Reframing design thinking

Names and definitions should carry immediate meaning, should be informative and universal. The term ‘Design thinking’ is neither of these.

If you’ve never heard of design thinking, it wouldn’t be easy for you to guess what it is.

Design thinking is:

  • Framing and (reframing) problems;
  • A process of innovation;
  • An ideation process (consisting of divergent and convergent thinking);
  • Prototyping and testing;
  • Inclusive (centred on humans);
  • Built on an empathic mindset.
Photo by Leon on Unsplash

A brief historical perspective

Decades ago, most of the decisions made around advertising, design and communication were driven by consumers and by the market. Gaps in the market were opportunities to take, but many companies would “supply the market with a continuos flow of crude and vulgar design”, as Massimo Vignelli defines it.

Technology would drive decisions and solutions too. But so many of these solutions weren’t actually solving anything. Shiny design to blind the masses and make them spend more money on new things they didn’t need (with money they didn’t have, to impress people they didn’t like).

Of course, these approaches are partially still in place (and I’m exaggerating) but they are so limited if used in isolation.

So, what’s new?

Design thinking brings two crucial changes:

  1. The critical process of understanding and creating is centred around people, not the market or technology;
  2. The key mindset adopted is empathy.

That’s why I believe that calling it Human-Centred Design or Empathic Design makes sense.

If you’ve never heard of design thinking and someone tells you it’s a synonym of Human-Centred Design or Empathic Design, would you guess what it is?



A collection of brief articles about communication and creativity.

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