What Types of Problems is Design Thinking Best Suited to Solve?

Annie Cederholm
by Annie Cederholm
Digital Strategist

Last Updated: October 30, 2019

What Types of Problems is Design Thinking Best Suited to SolveDesign Thinking is extraordinarily versatile for taking on the most challenging and seemingly impassible issues. The advantage is in the ability to pivot focus and apply critical thinking to ideate several potential solutions.

Design Thinking is effective at ferreting out the pain points versus utilizing the blanket solution to the assumed “obvious” problem. Often when awareness of a problem is raised, the immediate reaction is based on assumptions, protocol, or very specific alternate experiences. While this may be successful for a portion of the issues, the opportunity to fully confront and solve the issue for the better is squandered. Generally, problems are categorized and assigned SMEs (subject matter experts) with pre-crafted solutions. Due to its core function, this systematic approach doesn't typically allow time and resources for considering new and alternative solutions.

"Design Thinking is a process by which designers approach problem solving. It incorporates analytical, synthetic, divergent and convergent thinking to create a wide number of potential solutions and then narrow these down to a “best fit” solution. There are many ways to use a design thinking process to incorporate different methodologies to still reach the same end point." -Interaction Design Foundation

Subject matter types and the amount of complexity are not defining characteristics of the Design Thinking methodology. It is applicable to a myriad of problems in all industries and scales, capable of solving a range of challenges including but not limited to:

  • Shifts in markets
  • Changes in consumer behaviors
  • Re-invention of business models
  • Entrepreneurial innovations
  • Education advancements
  • Social issues impacting diverse groups of people
  • Redefining value propositions

Accuracy in defining the goal is an essential part of Design Thinking. While the methodology is not about finding one final solution, but several to be reviewed and decided upon at a later point. General rule of thumb dictates that the issue being tackled by the Design Thinking team cannot be overly specific, nor too broad. The Goldilocks Principle applies in finding the right questions to ask during the process, as Time Brown of IDEO said, “You need to find the sweet spot.” 

Read More on Design Thinking

In addition to goals, all problems and associated road blocks need to be defined. Success in creating working solutions will only happen if the design thinkers are aware of the nuances within obstacles they're dealing with. All this attention to perspective and parameters within the Design Thinking process makes it that much more adaptable to the increasing speed and disruption inherent in today’s micro and macro markets, institutions and customer segments.

Read more on Design Thinking and follow our new blog series where we detail the how and why of Design Sprints as we prepare for the 2019 ASAE Annual Conference this August.