Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking’ and its applicationDesign studies32(6), 521-532.


Design thinking emerged as new paradigm that provides solutions to problems in several disciplines. The author described the core and practices of design thinking by highlighting the following main notions: 1) abduction being the challenge, 2) design reasoning as a response, 3) design practices, and 4) frame creation.  The author emphasized that ‘challenge’ in design thinking emerges from a specific need. They explained different analytical reasoning patterns that can be utilized to provide solutions for the challenge. More specifically, the author described two types of abductions in design that lead to ‘value’ as an end product. Following, a description of the different design thinking reasoning patterns which resulted in recognizing that design thinking is not unidirectional.  It is a combination of various analytical reasoning patterns that move backward and forward to confirm that the design solutions work. The author identified different categories of design practices. The conclusion emphasized that ‘frame creation’ is the core design practice based on the design reasoning patterns.

Summary of Key points

  • The first step in understanding design and its practices is by identifying the core challenge based on the particular need for design.

The basic analytical reasoning patterns that are used to solve problems are:

a- Deduction -> know what the object is and how its principles work which leads to the justification of the  observed result.

b- Induction -> know what the object is and what the observed results are which leads to the discovery of its working principles.

  • In design, the end product is creating value rather than an observed fact. There are two forms of abduction that resemble the challenge in design.
    • Abduction-1: we know the working principles as well as the value to be created; however, what the object is needs to be discovered. Conventional problem solving illustrates abduction-1 form.
    • Abduction-2: we only know the value to be designed, however, both what the object is and how its principles work are to be determined. It is more challenging and complex than abduction-1. A conceptual design illustrates abduction-2 form.
  • Design reasoning mirrors the response to the core design challenge.
    •  Experienced designers construct a specific framework to design the desired value whereas novice designers try to match the object and its working principles with the value.
    • Experienced designers start with the ‘value’, which they already know. Accordingly, they create a framework (working principles) which will allow them to design the object. In this way, they started backwards. Next, they move forward to check if the object and working principles designed interact well to produce the design.
  • Design Practices
    • Based on Lawson & Dorst (2009), there are three categorizations of design practices

a- Kinds of design activities which comprises five general subcategories: 1- Formulating, 2- representing, 3- moving, 4- evaluating and 5- managing.

b- Levels of design expertise which includes seven levels: naïve, novice, advanced, beginner, competent, expert, master, and visionary.c- Layers of design practice consist of three layers: 1- project, 2- process, and 3- field.

  • Frame creation is a core practice in the design reasoning process. Frames can either be existing, adopted or created.
    •  Frames are existing when the starting point of design is with already known working principles.
    •  Frames are adopted from pre-existing working principles and practices.
    •  Frames are created through an investigation of emerging themes. This leads to a transformation of the existing practices.

Discussion Questions

  • 1) What are the core challenges in design thinking?
  • 2) How do analytical patterns align with design reasoning?
  • 3) What are the design principles in design thinking process?

Additional Resources

  1. Design Thinking : The Beginner’s Guide https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/design-thinking-the-beginner-s-guide
  2. Introduction to Design Thinking https://experience.sap.com/skillup/introduction-to-design-thinking/



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