I've been hearing a lot of talk about "Design Thinking" as a "thing" but every time I look up information on it, it seems to be exactly what we do in UX design but just in other areas.

A definition floating out there is "Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be, and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer)."

An additional article in Forbes that talks about it and sounds exactly like UX. http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2015/05/10/what-is-design-thinking/

Again, sounds pretty much like what we do in UX. Am I missing the point? Have any of you dealt with this or had thoughts on differences/similarities between UX and Design Thinking?

  • I am just wondering what would be gained if this question is answered? They are just names of processes which are not finite but evolve in different ways under different contexts... it seems that your question brings up the more generic question should we really care of creating more and more names? Nov 22, 2015 at 19:20
  • I think that's part of what I was trying to clarify as well. If we already perform UX duties, aren't we already in the "Design Thinking" arena or more specifically, you see companies now hiring "design thinking experts, would we fall into that category or is it a whole new ballgame or just taking what we do to a higher level? There's a very blurry line between the two and was trying to see if others had some answers that might sharpen this a bit.
    – Charles
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:28

12 Answers 12


User Experience Design shares a lot in common with Design Thinking. e.g. understanding the users using research methods, ideation, rapid prototyping, testing with users. The differences are subtle. Design thinking is more systems-level and deals more with "wicked problems". It is more suited to service design scenarios. It is also more about the creative process and validating ideas before they are implemented in the real-world where implementing the wrong product or service can have dire consequences. Finally, the creative process is done in a group with multiple stakeholders present at the same time. The shared understanding happens synchronously. UX often goes further into the details of the design, like human/computer interfaces, graphics design, interactions, and a whole lot more.

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References: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

  • 4
    UX isn't different. UX can be used for, what you called, "wicked problems." UX is there to solve problems no matter how simple or complex they are. It is to create the best user experience possible, no matter what the context is.
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 16, 2015 at 19:45
  • Wicked Problems introduced by Melvin Webber in 1973 is a formal definition for a specific category of problems. As you have mentioned @Majo0od UX is used to solve problems with varying complexity, nevertheless when dealing with "Wicked Problems" it's often very difficult to capture all the variables and interdependencies that frequently change making it almost impossible to be solved, it is claimed that Design Thinking is a strong approach to solving such problems since it's a well defined process whereas in UX you will not be able to find a single agreed upon process that defines it.
    – UX Labs
    Oct 8, 2018 at 1:02

Design Thinking is starting with a problem (e.g. people want to read more, but don't have time) and looking for a valid solution (e.g. audiobooks).

User experience is starting from a solution (e.g. audiobooks) and making that work in a user context (e.g. we need an android app that integrates with Google Home to read our audiobooks)

In business speak: Design Thinking= the 'what' User Experience= the 'how'

  • So far, the most clear definition I ever read about Design Thinking and UX Feb 13, 2017 at 14:43

Design Thinking is very much part of UX with a specific focus. It is about user/customer empathy from a business perspective, asking the question "What if...?". What if we focus our business or products in another area where we are not today - pushing the boundaries of the current business, but from a user-centric point of view and using this view to define where products and services should go and also to drive architectural changes. The customer/user journeys play an essential part of this, not just the DT concepts that are generated. This of course is what UX and Service Design is about, but the DT approach tends to be a lot easier for CxO level business leaders to understand.


The biggest difference I've seen between a 'UX' or human-centered design (HCD) (aka 'user-centered') process and 'Design Thinking' in my consulting practice (which I've been doing since 1993) is this:

  1. UX folks constantly link back with users to triangulate on the problem/issue, then to iteratively design with users starting at early low-fi prototypes and moving to higher and higher fidelity prototypes using a variety of HCD/usability methods. We focus on actual behavior (as opposed to expressed likes/dislikes) and the whole process is extremely iterative and human-centered.

  2. Design Thinking (as usually described and as I have seen it practiced) begins with a deep dive to "understand" users, needs, and context and uses these as stimuli to ideation by designers, who then go on to design using their design skills, intuition, and (in some cases) formal analysis of information gathered in the deep dive. In my experience, peoople using Design Thinking methods do not link back to users - certainly not during design and rarely at the end to assess summative usability.

Design Thinking can be a good place to start with a team because it's typically something teams know about, but I'd then add in the more typical UX methods, tools and (most importantly)mindset.


I would say Design Thinking evolved out of principles of UX Design or Design in general.

The story of how IDEO (especially Tom Kelley, David Kelley and Tim Cook) came up with the concept of Design Thinking might be quite useful here.

IDEO is an international design firm started of as a traditional product/service design firm. But, around the turn of the century, they found that their clients reached out to them for solving problems such as organizational design, business, marketing issues in the company - problems which does not come under any traditional purview of Design. The reason for that is because designers have a different approach to problem solving(more human-centered, behavior-focused etc) and sometimes they were able to come up with very innovative solutions and perspectives to problems outside of traditional "design".

Hence, IDEO decided to term the application of design principles as a general problem solving framework as Design Thinking.


If USER exist and we are talking about User's experience - all solutions/terms/ technical or business jargons are part of UX umberala.

Design thinking is all about thought process which suggest u should consider UX when there is talk about user and their experience(UX).


It's just semantics. Both are '' design''. Those kind of terms only confuse more. If you want to explain what you do, you better be explaining the process in detail with concrete examples rather than only '' duh I do desagne sinking ''


Don't be confuse with these both terms. UX - a process of design in which we consider each phase to be done properly to provide a best user experience. user is more focused in this.

Design Thinking- you can consider it a part of UX design process when you get stuck on a wicked(complex) problem then it come into play, in design thinking you solve a problem by using design thinking process (Empathize, Analyse, Solve, Test)

Both are euivalent in term of providing a good user experience


Design Thinking is the attempt to democratise UX. That's why it looks like UX to UXers, albeit a less effective and outdated version. If it continues to evolve, eventually it will mature into UX and then we'll all be back where we all started but there will be a team of people doing UX instead of a single, cheaper, more expert UXer

  • 1
    "Democratize" What do you mean by this?
    – Mayo
    Oct 15, 2020 at 19:58

Design thinking is a method to find out the solution for the problem statement encountered.It involves various modes as well as methods which helps in drilling down deep into various areas and reach specific goals.


What you have said is partially true, but perhaps some clarification here might help you work out where to draw the line.

User Experience Design is a particular approach to Design that is an amalgamation of methodologies and techniques from a number of different disciplines.

Design Thinking is a particular approach to Thinking that has been developed to enhance design related activities, which also combines a number of different concepts and methodologies.

Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people who are UX designer employ design thinking techniques, or people who are design thinking practitioners involved in UX design activities. The difference probably comes down to semantics or how you would like to draw the Venn diagrams, but essentially they are not really constrained to a particular field or discipline because they are the implementation of abstract concepts to help with a particular approach to do something.

In fact, you will also find many similarities and overlaps if you look at many of the tools and methodologies used in Agile methodologies and practices, because they are also aimed at solving problems in a similar way or in related domains.

So when you commented that

I've been hearing a lot of talk about "Design Thinking" as a "thing" but every time I look up information on it, it seems to be exactly what we do in UX design but just in other areas.

It is quite true, and you'll find people who are very knowledgeable practitioners of Agile methodologies also doing very similar things (aside from all the other activities related to software development rather than design).

However, the major difference between the two is that UX Design also incorporates many aspects of the design process (in terms of an actual product or service) whereas design thinking is aimed at more of the conceptualization and research activities in the earlier phases of UX Design.

I hope this helps to make some distinction between what can be conceived as two very similar concepts and approaches used in modern software design and development.


Sometimes, we create totally new ideas and present them to users for feedback. This is part of UX work. However, when something is really new... creative vs innovative... then we need to do Design Thinking to define the "art of the possible" and the "art of the practical" vs the "needs and wants of a user".

Example: if you were designing a faster-than-light drive, you could ask the head of NASA and the astronauts for inputs. They'll probably say it needs to be cost-effective, and that it doesn't auto-disintegrate humans, and that a politician can take credit for inventing something like the internet (yes, that did happen)...These are three obvious things to consider. But the fact is, the engineers and their design team will lead this efforts, not the UX users who don't get the hardcore engineering and physics. If the user's only frame of reference is Star Trek, Star Gate, or Intersteller, they won't be much help other than a "yeah, cool idea".

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