Design Thinking: What it is and Why it Works | Jeanne Liedtka | January 2013 | Design at Darden

How would we research the contribution of designi thinking? A @DesignAtDarden working paper by Jeanne Liedtka on “Design Thinking: What it is and Why it Works” from Jan. 2013 on “Design Thinking:  What it is and  Why it Works”.  Discovered that Liedtka co-authored Designing For Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers with Tim Ogilvie, who said: “I Did Not Invent Design Thinking (Honest)“.

Here’s a quick outline of the Working Paper.


Step 1:  What is Design Thinking?

  • Defining the Concept
  • Intellectual Roots in Design Theory
  • Design and Business Theory

Step 2:  Is the Concept Valid?

  • Examining Design Practices and Tools
  • Conclusion: Convergent Validity Test
  • Conclusion: Divergent Validity Test

Step 3:  Conducting Research on Design Thinking

  • A Starting Point

Examining the Psychological Underpinning of Design Thinking in the Cognitive Bias Literature

  • Challenges in Hypothesis Generation
  • Challenges in Hypothesis Testing
  • Dealing with Identified Dysfunctions
    • In hypothesis generation, for decision makers who have difficulty seeing novel solutions and figuring out what users will value, researchers have identified a number of solutions. As we review these particular solutions that the cognitive bias literature recommends, they begin to allow us to generate some nascent hypotheses about design thinking’s potential contribution.
    • Remedy: Employ ethnography
    • Hypothesis
    • Remedy: Use stories versus data
    • Remedy: Work with metaphor
    • Hypothesis
    • Remedy: Expose decision makers to divergent views
    • In relation to hypothesis testing, we find a similar set of prescriptions, researchers suggest:
    • Remedy: Create vivid and specific representations of the future
    • Remedy: Talk about the details of what success and failure look like
    • Hypothesis
    • Remedy: Pay attention to emotions
    • Hypothesis
    • Remedy: Generate multiple options
    • Hypothesis
    • Remedy: Hold after action reviews with specifics
    • Hypothesis

Step 4:  Creating Testable Hypotheses Concerning the Contribution of Design Thinking

  • Hypothesis 1 (H1): The use of a design-thinking approach that incorporates the tools of visualization, ethnography, ideating with a diverse group, and co-creation tools , will increase the novelty of the ideas surfaced during hypothesis generating processes by reducing the effects of the projection bias (the tendency to project the past onto the future).
  • Hypothesis 2 (H2): The use of a design-thinking approach that incorporates the use of  ethnography, ideating with a diverse group, and co-creation tools will increase the value-creation potential of the ideas generated through the reduction of the egocentric empathy gap (the projection of one’s own preferences onto others).
  • Hypothesis 3 (H3): The use of a design-thinking approach that incorporates the use of ethnography, optionality, ideating with a diverse group, co-creation, and field experiments,  will result in the exploration and testing of more ideas by the reduction of the focusing illusion (over emphasizing particular elements), and the endowment effect (the attachment to first solutions).
  • Hypothesis 4 (H4): The use of a design-thinking approach that incorporates visualization, co-creation, optionality, prototyping, assumption testing and field experiments will result in improved accuracy in the hypothesis testing process’ ability to estimate the likely success of the new idea,  through the reduction of the endowment effect, the availability bias (the undervaluing of more novel ideas),  the hypotheses confirmation bias (overlooking disconfirming data), the planning fallacy (over-optimism), and the impact of time (in which distant ideas are less specific and thus harder to analyze).


Download “Design Thinking: What it is and Why it Works” as from Design@Darden – Academic Papers

Jeanne M. Liedtka, Darden School of Business, U. of Virginia


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