Top Design Thinking Books To Read

Stay current on design thinking insights with this literature

Did you know that there is a wide range of literature available about design thinking that can help you improve innovation and design thinking efforts at your organization? Reading can be a powerful tool to help you discover best practices and tools for success. Here are 12 top design thinking books to read this year. These books can help you whether you are getting started with understanding what design thinking is or if you are developing your own design thinking training or leading a culture of innovation.

  • Creative Confidence
  • Change by Design
  • Design Thinking
  • The Design of Business
  • Designing for People
  • Designing for Growth
  • This is Service Design Doing
  • This is Service Design Thinking
  • Designing your Life
  • The Art of Innovation
  • The Design Thinking Playbook
  • The Design Thinking Toolbox

Keep reading to learn more about each of these design thinking books. Do you want to learn design thinking in a more applied way? Consider design thinking online training workshops or a design thinking certification course as a deeper alternative to learning from books alone.

1. Creative Confidence

This book by Tom Kelley, the founder of IDEO and creator of the Stanford d.school, provides the key principles and strategies to tap into our creative potential. An entertaining and inspiring guide, this book is sure to help you be more productive and successful in your career and personal life. Find it here.

Creative Confidence Book Description (from Amazon):

Too often, companies and individuals assume that creativity and innovation are the domain of the “creative types.” But two of the leading experts in innovation, design, and creativity on the planet show us that each and every one of us is creative. In an incredibly entertaining and inspiring narrative that draws on countless stories from their work at IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and with many of the world’s top companies, David and Tom Kelley identify the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, and in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems. It is a book that will help each of us be more productive and successful in our lives and in our careers.

2. Change by Design

An old classic, Tim Brown’s Change By Design is a great introduction on design thinking and the collaborative process of designing for your customer’s needs. Labeled as a book for “creative leaders seeking to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization, product or service”, Change by Design is sure to get your thoughts moving. Find it here.

Change by Design Book Description (from Amazon):

The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed before being realized as new offerings and capabilities.

This book introduces the idea of design thinking‚ the collaborative process by which the designer′s sensibilities and methods are employed to match people′s needs not only with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy. In short‚ design thinking converts need into demand. It′s a human−centered approach to problem solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and more creative.

Design thinking is not just applicable to so−called creative industries or people who work in the design field. It′s a methodology that has been used by organizations such as Kaiser Permanente to increase the quality of patient care by re−examining the ways that their nurses manage shift change‚ or Kraft to rethink supply chain management. This is not a book by designers for designers; this is a book for creative leaders seeking to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization‚ product‚ or service to drive new alternatives for business and society.

3. Design Thinking

Nigel Cross’ Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work sheds a light on the creative process and provides case studies of how amazing designers work to help you develop the skills needed for design thinking at your organization. The book offers key insights into this process from many different industries, written by a prominent designer in the field. Find it here.

Design Thinking Book Description (from Amazon):

Design thinking is the core creative process for any designer; this book explores and explains this apparently mysterious “design ability”.

Focusing on what designers do when they design, Design Thinking is structured around a series of in-depth case studies of outstanding and expert designers at work, interwoven with overviews and analyses. The range covered reflects the breadth of Design, from hardware to software product design, from architecture to Formula One design. The book offers new insights and understanding of design thinking, based on evidence from observation and investigation of design practice.

Design Thinking is the distillation of the work of one of Design’s most influential thinkers. Nigel Cross goes to the heart of what it means to think and work as a designer. The book is an ideal guide for anyone who wants to be a designer or to know how good designers work in the field of contemporary Design.

4. The Design of Business

Roger Martin’s The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage provides a compelling case of why innovation and design thinking should matter at your organization. The author covers how prominent, leading companies across the world have used design thinking across every stage of their company to produce breakthrough innovations and develop competitive advantage in their field. Find it here.

The Design of Business Book Description (from Amazon):

Most companies today have innovation envy. They yearn to come up with a game—changing innovation like Apple’s iPod, or create an entirely new category like Facebook. Many make genuine efforts to be innovative—they spend on R&D, bring in creative designers, hire innovation consultants. But they get disappointing results.

Why? In The Design of Business, Roger Martin offers a compelling and provocative answer: we rely far too exclusively on analytical thinking, which merely refines current knowledge, producing small improvements to the status quo.

To innovate and win, companies need design thinking. This form of thinking is rooted in how knowledge advances from one stage to another—from mystery (something we can’t explain) to heuristic (a rule of thumb that guides us toward solution) to algorithm (a predictable formula for producing an answer) to code (when the formula becomes so predictable it can be fully automated). As knowledge advances across the stages, productivity grows and costs drop-creating massive value for companies.

Martin shows how leading companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cirque du Soleil, RIM, and others use design thinking to push knowledge through the stages in ways that produce breakthrough innovations and competitive advantage.

Filled with deep insights and fresh perspectives, The Design of Business reveals the true foundation of successful, profitable innovation.

5. Designing for People

Henry Dreyfuss’ Designing for People provides a historical perspective on how his innovative devices shaped the cultural landscape of the 20th century and provides professional advice, case studies, and history to help you improve your design thinking efforts. Find it here.

Designing for People Book Description (from Amazon):

From the first answering machine (“the electronic brain”) and the Hoover vacuum cleaner to the SS Independence and the Bell telephone, the creations of Henry S. Dreyfuss have shaped the cultural landscape of the 20th century. Written in a robust, fresh style, this book offers an inviting mix of professional advice, case studies, and design history along with historical black-and-white photos and the author’s whimsical drawings. In addition, the author’s uncompromising commitment to public service, ethics, and design responsibility makes this masterful guide a timely read for today’s designers.

6. Designing for Growth

Designing for Growth uncovers the mindset, techniques and vocabulary of design thinking and teaches managers how to exploit design’s potential to grow their business. Find it here. Also check out the Designing for Growth Fieldbook here.

Designing for Growth Book Description (from Amazon):

In Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers (D4G), Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie showed how design can boost innovation and drive growth. In this companion guide, also suitable as a stand-alone project workbook, the authors provide a step-by-step framework for applying the D4G toolkit and process to a particular project, systematically explaining how to address the four key questions of their design thinking approach.

The field book maps the flow of the design process within the context of a specific project and reminds readers of key D4G takeaways as they work. The text helps readers identify an opportunity, draft a design brief, conduct research, establish design criteria, brainstorm, develop concepts, create napkin pitches, make prototypes, solicit feedback from stakeholders, and run learning launches. The workbook demystifies tools that have traditionally been the domain of designers―from direct observation to journey mapping, storytelling, and storyboarding―that power the design thinking process and help businesses align around a project to realize its full potential.

7. This is Service Design Doing

You know that developing a customer-centric culture is important, but how do you actually accomplish this in practice? This ambitious read by Marc Stickdorn attempts to answer this question with a thoughtful how-to guide. You’ll learn how to run workshops, concept productively, and turn your ideas into reality. Find it here.

This is Service Design Doing Book Description (from Amazon):

How can you establish a customer-centric culture in an organization? This is the first comprehensive book on how to actually do service design to improve the quality and the interaction between service providers and customers. You’ll learn specific facilitation guidelines on how to run workshops, perform all of the main service design methods, implement concepts in reality, and embed service design successfully in an organization.

Great customer experience needs a common language across disciplines to break down silos within an organization. This book provides a consistent model for accomplishing this and offers hands-on descriptions of every single step, tool, and method used. You’ll be able to focus on your customers and iteratively improve their experience.

Move from theory to practice and build sustainable business success.

8. This is Service Design Thinking

Another great design thinking book by Marc Stickdorn, this one focuses on service design thinking. You’ll learn how to improve the customer experience and interactions between services and customers. By the end, you’ll have a good sense of how to market your business as unique and exactly what the customer is looking for. Find it here.

This is Service Design Thinking Book Description (from Amazon):

Service design thinking is the designing and marketing of services that improve the customer experience, and the interactions between the service providers and the customers. If you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sell the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other. Maybe one plays music and the other doesn’t. Maybe one takes credit cards and the other is cash only. Maybe you like the layout of one over the other, or one has more comfortable seating. Maybe the staff at one is friendlier, or draws fun shapes on the top of their lattes. All of these nuances relate to service design.

This Is Service Design Thinking combines the knowledge of twenty-three international authors and even more online contributors from the global service design community and is divided into three sections:

  • Basics: outlines service design thinking along five basic principles
  • Tools: describing a variety of tools and methods used in Service Design Thinking
  • Cases: vivid examples for the introduced fundamentals with real-life case studies from 5 companies that did inspiring projects within the field of Service Design

At the end, a one-page “Customer Journey Canvas” is included, which can be used to quickly sketch any service on a single sheet of paper―capturing different stakeholder concerns: e.g. customers, front-line staff and management.

9. Designing your Life

This book will take you through how design thinking can be used to design and build your career and your life, bringing you the most productive, healthy, and happy experience you can find. Using the same techniques responsible for top products and technology, you’ll find your own path in life through this read. Find it here.

Designing Your Life Book Description (from Amazon):

Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking. Look around your office or home—at the tablet or smartphone you may be holding or the chair you are sitting in. Everything in our lives was designed by someone. And every design starts with a problem that a designer or team of designers seeks to solve.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

10. The Art of Innovation

Tom Kelley’s classic The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm provides insights from industry leader IDEO on how to foster a continuing culture of innovation at your organization and develop a more collaborative approach to working. Find it here.

The Art of Innovation Book Description (from Amazon):

IDEO, the widely admired, award-winning design and development firm that brought the world the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, the Palm V, and hundreds of other cutting-edge products and services, reveals its secrets for fostering a culture and process of continuous innovation.

There isn’t a business in America that doesn’t want to be more creative in its thinking, products, and processes. At many companies, being first with a concept and first to market are critical just to survive. In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley, general manager of the Silicon Valley based design firm IDEO, takes readers behind the scenes of this wildly imaginative and energized company to reveal the strategies and secrets it uses to turn out hit after hit.

IDEO doesn’t buy into the myth of the lone genius working away in isolation, waiting for great ideas to strike. Kelley believes everyone can be creative, and the goal at his firm is to tap into that wellspring of creativity in order to make innovation a way of life. How does it do that? IDEO fosters an atmosphere conducive to freely expressing ideas, breaking the rules, and freeing people to design their own work environments. IDEO’s focus on teamwork generates countless breakthroughs, fueled by the constant give-and-take among people ready to share ideas and reap the benefits of the group process. IDEO has created an intense, quick-turnaround, brainstorm-and-build process dubbed “the Deep Dive.”

In entertaining anecdotes, Kelley illustrates some of his firm’s own successes (and joyful failures), as well as pioneering efforts at other leading companies. The book reveals how teams research and immerse themselves in every possible aspect of a new product or service, examining it from the perspective of clients, consumers, and other critical audiences.

Kelley takes the reader through the IDEO problem-solving method:

  • Carefully observing the behavior or “anthropology” of the people who will be using a product or service
  • Brainstorming with high-energy sessions focused on tangible results
  • Quickly prototyping ideas and designs at every step of the way
  • Cross-pollinating to find solutions from other fields
  • Taking risks, and failing your way to success
  • Building a “Greenhouse” for innovation

IDEO has won more awards in the last ten years than any other firm of its kind, and a full half-hour Nightline presentation of its creative process received one of the show’s highest ratings. The Art of Innovation will provide business leaders with the insights and tools they need to make their companies the leading-edge, top-rated stars of their industries.

11. The Design Thinking Playbook

Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer’s Design Thinking Playbook: Mindful Digital Transformation of Teams, Products, Services, Businesses and Ecosystems provides a modern, actionable guide to design thinking and the future of business. The book outlines design thinking as applied across a range of industries, as well as the tools leaders of industry use to grow their business. Find it here.

The Design Thinking Playbook Book Description (from Amazon):

The Design Thinking Playbook is an actionable guide to the future of business. By stepping back and questioning the current mindset, the faults of the status quo stand out in stark relief―and this guide gives you the tools and frameworks you need to kick off a digital transformation. Design Thinking is about approaching things differently with a strong user orientation and fast iterations with multidisciplinary teams to solve wicked problems. It is equally applicable to (re-)design products, services, processes, business models, and ecosystems. It inspires radical innovation as a matter of course, and ignites capabilities beyond mere potential. Unmatched as a source of competitive advantage, Design Thinking is the driving force behind those who will lead industries through transformations and evolutions.

This book describes how Design Thinking is applied across a variety of industries, enriched with other proven approaches as well as the necessary tools, and the knowledge to use them effectively. Packed with solutions for common challenges including digital transformation, this practical, highly visual discussion shows you how Design Thinking fits into agile methods within management, innovation, and startups.

  • Explore the digitized future using new design criteria to create real value for the user
  • Foster radical innovation through an inspiring framework for action
  • Gather the right people to build highly-motivated teams
  • Apply Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, Big Data Analytics, and Lean Start-up using new tools and a fresh new perspective
  • Create Minimum Viable Ecosystems (MVEs) for digital processes and services which becomes for example essential in building Blockchain applications

Practical frameworks, real-world solutions, and radical innovation wrapped in a whole new outlook give you the power to mindfully lead to new heights. From systems and operations to people, projects, culture, digitalization, and beyond, this invaluable mind shift paves the way for organizations―and individuals―to do great things. When you’re ready to give your organization a big step forward, The Design Thinking Playbook is your practical guide to a more innovative future. 

12. The Design Thinking Toolbox (New for 2020)


Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer offer another excellent book to build on The Design Thinking Playbook: Mindful Digital Transformation of Teams, Products, Services, Businesses and Ecosystems. This book is a toolkit of dozens of activities that you can do as a part of a design thinking project…with details on how to conduct the activity. The Design Thinking Toolbox is subtitled as a guide to mastering the most popular and valuable innovation methods. It’s a good hardcopy to have and you will probably pick up some new tools to add to your own design thinking toolkit with this book. Find it here.

The Design Thinking Toolbox Book Description (from Amazon):

The Design Thinking Toolbox explains the most important tools and methods to put Design Thinking into action. Based on the largest international survey on the use of design thinking, the most popular methods are described in four pages each by an expert from the global Design Thinking community. If you are involved in innovation, leadership, or design, these are tools you need. Simple instructions, expert tips, templates, and images help you implement each tool or method.

  • Quickly and comprehensively familiarize yourself with the best design thinking tools
  • Select the appropriate warm-ups, tools, and methods
  • Explore new avenues of thinking
  • Plan the agenda for different design thinking workshops
  • Get practical application tips

The Design Thinking Toolbox help innovators master the early stages of the innovation process. It’s the perfect complement to the international bestseller The Design Thinking Playbook. 

 


These top design thinking books can help you learn more about the design thinking process and gain valuable tools, insights, and resources to help empower your organization to innovate creatively and become a leader in your industry. For more resources, check out our innovation and design thinking blog. If you’d like to go deeper on design thinking check out these other links.

Design Thinking Training Workshop Resources
Online Design Thinking Training
Design Thinking “Train-the-Trainer” Facilitator Training

Email us at darin@innovationtraining.org if you are interested in a custom design thinking workshop based on a recommended  framework or book. Based on our experience leading design thinking sessions for over 100 organizations, we like to listen to what you’d like to accomplish and design a workshop for your needs, users, and scenario.

3 Comments

  • Abdulfatah Mohamed

    Reply Reply April 2, 2020

    Excellent resources

  • I am always inspired by the content found in the books you have recommended in Design Thinking.

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