There are numerous models in use with many being variations of the internationally recognized IDEO and Stanford d-school models. Tim Brown is a world-renowned design thinker, CEO and President of IDEO, aglobal design company. In 1978, David Kelley opened a design agency, and in 1981 this agency was acknowledged as creating the mouse that controlled Apple’s graphic interface (“Creating the First Usable Mouse,” n.d.).

In the mid 1980’s, Kelley recalls writing proposals with the various phases of the process – understanding, observation, brainstorming, prototyping (foundational steps of what would become the design thinking methodology). In 1991 through a merger of two firms, David Kelley founded IDEO[15],a global design company with a reputation for pioneering human-centred design. IDEO is a global design company. “IDEO is known as a pioneer of human-centred design – putting people at the centre of our work. This approach has come to be known as design thinking” (Kelley, 2016).

Founded in 1978 by David Kelley. Kelley also founded Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known as the (Kelley, 2016). The Institutes focus is “specifically aimed at enhancing creative capacity through design thinking skill building” (L. Leifer et al., 2012a, p. 66). Kelley has received numerous accolades and awards for his contributions to human-centred design and design thinking. Design thinking has traditionally been thought of as the domain of highly educated or skilled designers. Carlgren, Rauth, and Elmquist (2016, 38) reference Tim Brown (IDEO) when proposing that any individual can use design thinking across all aspects of any project including strategy, innovation, product development or business restructuring. Both the Stanford and IDEO models, along with numerous other iterations, visualize 5 steps in the design thinking process. Chamakiotis, Dekoninck, & Pantelli (2013, p. 267) question “whether all design activities and stages necessitate creativity”. This may seem simple enough to learn or apply, but in fact requires practice to master (L. J. Leifer et al., 2011, p. xiv). Design thinking is best learned by doing (L. Leifer et al., 2012a, p. 68).

Hasso Plattner[17] is the co-founder of Systems, Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) and a founding member of the internationally recognized Stanford[18] The school was established in 2005 with a grant of $35 million from Plattner and has been at the forefront of teaching design thinking methodology for the past 10 years. Carlgren, Elmquist, & Rauth (2016, p. 344) are in support of Stanford University being a renowned school recognized for teaching design thinking. Plattner describes design thinking as a style of thinking; “it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy, creativity, and rationality in analysing and fitting solutions to context” (L. Leifer, Meinel, & Plattner, 2012b, p. v). Amongst the multitude of institutions aligned with design thinking there are two that stand out. Both have global reputations for their design thinking model. An internationally respected design institution focussing on teaching multi-disciplinary teams (students) how to collaborate, innovate and solve wicked problems, a term originally used by Horst & Rittel in 1972 (L. J. Leifer et al., 2011, p. 4). Frisendal (2012, p. 18) also describes ill-defined problems as being ‘wicked problems. Stanford have called this process, design thinking. It is made up of three core elements: technology, business and human values. The places human values at the core of their approach (Plattner, 2016). This approach to problem solving has been embraced by several international companies in terms of instruction /training and application in real world situations. Leifer, meinel, and Plattner confirm (2011, 14) “The basic methodology of design thinking didactics has been elaborated at Stanford’s School of Engineering”. The design thinking process offers five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Combined these phases “provide each learner with a relevant, socially situated, complex problem-solving environment in which to generate solutions” (L. Leifer et al., 2012b, p. 18). The authors further support the importance of a design thinking approach and term it ‘timely’. Describing it as “a robust scaffold for divergent problem solving, as it engenders a sense of creative confidence that is both resilient and highly optimistic” (L. Leifer et al., 2012b, p. 19).

The Program engages multidisciplinary research teams with diverging backgrounds in science, engineering, design, humanities, who are passionate about developing ambitious, long-term explorations related to design thinking in its technical, business, and human dimensions (L. J. Leifer et al., 2011, p. xvi). In another article Fischer (2015, 175) confirms “the importance of diverse teams with people from different backgrounds” in order to be successful in the process of design thinking. Both the Stanford and IDEO models promote prototyping as being an integral part of the design thinking process. Leifer, Meinel, and Plattner (2011, xv) confirm the importance of this and refer to prototyping as a form of communication media. They note that prototyping gives a process tangibility and in turn this then facilitates communication between teams.

According to Cordin (2016) designers are “trained to move among different languages and media that pervade our daily lives, designers actually find themselves in the ideal position to read, filter and channel a social and cultural fabric that develops by communicating itself”. Further to this Cordin states that designers should focus their efforts on creating awareness around complex issues (wicked[19]problems) and not attempt to use a single product to solve these problems. Gibbons & Hokanson (2013, p. 2) support this stating “design thinking incorporating abductive reasoning forces a designer to shift and transfer thoughts between the required purpose or function and the appropriate forms for an object to satisfy the purpose”. The authors continue and note “in essence, designers move back and forth between an analysis space (required purpose or function) and a synthesis space (appropriate forms for an object to satisfy the purpose)”. Design thinking is not only aimed at so-called creative people. This is confirmed by Leifer, Meinel, and Plattner (2011, 8) “when we talk about design thinking, we do not use the term in a sense of how designers (may) think, but of how anyone “should” think while dealing with design problems”.


Tim Brown is CEO and president of IDEO. He frequently speaks about the value of design thinking and innovation to business people and designers around the world. He participates in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and his talks Serious Play and Change by Design appear on

Between 1991 and 2003 IDEO had won 346 design awards and since opening its doors registered over 1,000 patents.

IDEO defines human-centered design as a creative approach to problem solving that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs.

Hasso Plattner is a German businessman. A co-founder of SAP SE software company, he has been chairman of the supervisory board of SAP SE since May 2003. As of November 2016, Forbes reported that he had a net worth of $10.8 billion.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford opened in the School of Engineering in 2005, bringing students and faculty from radically different backgrounds together to develop innovative, human-centered solutions to real-world challenges. Using techniques from design and engineering, the institute, known on campus as the, instills creative confidence and draws students beyond the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines.

Who is Tim Brown?

Tim Brown, the most cited author on design thinking is attributed with using the term ‘design thinking’ in 2003. Tim Brown is CEO and President of IDEO. He frequently speaks about the value of design thinking and innovation to business people and designers around the world. He participates in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and his talks Serious Play and Change by Design appear on

Share This