Is design thinking a creative strategy?

Is design thinking a creative strategy or is it more technical? Thinking ‘outside the box’, and working as a team to generate ideas and come up with innovative solutions to meet a user’s needs: it sounds creative. Yet it can also be considered a technical strategy with complex and accurate methodologies at its heart. Design thinking is commonly considered to be a soft skill, which means it is based more on cognitive and social skills than on an easily quantifiable method of approach.

Good teams and effective teamwork are at the heart of great design thinking. So, how do the creative and technical aspects of design thinking mesh together and how do they help create better teamwork? And conversely, how can working better as a team lead to more innovative solutions and outcomes? Let’s find out.

How is design thinking creative?

Design thinking is a way to approach problem solving that is person-centered. By focusing on the end user and identifying their needs, teams can work together to find more innovative solutions to meet those needs. The process is centered on empathy, experimentation, and collaboration, all of which require a degree of creativity.

Creative collaboration and teamwork

Collaboration and teamwork are necessary for a business to thrive. For many years businesses were typically structured in siloed divisions or departments. This often led to tangible divisions, mistrust, and competition. Not to mention, work could be replicated or conflicting. 

The design thinking process brings together people from wide-ranging backgrounds with different perspectives to work together towards a common goal. This leads to more diverse and innovative ideas. Collaboration helps people to ‘buy-in’ to and support the eventual solution, as they will have all had a hand in shaping it.

The design thinking emphasis on creativity and experimentation is highly adaptable and makes it ideal for situations where new and innovative solutions are needed.

Empathizing with the end user’s problems and pain points

The first phase of the design thinking process, empathize, is where designers really look at what the user wants. If you can put yourself in the shoes of the people you are designing for, you can begin to understand what it is they might need. Trying to get a deeper understanding of the problem or challenge they face means thinking creatively

After all, you must imagine feeling a certain way or needing a specific solution to a problem based on what you have learnt about someone. It is not just a question of thinking about how you might feel about it: it may have no relevance to you whatsoever.

An empathetic approach helps to uncover insights and opportunities that might not be obvious if you are using a more traditional, analytical perspective. A more human-centered approach to problem-solving, rather than just looking for a generic solution that responds to that problem, can lead to the creation of more meaningful and effective solutions.

The generation of new ideas

Coming up with ideas is a creative process. It often involves thinking outside the box and considering new and unique ways to approach problems. There are many ways to unlock this creativity: using ideation tools and brainstorming techniques, for example. The more diversity you have in your team and the more you encourage people to put forward their ideas, no matter how unlikely they might sound at the time, the more effective the brainstorming process will be.

Brainstorming for new ideas

Brainstorming allows people to think creatively because of how the activity is structured. A problem or topic is introduced, and team members are encouraged to fire out ideas based on their immediate response to it. The problem is best stated as a question that is concise but still broad enough to encourage creative ideas.

Sometimes, it can be a good idea to only introduce the subject at the start of a session, as it should produce a spontaneous and creative response. Knowing the issue beforehand gives people time to start thinking about it. 

How often have you thought of a solution to a problem and then decided ‘that would never work’, or ‘that’s probably a stupid idea’? If you have too long to think about something, it is easy to talk yourself out of an option and stifle your own creativity. And sometimes, the answer might lie in an idea that seems too far-fetched or undoable when you first say it.


Visualization is a creative strategy used at various stages of the design thinking process. It can help people communicate ideas more effectively and can make it easier to gather feedback. You can use sketches, diagrams, and other visual aids to represent ideas and solutions. Journey mapping, mind mapping, and brainstorming are among the techniques that can be helpful visual ways to see the way forward.

Creating prototypes and testing them

The process is not over once you have found your potential solutions. Then comes the iterative development of prototypes and solutions. This process requires creativity and enables design thinkers to rapidly retry and refine their ideas using feedback from the users. 

This approach is more effective than creating a product and then releasing it to the world when you think it is perfect: the world might not agree! It is also more efficient, as it reduces the risk of investing significant time and resources into a product or service solution that could ultimately fail.

What are the technical aspects of design thinking?

While empathy, experimentation, and collaboration are key principles of design thinking, there are also several technical aspects that keep it all together.

Researching and discovering the challenge

Before you can find a solution to a challenge you need to fully understand what that challenge actually is. To do this, you need to research and gather data. For example, you can conduct interviews with the end user, use surveys, use observation, and look at existing products or services in the market. When you have the technical information to hand you need to work out what the data is actually telling you.

Defining the problem with design thinking

All the data and insights you have gathered in the research stage can be used to identify the key challenges and pain points that need to be addressed. Making sure you have a well-defined challenge or problem is critical to the success of process. It gives you the opportunity to get to the heart of the end user’s needs so that you can provide something that solves a problem: without this being properly defined you run the risk of going off on a tangent.

Technical tools and techniques for the ideation phase

Although the ideation phase is a creative stage of design thinking where many ideas are generated, there are technical tools that are part of the process too. Brainstorming, mind mapping, and other creative processes can be enhanced with the right online tools. Templates and interactive processes for workshops and design thinking activities can make them even more productive. A simple thing like using an online whiteboard can make this phase even more visual and useful.

The prototyping phase

The prototyping phase is a key phase in the design thinking process. Once ideas have been generated it is time to make basic versions of solutions. This could involve sketches, mock-ups, or physical models, depending on what you are trying to achieve. The idea is to have something that can be used to test the idea with users and gather feedback.

Testing the prototypes

The testing phase uses the prototypes that have been created during the previous phase of the design thinking process. Feedback is collected from users. This can be done in various ways, for example via interviews or surveys. The data gathered will be carefully assessed so the prototypes can then be refined, and the improved versions tested again.

Design thinking is an iterative process, not a linear one. As you move between the various technical aspects, the original idea becomes more refined and developed. This allows for rapid prototyping and testing of ideas, which can lead to better solutions and a higher chance of success.

How do the creative and technical elements of design thinking make for better teamwork?

The creative and technical elements of the design thinking process can create a powerful framework for better teamwork and collaboration. The technical parts of design thinking involve a structured approach to problem-solving, while the creative parts involve empathy, coming up with wide-ranging ideas, visualization, and inventive prototyping. Both sets of skills are essential for the design thinking process to be effective and they complement each other.

Good teamwork is essential for the design thinking process to work efficiently and effectively. The better the teamwork, the better the final solution you are likely to create. And by working together on the creative and technical aspects of a project you can build a stronger sense of team. It should be a virtuous circle.

Design thinking and working more effectively as a team

How many times have you been working on a project and started to feel like you are not really part of the team? That certain team members have ‘taken over’ and are not interested in hearing much input from anyone else? We’ve all been there. It’s frustrating and makes the chances of creating an optimum outcome much lower.

The design thinking process welcomes input from as many sources as possible, whether you are looking at the creative or more technical aspects. And if you structure your teams, meetings, and work effectively, you can improve the way the team works and learns together.

Using the right tools to encourage greater collaboration and sense of team

Empathy is at the heart of design thinking and is critical to creating effective solutions. You want to understand the needs and perspectives of users: getting team members together to use a collaborative approach to a project will help get them all onto the same page. The more diverse your team is, the more likely you are to get different approaches and ways of thinking.

Using creative tools like mind maps and customer personas can be a very visual way for teams to see and understand the pain points and needs that their customers have. As we don’t all learn or assimilate information in the same way it can be useful to have different methods in which to communicate. Any questions or misunderstandings can be more easily approached and will help the team feel more confident and bonded.

Brainstorming can help create better teamwork

Brainstorming has been shown to be a great way to come up with innovative ideas that you might not get to any other way. Telling people they can put forward their ideas regardless of how ‘ridiculous’ they might seem at the time, on the basis that there is no such thing as a stupid idea, will allow people to be more open.

Everyone therefore has an important role in the project which helps bring the team together. Using an online brainstorming template and a digital whiteboard can enable everyone to contribute at the same time and help you keep all the information in one easily accessible place.

Working together with technical and creative skills

Technical skills – maybe members of the team have expertise in a particular field or an in-depth knowledge of materials and technologies - can help teams guide ideation and ensure ideas generated will be feasible and practical. This can help teams develop innovative and effective solutions that are grounded in reality and are therefore more likely to succeed.

The technical and creative parts of design thinking are complementary. They work together and combining them and encouraging collaboration can lead to a greater sense of team. Here at Klaxoon our collaborative tools help create maximum engagement and better teamwork. Our resources page can help you, so why not check it out?

Unlock your teamwork potential

For free, make your first steps to top-tier work efficiency with the Klaxoon Work Collaboration Platform.
Start for free