Definition of design thinking

At the beginning of the 20th century design was principally about communication (graphic design) and artifacts (industrial design). As the century drew to a close, more and more designers were working on the design of interactions, often, but not always, involving computers and other systems.

Recently design skills have been applied to solving problems at the level of organisations and society. In response to the need for a new term to describe these broader applications of design some have used the phrase “design thinking”. It is meant to suggest that while many of the skills that designers have developed are relevant, the problems are not within their exclusive area as traditionally defined. Some people have issues with the phrase in that it de-emphasises the important making aspect of design, reducing it to a cognitive process.

Among other things, design thinking calls for reframing problems (how the problem is described) to find solutions that others have overlooked.


In the 1950s, most people who were trying to speed up oceanic shipping were focused on the time it took to move cargo across the ocean. By improving the ship’s engines or the shape of its hull they were sometimes able to take hours or days off for each crossing. Malcolm McLean, owner of a trucking company, recast the problem to focus on the time it took to move cargo on and off ships. His innovation, container shipping, eventually reduced cargo’s total time in transit by weeks rather than hours or days. [1]

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