A starter-kit of Design Thinking books if you want to dive into creative problem-solving.


Design thinking is one of the critical skills for people working in just about any industry right now. In fact, as mentioned here, Microsoft recently identified some of the most in-demand skills for the future and they included digital skills, analytical abilities, continuous learning capabilities, and design thinking.

While there are programs where you can learn design thinking, such as the Stanford d.School or the newly-formed School of Design and Creative Technologies at the University of Texas, you certainly don’t have to go back to school if it’s something you want to explore. The basics of design thinking are easily grasped and you can start to hone the skills by applying them to your next project.

If you’re interested in digging into design thinking to find out what it means, the methods, and how it applies to business or organizational challenges, these are five books we recommend adding to your bookshelf.


Here’s a roundup of the top five design thinking books that we recommend to learn some of the essential concepts.

Grab a few of these books on design thinking and get familiar with the basics.
Grab a few of these books on design thinking and get familiar with the basics.

If you want to know how Design Thinking applies to business…

#1. The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger L. Martin

The Design of Business

Written by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and a professor of strategic management, The Design of Business talks about why companies need design thinking to “innovate and win.”

The year this book came out, the MIT Sloan Management Review called it: “…a tough-minded elegant survey of why design thinking shouldn’t be considered some soft thing that’s nice for business at the edges but not necessary at the core.”

While about ten years old now, the concepts in this book are still fresh. As design thinking continues to evolve and is still being adopted by many big businesses and major corporations, this one remains a relevant classic.

If you want to know how Design Thinking can impact companies…

#2. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown

Change by Design

Change by Design was written by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, the design consultancy that has been one of the leaders in design thinking and human-centered design. (Interestingly, Brown just announced that he’d be stepping down after 19 years and Sandy Speicher would be stepping in.)

As described by IDEO, this book is not written for designers, but for leaders:Change by Design…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.”

The book was recently updated and includes additional material, including new case studies and a new introduction.

If you want to jump into design thinking head first…

#3. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz

Sprint

Full-disclosure, we’re big fans of Jake Knapp, one of the authors of Sprint. He was one of the reasons we now run design sprints for companies. So, we’re a bit biased when we say that you need this book. Especially if you want to get familiar with design thinking concepts in a quick, but in-depth way. The book outlines a concrete five-day process you can run through to solve and test a new idea.

The design sprint process.
The design sprint process.

Using this book and the methods it outlines, you can learn the tenants of design thinking — gathering insights, user research, prototyping — in five short days and get hands-on experience.

Bonus recommendation: Check out Jake and John’s newest book Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday.

If you want to apply Design Thinking to social innovation…

#4. The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, by IDEO.org

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

This book comes from IDEO.org, the non-profit arm of the global design consultancy. They describe their mission as: “…to design products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.”

The Field Guide allows you to learn design thinking methods and how they can be applied specifically to projects and work in the social sector. What’s especially great about this book is that it’s a practical how-to that walks you through the process of design thinking step-by-step.

It also describes 57 design thinking methods and activities that can be used by anyone, no matter what your challenge, industry, or focus.

If you want a wealth of creative Design Thinking activities…

#5. Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, by David Sherwin

Creative Workshop

While not billed as a “design thinking” book, Creative Workshop is chock-full of exercises and activities rooted in design thinking methods. Like a few on this list, we like the practical nature of this book and that it provides 80 different ways to spark creativity and solve problems.

The book includes brainstorming ideas and thoughts and suggestions from top designers. Keep it on your desk at work for the next time you get stuck and need inspiration.


Looking for a partner in Design Thinking?

We hope you enjoyed this list of design thinking books. Voltage Control offers a range of options for innovation training, design sprints, and design thinking facilitation. Please reach out to us at info@voltagecontrol.com if you want to talk!