What Is Design Thinking?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Design thinking is a process that has its roots in innovation. Essentially, the process suggests that you should set your goals around what you want to achieve in detail and mobilize the entire group of people who are involved to design the product, service, or process to achieve those goals. 

That’s not necessarily a new idea. But historically, business results achieved from learning efforts (the goal) has not been clearly defined.  

In Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation, Idris Mootee explains that design thinking involves several key elements: 

  • It’s a way to take on design challenges by applying empathy.
  • It’s an approach to collective problem solving.
  • It’s a framework to balance needs and feasibility.
  • It’s a means to solve complex or wicked problems.
  • It’s a mindset for curiosity and inquiry.
  • It’s a fixed process and a tool kit.
  • It’s a way to handle problems on a systems level.
  • It’s a culture that fosters exploration and experimentation. 

In terms of learning and development, design thinking means that all stakeholders work in a very collaborative way to design for the results desired from learning. The desired results can be any or all of the following outcomes: 





This is a chain of value that must exist for learning to drive business impact. This flow of outcome data is a classic logic model. In other words, the result at one level is a pre-condition for the next level. For example, to drive business impact, application results must be present. 

As we explore in Measuring for Success: What CEOs Really Think About Learning Investments, the results desired by executives—our funders and supporters—is business impact. Even in the government or nonprofit sectors, business impact measures of output, quality, cost, and time exist. In this setting, learning helps to get more work done, have better quality of work, save time as the tasks are completed faster, and even reduce the cost of work. Regardless of the type of organization, there is a need to connect learning to the business. 

Consequently, learning success must be defined as delivering business value. How do you do it? We will discuss this in our next blog post. In the meantime, for a deeper dive on how to use design thinking to deliver business results and increase the investment in talent development, check out our new book, The Business Case for Learning.

About the Author

Patti Phillips is president and CEO of the ROI Institute and is the ATD Certification Institute's 2015 CPLP Fellow. Since 1997, she has worked with organizations in more than 60 countries as they demonstrate the value of a variety of programs and projects. Patti serves on the board of the Center for Talent Reporting, as Distinguished Principal Research Fellow for The Conference Board, and as faculty on the UN System Staff College in Turin, Italy.

Patti has written and edited numerous books and articles on the topics of measurement, evaluation, and ROI. Recent publications include Measuring the Success of Leadership Development, Making Human Capital Analytics Work, Measuring the Success of Learning Through Technology, Measuring the Success of Organization Development, and Measuring Leadership Development: Quantify Your Program's Impact and ROI on Organizational Performance.

About the Author

Jack J. Phillips, PhD, is chairman of the ROI Institute and a world-renowned expert on measurement and evaluation. Phillips provides consulting services for Fortune 500 companies and workshops for major conference providers worldwide. Phillips is also the author or editor of more than 100 articles and more than 75 books, including Measuring the Success of Leadership Development: A Step-by-Step Guide for Measuring Impact and Calculating ROI (ATD Press). His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, and on CNN.

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