Thinking like a designer can transform the way you approach the world when imagining and creating new solutions for the future. It’s about being aware of the world around you, believing that you play a role in shaping that world, and taking action toward a more desirable future. In my new book ‘The Innovation Expedition’ I describe the five characteristics necessary to think like a designer.

  1. Empathy. The empathic thinker can imagine the world from multiple perspectives – those of colleagues, clients, end users, and customers. By taking a “people first” approach, design thinkers can imagine solutions that are inherently desirable and meet explicit or latent needs. Great design thinkers notice things that others do not and use their insights to inspire innovation.
  2. Integrative thinking. The integrative thinker not only relies on analytical processes but also exhibits the ability to see all of the salient – and sometimes contradictory – aspects of a confounding problem and creates novel solutions that go beyond and dramatically improve on existing alternatives.
  3. Optimism. The optimistic thinker assumes that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution is better than the existing alternatives.
  4. Experimentalism. The experimental thinker believes significant innovations don’t come from incremental tweaks. Design thinkers pose questions and explore constraints in creative ways that proceed in entirely new directions.
  5. Collaboration. The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborator. The best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines; many of them have significant experience in more than one.

I love to inspire you with a wonderful quote of Bill Burnett, Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford’s “To invent a future that doesn’t exist, you really have to understand what people are doing today and completely re-imagine it.”

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. His latest book is “The Innovation Expedition: a visual toolkit to start innovation”. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method.

Gijs is a key-note speaker at international innovation conferences, chosen by Linkedin as one of their 150 Thought Leaders and the #2 in the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2012.

Photo: Fashion designer from


Design Thinking Toolkit Ideo/Riverdale Country School

How Thinking Like a Designer Can Inspire Innovation’ by Nadia Goodman,

Design Thinking by ‘Tim Brown’ Harvard Business Review June 2008.