What is Design Thinking?

Wondering what we mean by Design Thinking at HFLI? We describe it as a collection of mindsets and methods that allow us to creatively explore problems, then reframe and act on them. A key point: it involves action, or “design doing,” as well as thinking.


These methods and mindsets go back decades; they draw from the work of systems thinkers, psychologists, anthropologists, design researchers, architects, and scientists to name a few. However, while there is increased use, investment and interest in Design Thinking frameworks in corporate, education, and nonprofit sectors, no common definition or agreement on the specifics of this methodology exists


HFLI approaches Design Thinking in a way that:

  • Is open to and inclusive of other disciplines and methods;
  • Acknowledges the complexity involved in the process and doesn’t oversimplify; and,
  • Continually evolves and expands.

The learning experiences we create and deliver for educators, social entrepreneurs, workplace learners and youth embody this philosophy. HFLI Design Thinking Diagram 2018

Design Thinking (and remember that also includes doing) is messy – it is not a closed loop, it is not linear, and it is not static. Complex challenges require a consistent looping back and around to check assumptions, reframe problems, and iterate on prototypes. Over time our team has come to the nuanced understanding that Design Thinking actually looks something like this:


HFLI Design Thinking Dynamic Diagram 2018

And sometimes, like this:

Design Thinking Process Iteration

We regularly observe the power this framework can have to help people create transformational change. To learn more, contact us at designthinking@hfli.org.



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