Core Capacities of Design Thinkers

Below are some of my initial thoughts of what the core capacities of a design thinker are.

Design thinking is a process that allows for novel solutions to wicked problems, that is, problems that don’t have definite solutions. In fact the design thinking process can unearth problems that are not even recognised. Tim Brown, from IDEO, outlines 5 important characteristics of Designers:

 Empathy:  Imagining the world from multiple perspectives with a ‘people first’ approach. In the educational context this might involve imagining the experiences of students, teachers, support staff, parents, and visitors.

 Integrative thinking: the ability to see the salient aspects of confounding problems and create novel solutions. This can involve considering contradictions as possible solutions to problems are explored.

 Optimism: the belief that a possible solution, no matter how challenging the constraints are, is better than existing alternatives.

 Experimentalism: Constraints are explored in creative ways through posing questions resulting in new directions being taken.

 Collaboration: Enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborations are undertaken to get as broad a take on a given service, product, experience etc, as possible.

 (Brown, T. 2008)

In order for the design thinker to use the attributes outlined above it is important that they realise that the process is not linear, though a linear representation as shown below is helpful.


The image above shows various aspects of the design thinking process but in reality the process involves a team jumping back and forth between these aspects. The diagram below usefully shows this with fluid lines drawn between the different aspects of the process. Also the ‘Empathise’ aspect shown above is broken into two parts, ‘understand’ and ‘observe’ in the process depicted below. Also the ‘point of view’ aspect shown below encompasses the ‘define’ aspect above. Questions of “How might we…” take the design thinker from the ‘define’ or ‘point of view’ (POV) to the ‘ideate’ stage of the process (‘An introduction to design thinking’ – dschool).

design thinking process

(Carroll, Goldman, Britos, & Koh, 2010)

To function as a design thinker the above process must be understood and carried out. More on this will follow….

 Carroll, M., Goldman, S., Britos, L., Koh, J., Royalty, A., & Hornstein, M. (2010). Destination, Imagination and the Fires Within: Design Thinking in a Middle School Classroom. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 37-53.

 Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking, Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 84-92. Retrieved from:

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