10 key words to better understand design thinking

10 key words to better understand design thinking

[Translation of 10 mots clés pour mieux comprendre la pensée créative (design thinking)]


Design thinking is becoming more and more a must to transform organizations and foster innovation for real!

Developed at Stanford in the 1980s, design thinking is a problem-solving process that mobilizes and focuses collective intelligence on the various solutions to be offered by placing the user at the heart of the process.

This iterative approach seeks to mobilize all talents and expertise in order to create a climate conducive to collaboration, thus ensuring the search for optimal solutions. Adopted by several large innovative companies (Airbnb, Google, Apple, Walt Disney, IBM), creative thinking uses tools from the world of design such as storytelling, sketching, prototyping, and experimentation to create sought-after and useful services, products, or experiences that meet real user needs.


Empathy: Ability to identify with others in what they feel [1] This is the heart of the design thinking process. As a project designer, you must first quickly identify the needs, expectations and points of view of the users. Who is my client? What are his needs (expressed or not)? What are their behaviours? What challenges do they face? As the English-speaking world says: « It’s not about you; it’s about your client!

Problem: In design thinking, everything starts with the problem, not the ideas! We must first fall in love with our problems in order to find the right solutions. Too often in organizations, problems are poorly defined or identified as if we were afraid to name them. The biggest challenge for teams working in design thinking mode is to frame the problem(s) in a user-centred way in order to avoid finding inadequate solutions or making repeated decisions based on preconceived ideas or on a problem that is not really a problem.

Creativity: Creative thinking calls upon what we all once had inside us as children: exploration, imagination, intuition, wonder, but which we unfortunately lose along the way. The ideation (or creative) phase is essential in design thinking. Flash Demos activities, How Might We… workshops, sketches, models, drawings, storytelling are some of the tools used during the ideation phase (divergence zone). Just like children who ask themselves many questions and who do not hesitate to think outside the box, we must throw out all possible solutions. Fear of judgment and our need for security as adults too often prevent us from going for more creative options. And yet, it is by accepting to enter the « turbulence » zone and to thumb our noses at the ideas of others that we can truly innovate and create.

Prototype: Essential phase of the design thinking process, which allows testing a concept and to make it evolve quickly or to abandon it if it does not meet these three criteria for the organization: value creation potential, feasibility, viability. Anything can be prototyped (a new chair, a process, a web application, a sustainable development action plan, etc.). The prototype makes it possible to materialize the chosen solution, to make it concrete by using storyboards, videos, sketches, etc. « By taking the time to prototype our ideas, we avoid costly mistakes, such as falling into excessive complexity, starting early and pursuing an idea that is not worth the effort.[2] »

Experimentation: what is the value of our service, product or experience to the user? To truly innovate, you need to make radical changes and not just incremental improvements to your product or service. In design thinking, teams are constantly in experimental mode, and they accept to make mistakes, to try, to fail. It is this philosophy, this way of doing things that leads them to innovation. Experimenting means sharing processes, encouraging collective ownership of ideas and learning from each other [3].

Iteration: « The act of repeating, of doing again. » Iterative design is learning by doing, it is taking advantage of user feedback. Prototype in hand, design thinkers rely on iterations to improve, create, or rethink the product or service they are working on.

Some of the benefits of iterative design include:

  • Saving time, money and human resources;
  • Reduction of misunderstandings within work teams;
  • Certainty that the effort put into the development of the product or service is a real added value for the users;
  • Lessons learned throughout the process;
  • Ongoing feedback from users (those we work for).


Collaboration: Collaboration is an essential ingredient in a design thinking process. It is by pooling different and varied expertise that new ideas are born and innovation becomes possible. We tend to want to work with people who are like us, who think like us. Still today, too many organizations work in silos, even though everyone advocates teamwork! However, it is by having the humility and openness to listen to other points of view that we can go further in our projects and create value for users. « Design thinking is a « social technology » of collaboration, conversation, respect and inclusion.[5] »

Flexibility: As Tim Brown, founder of IDEO and a great designer, explains so well, creative collaborative work forces us to alternate between moments of exploring all the possibilities available to us (zone of divergence) and those where we have to decide and make choices among the proposed ideas so that the project can move forward (zone of convergence). Flexibility is essential to any collaborative process.

Failure: In design thinking, you have to fail quickly in order to succeed quickly! Yes, you read that right! Prototyping a concrete idea quickly allows for quick feedback from users. By failing quickly, the organization can improve its product or service and avoid wasting financial, human and material resources on projects that drag on or are not viable.

Innovation: Creative thinking is a mode of innovation where people are the key to success.

The challenges of innovation are:

  • Designing a product or service for customers who don’t always know exactly what they want;
  • Rushing to find quick solutions;
  • Offering too many options;
  • Seeing failure as a sign of incompetence.
  • By changing their mindset and constantly adapting to the evolution of the project they are leading, teams working in design thinking mode can identify innovation opportunities, prioritize them and then prototype them and have them tested by users. In doing so, they stimulate innovation and bypass its challenges.

By mastering these 10 terms, you already have the concepts to better understand what design thinking is. In short, creative thinking allows us to arrive at a deeper understanding of a problem to quickly prototype a series of potential solutions and identify the one to be retained and developed.




[1]Dictionnaire Le Robert.

[2] Tim BROWN. (2019). L’esprit design: comment le design transforme, p. 99

[3] Tim BROWN. Ibid, p.21.,

[4] Dictionnaire Larousse, page consultée le 10 août 2021, https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/it%C3%A9ration/44576

[5] Madanmohan RAO. (22 juillet 2021) « From creative competencies to innovator journeys: how design thinking transforms mindsets and personalities », Yourstory, page consultée le 10 août 2021: https://yourstory.com/2021/07/design-thinking-innovation-journey/amp.

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