10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (2023)

If you’ve just started to embark on your journey into the field of design thinking, you may have noticed different frameworks cropping up here and there. This is nothing to worry about—it’s simply the result of different people’s perceptions of the design thinking process. To help you get your head around these interpretations, we’ve prepared a useful summary of the most popular design thinking frameworks used by global design firms and national design agencies.

Design thinking means many things to many people—not only in its definition, but also in its practical implementation. A wide variety of design thinking frameworks and visualizations exist in the world today, and each typically contains between three and seven stages. Before we dive into these different frameworks, let’s look at a quick overview of the fundamental principles which form the basis behind all variations of the design thinking process.

Traits that are common across design thinking processes:

  • Starts with empathy. A deep focus on the humans involved will ensure you stay on track and follow the course of action most likely to bring about preferred solutions for individuals, business and society.

  • Reframes the problem or challenge at hand. This helps you gain new perspectives and explore different ways to think about the problem, and allows a more holistic approach towards reaching a preferred solution.

  • Initially employs divergent styles of thinking. This allows participants to generate and explore as many solutions as possible in an open, judgment-free ideation space.

  • Later employs convergent styles of thinking. This will allow your team to isolate, combine and refine potential solution streams out of your more mature ideas.

  • Creates and tests prototypes. Solutions which make it through the previous stages get tested further to remove any potential issues.

  • Iterates. You will revisit empathic frames of mind as you progress through the various stages and may redefine the challenge as new knowledge is gathered.

The process is all done in a collaborative, multidisciplinary team that leverages the experience and thinking styles of many folks to solve complex problems. It can feel quite chaotic at first, if you’re not used to it—however, if done correctly, it can result in emergent solutions that are desirable, feasible and viable.

Different implementation frameworks or models have different names and numbers of stages, but they all consist of the same principles and all involve points at which you will empathize, reframe, ideate, prototype and test. Let’s now take a quick look at 10 popular frameworks to further understand this innovative and revolutionary process.

1. The 5-Stage Design Thinking Process—d.school

First, let’s look at the 5-stage model that we will be following in this course.

The Stanford Design School (d.school), now known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, initially taught design thinking via a simple but powerful 3-step process: Understand, Improve, Apply.

They have since built upon this, to formulate and openly share a famous 5-stage process which is widely used around the world, including here at the Interaction Design Foundation. The process they outlined is as follows:

  • Empathize

  • Define

    (Video) Design Thinking Full Course | Design Thinking Process | Design Thinking For Beginners | Simplilearn

  • Ideate

  • Prototype

  • Test

The d.school also represents this 5-stage process through their hexagonal design thinking visualization. This ensures the stages are seen more as enablers or modes of thinking, rather than concrete linear steps.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (1)

2. The Early Traditional Design Process—Herbert Simon

The earliest versions of the design thinking process still reflected the traditional design process. As design thinking evolved, however, deeper empathy, more collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach were thrown into the mix.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (2)

3. Head, Heart and Hand—AIGA

The American Institution of Graphic Arts (AIGA) states the value of modern design practice comes from designers’ unique blend of head, heart and hand. For example, design thinking participants wear many hats during the process and rely on their heads to solve complex problems. In the early stages, they also use their hearts to empathize and understand human needs and emotions. The particular gift of designers, however, is their ability to dive into practical creation by hand. The three combined create a holistic process which utilizes input from all of our faculties to be successful.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (3)

4. DeepDive™ Methodology—IDEO

The DeepDive™ technique was developed by IDEO as a way to rapidly immerse a group into a situation where they can effectively problem-solve and generate ideas. They expressed this variant of the design thinking process live on ABC Nightline back in the late ’90s.

An abridged version from the report about IDEO's DeepDive™ Methodology that was aired on ABC Nighline in the late '90s.

IDEO's DeepDive™ comprised the following steps:

  • Understand

  • Observe

  • Visualize

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  • Evaluate

  • Implement

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (4)

The DeepDive™ methodology was further documented and enhanced by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) business school, and Deloitte Consulting then acquired the rights in 2006.

5. The 3-Stage Design Thinking Process—IDEO

IDEO uses a different process and, while it only has three stages, it covers pretty much the same ground as the other processes in this compilation.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (5)

The three stages are:

  • Inspire: The problem or opportunity inspires and motivates the search for a solution.

  • Ideate: A process of synthesis distills insights which can lead to solutions or opportunities for change.

  • Implement: The best ideas are turned into a concrete, fully conceived action plan.

IDEO also released a deck of IDEO Method Cards which cover the modes Learn, Look, Ask and Try—each with their own collection of methods for an entire innovation cycle.

6. Design Kit: The Human-Centered Design Toolkit—IDEO

IDEO has also developed contextualized toolkits, which repackage the design thinking process. One such iteration focuses on the social innovation setting in developing countries. For this context, the terminology needs to be simplified, made memorable and restructured for the typical challenges faced in those environments. The Human-Centered Design (HCD) Toolkit they developed for this purpose was re-interpreted as an acronym to mean hear, create and deliver.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (6)
  • Hear: Similar to early phases in other design thinking processes, the hear stage develops an empathic understanding of users, and defines the problem the team is trying to solve. It helps participants gain a solid foundation in the context of the problem and sufficiently reframe it to take on new perspectives.

  • Create: The create stage is concerned with exploration, experimentation and learning through making—similar to the ideate and prototype phases in d.school’s 5-stage approach. Potential areas of exploration are pinpointed, and those closest to the problem will be engaged with further to co-create solutions. This allows design teams to maintain the highest levels of empathy during early design phases and weed out any potential problematic assumptions made by designers who do not sufficiently understand the context.

  • Deliver: The deliver phase of the HCD process is centered around logistical implementation. It also aims to help overcome any obstacles which may exist when rolling out a solution within the required context. It is essential that solutions integrate into communities and bypass other roadblocks during implementation, and this stage will help participants achieve that.

7. The “Double Diamond” Design Process Model—Design Council

In the mid-2000s the British Design Council popularized the Double Diamond diagram, based on Béla H. Bánáthy’s 1996 “divergence-convergence” model. The Double Diamond diagram graphically represents a design thinking process. It highlights the divergent and convergent styles of thinking involved, and is broken down into four distinct phases:

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  • Discover: The start of the project is based around an initial idea or inspiration, often gained from the identification of user needs.

  • Define: These user needs are interpreted and aligned with business objectives.

  • Develop: Design-led solutions are developed, iterated and tested.

  • Deliver: The end product or service is finalized and launched into the market.

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8. Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) — Frog Design

Frog Design is an organization committed to social impact. They developed the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) as a way to make the design process accessible to communities around the world—with the hope it will help them organize, collaborate and create solutions for the specific problems which affect their local area.

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Frog’s CAT breaks the process down into six stages:

  • Clarify your goal: Agree on the problem you want to try and solve, as well as what goals you want to achieve.

  • Build your group: Bring people together in your community, identify their strengths and map out their commitment to your goals.

  • Seek new understanding: Ask questions, explore how people live and discover unmet needs to inform and inspire your group, and gain others’ perspectives.

  • Imagine new ideas: Come up with new solutions and decide what makes some of them more achievable than others.

  • Make something real: Test and experiment your better ideas and see what you discover.

  • Plan for action: Organize what each group member should do to reach your shared goals.

Frog make it clear these stages form a non-linear process, and you might have to revisit stages multiple times during a project—particularly the clarification stage.

9. Designing for Growth—Jeanne Liedtka & Tim Ogilvie

Jeanne Liedtka is a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Tim Ogilvie is CEO of innovation strategy consultancy firm Peer Insight. Both are experts in design thinking and strategic thinking, and their book, Designing for Growth, puts forward a unique spin on the design thinking journey. It reframes the terminology into a more inquisitive and intuitive set of four what questions:

(Video) Stanford Webinar - Design Thinking: What is it and why should I care?

  • What is? Explore the current reality.

  • What if? Envision alternative futures.

  • What wows? Get users to help you make some tough choices.

  • What works? Make the solution work in-market, and as a business.

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (9)

10. The LUMA System of Innovation—LUMA Institute

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview (10)

The LUMA Institute is a global firm that teaches innovation and human-centered design. The team at LUMA have developed their own expression of the design thinking process which they have distilled into three key design skills: Looking, Understanding and Making.

They claim their system is flexible and versatile so it can be used for any type of problem, in any type of setting. The process unfolds through either a single set of activities or a combination of multiple methods—the latter being required for more complex challenges.

The Take Away

You could spend weeks exploring the many versions of the design thinking process which exist in the world today. Their differences and similarities are, in fact, celebrations of variety and non-conformity.

Now you’ve read the 10 most popular frameworks above, maybe you’ve decided on a favorite. Regardless of which approach you like the most, it’s important you peel away the steps and terminology and focus instead on its principles. At first sight, the design thinking process can seem mysterious, chaotic and, at times, complex. However, it's a discipline which will mature in you with direct practice. You will learn things in a practical manner and grow in confidence with each new experience of it. You may even be tempted to develop your own expression of these steps, modes and phases to suit a completely new context—that's part of the beauty of design thinking!

References & Where to Learn More

Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969.

Mike Morrison, Deep-Dive Brainstorming Technique – IDEO, 2018.

d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE, 2010: https://web.stanford.edu/~mshanks/MichaelShanks/files/509554.pdf

David Clifford, Equity-Centered Design Framework.

IDEO, Design Kit: The Human-Centered Design Toolkit.

Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, 2011.

(Video) IDEO Design Thinking Framework (Insights Phase) and Case Study Discussion

LUMA Institute, Our System.


Hero Image: © Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.


What are frameworks in design thinking? ›

The design thinking framework: five key steps

The design thinking framework can be divided into three distinct phases: immersion, ideation, and implementation. This framework can be further broken down into five actionable steps which make up the design thinking process: Empathize. Define.

What are the 5 steps for the design thinking framework? ›

The short form of the design thinking process can be articulated in five steps or phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.

Which is a popular design thinking framework? ›

IDEO's model has always been considered as a traditional design thinking process. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy.

What are the 3 main components of building an insight in design thinking? ›

The next time you need to solve a problem, you can grow your team's creative capacity by focusing on three core design thinking principles, or the 3 E's: empathy, expansive thinking, and experimentation.

What are the 5 frameworks? ›

The 5 strategy frameworks
  • McKinsey's Strategic Horizons.
  • Value Disciplines.
  • The Stakeholder Theory.
  • The Balanced Scorecard.
  • The Ansoff Matrix.
Feb 16, 2023

What are the 3 types of frameworks? ›

6 types of frameworks
  • Web app framework. Developers use web app frameworks when designing a website. ...
  • Mobile app framework. ...
  • Technology framework. ...
  • Enterprise architecture framework. ...
  • Database framework. ...
  • Testing framework.
Dec 28, 2022

What are the 7 elements of design thinking? ›

Seven of these essential elements of design are: line, color, shape, form, value, space, and texture.

What are the 3 most important elements of design thinking? ›

There are five key elements of the Design Thinking process:
  • Human-centered. If you don't understand the person who will be using the thing you're trying to create, it simply won't work. ...
  • Creative and playful. ...
  • Iterative. ...
  • Collaborative. ...
  • Prototype driven.
Nov 2, 2020

What are the 6 principles of design thinking? ›

Within these larger buckets fall the 6 phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement.

What is the 6d framework in design thinking? ›

They stand for Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy and Drive, the building blocks of the UX process. Companies can come to the table with some of them already figured out, or just with an idea.

What are the three C's of design thinking? ›

The 3Cs of Design

To summarize, the 3 elements of design are: Consistency (Systems–based Design) Clarity (Clear instead of Clever Design) Content (Design is Communication not Chrome)

What are the 4 P's of design thinking? ›

In summary, the order of the design thinking organization is Place-People-Practice-Philosophy, and it is only when the four elements are available that innovation of design thinking becomes possible.

What are the 4 objectives of design thinking? ›

Design Thinking creates practical results

technical feasibility. economic viability. human desirability.

What are the 4 key element of design thinking? ›

The four key elements of design thinking include 1) defining the problem 2) creating and considering many options. 3) Refine selected directions 4) Picking the winner and executing.

What are the four 4 framework approach? ›

The four frames they proposed were; Structural, Human Resource, Political and Symbolic. The idea here is to keep your approach to leadership open, don't restrict yourself with one frame. As leader, make your own judgement call on the most appropriate behaviour in that moment or organisation.

What are the 4 stages of framework? ›

In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation, Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-stage framework: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement.

What are the 4 elements of framework? ›

The four elements of the framework mapped onto four key boundary spanning activities: finding (intuiting), translating (interpreting), diffusing (integration), and gaining support (institutionalization).

What are the six frameworks? ›

The six paths framework in formulating blue ocean strategy are (1) Look across alternative industries, (2) Look across strategic groups within industry, (3)Look across buyer groups, (4) Look across complementary product and service offerings, (5)Look across the functional-emotional orientation of an industry and (5) ...

What is the best framework to use? ›

Top Web Frameworks You Need to Learn in 2023
  • jQuery. This is one of the best web frameworks that can be used for web development. ...
  • React. React is an open-source JavaScript library that can be used to develop user interfaces for web applications. ...
  • Ember. ...
  • Ruby on Rails. ...
  • Django. ...
  • Angular or Angular JS. ...
  • ASP.NET. ...
  • Laravel.
May 8, 2023

What are frameworks and examples? ›

A framework is a structure that you can build software on. It serves as a foundation, so you're not starting entirely from scratch. Frameworks are typically associated with a specific programming language and are suited to different types of tasks. Let's say you're building a house.

What are the 8 core abilities of design thinking? ›

The eight core design abilities are: Navigate Ambiguity, Learn From Others, Synthesize Information, Experiment Rapidly, Move Between Abstract and Concrete, Build and Craft Intentionally, Communicate Deliberately, and Design your Design work.

What are the 5 basic design elements? ›

The elements are your tools or raw materials, much like paints are the basics to a painter. The five elements of interior design include space, line, form, color, and texture. The principles of design relate to how you use these elements and are balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion and scale, and harmony and unity.

What are the core values of design thinking? ›

Design thinking is a solutions-oriented methodology for design. At the heart of design thinking are the core values of flexibility, collaboration, empathy, curiosity, and positivity.

What are the five pillars of critical thinking in design thinking? ›

The first step in this journey is to familiarize yourself with the 5 pillars of design thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

What are the six stages of process design? ›

A UX Design Process can be defined in different ways, but the most common one holds six stages: Understand, Define, Create, Prototype, Test and Implement.

What are the 12 steps of design thinking? ›

  • 1) Define a problem. *Identify a problem that exists. ...
  • 2) Brainstorm. *Present ideas in group. ...
  • 3) Research and generate ideas. ...
  • 4) Identify criteria and specify constraints. ...
  • 5) Explore possibilities. ...
  • 6) Select an approach. ...
  • 7) Develop a design proposal. ...
  • 8) Make a model or prototype.

What are the 9 principles of design? ›

The main principles of graphic design are balance, contrast, emphasis, repetition and pattern, proportion, movement, white space, unity, and variety.

What is design thinking in Six Sigma? ›

Design Thinking is to Innovation what Six Sigma is to Quality This iterative process relies on systematically shaving off waste from the system, resulting in a leaner process, with hopefully a better outcome.

What are the 3i in design thinking? ›

There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

What is the most important design thinking? ›

The first, and arguably most important, step of design thinking is building empathy with users. By understanding the person affected by a problem, you can find a more impactful solution.

How do you apply design thinking in real life? ›

5 ways to use Design Thinking in your daily routine
  1. Visualize Your Problem. Whether you're solving critical global problems or tackling micro-level projects, visualization reveals key themes and patterns. ...
  2. Challenge Common Assumptions. ...
  3. Reverse Your Thinking. ...
  4. Empathize With Your Audience. ...
  5. Embrace Risk and Failure.
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How did Netflix use design thinking? ›

Netflix leverages AI to create a unique experience for each viewer based on that customer's viewing habits but when thinking about innovation and reinvention, human empathy has always been the secret sauce of their success.

What are the 4 framework? ›

The Four Actions Framework is mostly used to create a product's sales and marketing strategy. It refashions the buyer's values by concentrating on four distinct actions—reduce, eliminate, raise, and create. Ultimately, it cuts the overall cost of the product and sales and marketing efforts while increasing buyer value.

What are the 4 components of framework? ›

... overall framework has four functional components: the physical testbed, the module library, the declarative language, and the workbench as depicted in Figure 1. ...

What are the four frameworks? ›

There are many types of research frameworks, but we will focus on four common ones: deductive, inductive, abductive, and mixed. Each of these frameworks has a different logic, purpose, and approach to research.

What is a framework and what is a model? ›

A model is something used to represent or explain the operation and mechanism of something else. A conceptual model exists in one`s mind. • A framework is a way of representing the empirical relations between every aspect of inquiry when considered a scientific theory or research.

What are the 3 main components of result framework? ›

Results Framework: A results framework comprises three components: a Results Diagram; a Results Measurement Table; and a Monitoring and an Evaluation Workplan.

What makes a good framework? ›

A framework should organize information so that the relationships are clear. This facilitates ease and rapidity of communication. A good framework can also introduce a common language and those who share it can understand each other and a situation even more rapidly.

What is the purpose of a framework? ›

In general, a framework is a real or conceptual structure intended to serve as a support or guide for the building of something that expands the structure into something useful.

What are the key elements of a framework? ›

What Are the Six Elements of a Strategic Framework?
  • Vision. This is an organization's picture of the ideal outcome they would like to pursue for the future. ...
  • Mission. ...
  • Values. ...
  • Objectives. ...
  • Strategy. ...
  • Tactics.

What are the two types of framework? ›

Answer: There are two kinds of framework used when writing the background of a study, theoretical and conceptual.

What are the main components of a framework? ›

Here are six items to consider for your strategic framework:
  • Vision statement. A vision statement is a short statement that includes one to two sentences. ...
  • Mission statement. ...
  • Time frame for completion. ...
  • Business objectives. ...
  • Strategies to achieve objectives. ...
  • Action plan to provide detail into strategies.
Jun 24, 2022

What are the 7 main language frameworks? ›

It defines the 7 frameworks (lexis, semantics, phonology, graphology, pragmatics, grammar and discourse).

What is framework example? ›

Framework Examples

Here are some of the most well-known frameworks: Net is Microsoft Framework and one of the most used. Symphony: PHP free software project. Zend Framework: Open source framework for developing web applications and with PHP web services. Laravel.

How do you structure a framework? ›

Developing a Framework or Model of Change
  1. Analyzing Information About the Problem, Goals, and Factors Affecting Them.
  2. Establishing a Vision and Mission.
  3. Defining Organizational Structure and Operating Mechanisms.
  4. Arranging for Community Mobilizers.
  5. Developing and Using Strategic and Action Plans.


1. Introduction to design thinking - Episode 2/10
(UQ Ventures)
2. Three Horizons Framework - a quick introduction
(Doughnut Economics Action Lab)
3. IBM Design Thinking
(Application Innovation Consulting - David Pewitt)
4. Introduction to Design Thinking and Innovation
(HBS Online)
5. Design Thinking Webinar
6. 5 Stages of the Design Thinking Process


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