’re trying to achieve as both approaches have their own strengths and weaknesses.

However, many organizations are finding that Design Thinking is a more effective approach to creating successful products, services, and experiences.

What Are the Benefits of Design Thinking?

The benefits of Design Thinking over the traditional approach are numerous.

Firstly, it allows for a more creative and user-focused approach to problem-solving as it encourages collaboration with customers and the community that you’re designing for.

It also encourages a process of iteration, whereby problems can be solved in stages through continuous improvement and feedback from users. This iterative approach is more likely to result in a successful product or service that meets the needs of its users.

Additionally, the use of prototyping techniques helps to quickly test out ideas before further development takes place so that resources are not wasted on solutions that may not be suitable.

Ultimately, Design Thinking provides an effective way for organizations to solve complex problems in order to create innovative products and services that meet the needs of their users.

The end result is that companies are able to create more successful products and services, while also providing a better overall user experience.

The Design Thinking approach can help organizations stay competitive and increase customer satisfaction by creating unique solutions that solve real problems.

As such, companies should consider investing in the use of Design Thinking over traditional problem solving methods for maximum benefit.

What Are the Limitations of Design Thinking?

Design Thinking isn’t a silver bullet.

Although it’s portrayed as a simple path to innovation that anyone can follow, it requires deep expertise and experience to execute effectively.

It requires research, and engagement with the people that you’re designing for, as well as collaboration with a diverse group of people.

If you have a small team and a small budget, it can be costly to invest in research upfront, although in reality, it’s an investment in reducing the risk further down the line since you’re basing your decisions on evidence and increasing your chances of creating a valuable outcome.

In addition, it’s important to recognize that Design Thinking is not a replacement for traditional methods. It’s an approach that complements and enhances those methods, but it should always be used in the correct context.

Ultimately, if done effectively, the combination of traditional problem solving techniques with Design Thinking can help organizations develop innovative solutions more quickly and effectively.

What Are the Criticisms of Design Thinking?

Design skills are hard earned over decades of education and experience that make designers the extremely valuable members of the team that they are.

One of the main criticisms of Design Thinking is that it reduces the complexity and depth of the designers skills into an ‘anyone can do it’ set of templates and exercises.

Design Thinking can oversimplify the design process to a point that it creates the perception that a designer’s skills are less specialist than they once were.

In fact, Design Thinking does require skill to practice effectively and should be planned and facilitated by a skilled design thinker, member of the design team, or someone practiced with the innovation mindset and toolbox.

Some people argue that design thinking does not always produce successful results and that it is not suitable for every type of problem. Failure in Design Thinking is often a consequence of the design process being implemented without expertise.

Additionally, some managers may prefer traditional methods as they give a greater sense of control over the outcome and are more aligned with traditional management techniques and forecasting tools.

Design Thinking is iterative and open-ended, which can lead to confusion among team members about their roles and objectives.

Furthermore, design thinking often requires a lot of trial and error, which can be costly for businesses in terms of time and resources when it doesn’t produce successful outcomes.

Despite these criticisms, design thinking remains a popular approach for solving complex problems due to its many advantages.

It is clear that design thinking has the potential to bring significant benefits to businesses that are looking to create innovative solutions that meet user needs.

By encouraging collaboration between different teams and using an iterative process of prototyping and feedback, design thinking enables businesses to quickly test out ideas before investing heavily in development.

Ultimately, this approach can lead to more successful products and services, increased customer satisfaction, and a competitive edge in the marketplace.

When Is It Best to Apply Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is effective in helping teams better understand user needs by providing insights into how people actually use and interact with products.

Therefore, it’s best used for projects that involve complex problem solving in relation to human needs and behaviors, such as the development of new products and services or the improvement of existing ones.

Design Thinking is particularly valuable when businesses need to innovate quickly in order to stay ahead of their competitors and respond effectively to changing customer demands.

Additionally, it’s an excellent way to uncover untapped opportunities and create value for users without having to invest heavily in research and development over an extended period.

In summary, Design Thinking is ideal for creative problem solving, improving user experience, and staying ahead of the competition. This makes it an invaluable tool for any organization looking to remain competitive and build successful products that customers love.

How Do You Get Started With Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a process that involves breaking down complex problems and finding innovative solutions through experimentation.

To get started, it’s important to understand the process and develop a framework that works for your team.

There are many frameworks and design thinking techniques for you to choose from, including:

  • The Double Diamond by The Design Council
  • The Design Sprint by Jake Knapp and Google Ventures
  • The IDEO model by David Kelley

The first step is to gain an understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, map out user needs, and define how these needs can be met.

Then it’s time to start ideation, and building a prototype, to test and refine ideas until you have a successful creative solution.

To ensure success in Design Thinking, it’s important to create an environment that encourages collaboration between different teams and welcomes experimentation.

An open atmosphere enables new ideas to surface quickly and feedback can be used constructively to make improvements.

Additionally, having dedicated design thinkers and facilitators will help keep the momentum going throughout the process.

By following this approach, teams can rapidly innovate solutions that meet user needs, gain valuable insights from the process, and remain competitive in their market.

With the right tools and resources, design thinking can become an invaluable part of any organization’s innovation strategy, digital transformation or product development process.


Design Thinking offers a powerful approach to problem solving that is better suited to today’s complex and rapidly changing environment than traditional methods.

It allows teams to go beyond simply understanding problems, by leveraging user insights and experimentation in order to develop innovative solutions that meet user needs.

This process also helps identify untapped opportunities and possible solutions for businesses, giving them a competitive edge in the marketplace. Ultimately, Design Thinking can be an invaluable tool for any organization looking to remain competitive and build successful products that customers love.

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Jack O'Donoghue Avatar