Design Thinking Mindsets for Human-Centered Design

Discover these design thinking mindsets that empower innovation.

Design thinking, the incredibly popular approach to innovation, requires a certain type of mindset. People who want to innovate their work and create better experiences, products and services for their users or customers might benefit from applying certain attitudes that can empower their thinking and creativity. Here is our collection of design thinking mindsets from leaders IDEO and Stanford to inspire your design thinking activities:

IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Mindsets

Learn from Failure

This mindset is all about the ability to learn from failure and use failure as a tool to improve your practices. As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO explains, “Don’t think of it as failure, think of it as designing experiments through which you’re going to learn.” Design begins with not knowing the solution to a challenge. Instead of being scared of failure, use every opportunity to experiment and grow from your mistakes.

Make It

Design thinking is about experimenting with prototypes. Make an idea real in order to better understand it and think through the problem. Only through building and testing will you be able to know if a product or service is doing what it should do. Whether it’s a simple cardboard and scissors model, or a sophisticated digital mockup, creating a prototype will allow you to share your idea and gain feedback early and often.

Creative Confidence

This mindset is about approaching the world like a designer. It’s understanding that you have creative ideas and the power to turn those ideas into a reality. Creative confidence allows designers to make leaps and trust their instincts about real solutions to business problems.


Empathy is not only a wonderful skill for understanding your customers better, it can also help you solve problems from their perspective and gain insight into the design process. Ultimately, your product or service should be built to help improve other people’s lives and experiences, so never losing sight of an empathetic view of the world is key.


IDEO describes design thinking as inherently optimistic. In order to take on a design challenge, you need to believe that progress is an option. Optimism is this embracement of possibility and knowledge that there is a better solution to the problem out there.

Embrace Ambiguity

Design thinking designers start from not knowing the answer to the problem. This ambiguity may feel uncomfortable at first, but by embracing it, you will be able to open yourself up to creative ideas and arrive at unexpected solutions.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

The final IDEO design thinking mindset is about iteration. In order to reach the right solution, you need to receive feedback from customers early and frequently. By constantly improving and refining your work, you will be able to produce better ideas and arrive more quickly at the right solution.

Stanford Design Thinking Mindsets

The Stanford d.School was the original source where we first learned of mindsets for design thinking years ago. They’ve also updated them over the years…a previous favorite of mine was “prototype toward a solution.” Here are the Stanford mindsets…similar to IDEO’s human-centered design mindsets as both the Stanford and IDEO have similar Palo Alto/Kelley roots.

Show, Don’t Tell

Like IDEO, the Stanford heavily promotes the idea of using prototypes and real models to illustrate your creative ideas. The “show, don’t tell” mentality is about communicating your vision through the use of experiences, visuals and stories.

Focus on Human Values

Empathy is another important mindset at play here. By focusing on the people you are designing for, you can unlock new ideas you never would’ve thought of without a human-centered approach.

Craft Clarity

Take away all the clutter and explain your idea clearly and simply. Have a vision that others can understand quickly and that can inspire action.

Embrace Experimentation

Prototyping helps you learn and think. It’s not always just about validating an idea or gaining evidence of the right solution. It can also simply help to take action on an idea to understand it better.

Be Mindful of Process

Always remember where you are in the design process, what you are hoping to accomplish and what you need to do next. Allow the design thinking process to guide your actions from start to finish.

Bias Toward Action

This mindset means that you are more focused on action than thinking. Instead of talking about an idea, you will take that idea and turn it into reality. By doing, we learn so much more about the process and how to improve it in the future.

Radical Collaboration

This final Stanford mindset is about the need for collaboration. Amazing designers know that it takes many people from all backgrounds and experiences to truly understand a problem and evolve the solution.

As leaders in the design thinking movement from Palo Alto, IDEO and the Stanford both have powerful insights into the design thinking process and which design thinking mindsets are needed to empower innovation. Hopefully, these mentalities will inspire you to improve your own processes and kickstart creativity at your organization today to design better experiences for those you serve.

What are your favorite mindsets for design thinking? What else would you add?

For more resources, tips, and tricks, keep reading our design thinking and innovation resource blog.


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