10 Design Thinking Tools

By Jeanne Liedtka, United Technologies Corporation Professor of Business Administration

Jeanne Liedtka is a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation, where she was responsible for overseeing all activities associated with corporate learning and development for the Fortune 50 corporation. At Darden, Jeanne focuses in the areas of design thinking, innovation and leading growth. Her passion is exploring how organizations can engage employees at every level in thinking creatively about the design of powerful futures.


Visualization is not about drawing; it’s about visual thinking. It pushes us beyond using words alone. It is a way of unlocking a different part of our brains that allows us to think nonverbally and that managers might not normally use.

When you explain an idea using words, the rest of us will form our own mental pictures. If instead you present your idea to us visually, you reduce the possibility of unmatched mental models.

Journey Mapping

Journey mapping is an ethnographic research method that focuses on tracing the customer’s “journey” as he or she interacts with an organization while in the process of receiving a service, with special attention to emotional reactions. Journey mapping is used with the objective of identifying needs that customers are often unable to articulate.

Value Chain Analysis

Value chain analysis examines how an organization interacts with value chain partners to produce, market and distribute new offerings. Analysis of the value chain offers ways to create better value for customers along the chain and uncovers important clues about partners’ capabilities and intentions.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is used to represent how ideas or other items are linked to a central idea and to each other. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas to look for patterns and insights that provide key design criteria. We do this by displaying the data and asking people to cluster them in ways that allow themes and patterns to emerge.

Rapid Concept Development

Rapid concept development assists us in generating hypotheses about potential new business opportunities, and getting customer feedback as soon as possible.

In the first stage, we take the design criteria, the customer personas and their pain points, and the value chain insights we have unearthed in our research to generate new ideas. In the second stage, we assemble the ideas into a manageable number of interesting concepts. Finally, we elaborate on the business design behind that handful of concepts.

Assumption Testing

Assumption testing focuses on identifying assumptions underlying the attractiveness of a new business idea and using available data to assess the likelihood that these assumptions will manifest. These assumptions are then tested through thought experiments, followed by field experiments.

Once you have determined which assumptions are most critical, identify the data that allows you to conclusively test key assumptions. Figure out what it would take to get that data quickly, then design your thought experiment, paying special attention to the data that could prove you wrong.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping techniques allow us to make abstract new ideas tangible to potential partners and customers. These include storyboarding, user scenarios, experience journeys and business concept illustrations — all of which encourage deep involvement by important stakeholders to provide feedback.

Prototyping is all about minimizing the “I” in ROI. The cost of a simple 2-D prototype could be as low as a pen and some paper. Business concept prototypes generally take visual and narrative forms: images and stories. Play with your prototype; don’t defend it. Let others validate it — not the people who created it.

“We get anxious about showing customers unfinished “stuff.” Get over it. Innovation is about learning, and customers have the most to teach us.

Customer Co-creation

Customer co-creation incorporates techniques that allow managers to engage a customer while in the process of generating new business ideas of mutual interest. They are among the most value-enhancing, risk-reducing approaches to innovation.

In our Six Sigma world, which values perfection, we tend to get anxious about showing customers unfinished “stuff.” Get over it. Innovation is about learning, and customers have the most to teach us. The sooner we get something in front of them that they can react to, the faster we will get to a differentiated value-added solution.

Learning Launches

Learning launches are designed to test the key underlying value-generating assumptions of a potential new-growth initiative in the marketplace. In contrast to a full new-product rollout, a learning launch is an experiment conducted quickly and inexpensively to gather market-driven data.

We call them launches because they are meant to feel real to both launchers and customers. Only then can they yield reliable data. They are an extension of the co-creation process, but we are asking customers to put their money where their mouths are. The only true test of the value of an idea for customers is their willingness to part with cold hard cash.


Storytelling is exactly how it sounds: weaving together a story rather than just making a series of points. It is a close relative of visualization — another way to make new ideas feel real and compelling. Visual storytelling is actually the most compelling type of story. All good presentations — whether analytical or design-oriented — tell a persuasive story.


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