Doing Design Thinking: Conceptual Review, Synthesis, and Research Agenda

Pietro Micheli, Sarah Wilner, Sabeen Bhatti, Matteo Mura, Michael Beverland

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Design thinking has attracted considerable interest from practitioners and academics alike, as it offers a novel approach to innovation and problem-solving. However, there appear to be substantial differences between promoters and critics about its essential attributes, applicability, and outcomes. To shed light on current knowledge and conceptualizations of design thinking we undertook a multiphase study. First, a systematic review of the design thinking literature enabled us to identify 10 principal attributes and 8 tools and methods. To validate and refine our findings, we then employed a card sorting exercise with professional designers. Finally, we undertook a cluster analysis to reveal structural patterns within the design thinking literature. Our research makes three principal contributions to design and innovation management theory and practice. First, in rigorously deriving 10 attributes and 8 essential tools and methods that support them from a broad and multidisciplinary assortment of articles, we bring much needed clarity and validity to a construct plagued by polysemy and thus threatened by “construct collapse.” Second, aided by the identification of perspectives of scholars writing about design thinking, we provide detailed recommendations for relevant topics warranting further study in order to advance theoretical understanding of design thinking and test its applications. Third, we identify the enduring, yet essential, questions that remain unresolved across the extant design thinking literature and that may impede its practical implementation. We also provide suggestions for the theoretic frames, which may help address them, and thus advance the ability of scholars and managers alike to benefit from design thinking’s apparent advantages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-148
JournalJournal of Product Innovation Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2018


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