Engineering vs Design Thinking

There is a huge difference between “engineering” and “design thinking”. It comes down to that engineers are problem-oriented, a design thinker is need oriented. That’s a fundamental another approach. For an engineer the problem is obvious, As you can see in the image below, it is even not mentioned at all!


Design thinking does not focus on the (technical) problem but focuses on the user of a yet to be invented solution that meets his needs optimally. As you can see below, a central verb is empathizing.


The conceptual distinction between design thinking and engineering makes us clear why some technical solutions don’t work at all, or are actually simply not used. We should be happy that there is a solution, but we are not: the solution works, but is highly irritating. There is a satisfying solution, but it is badly designed. The thinking behind has been problem-oriented, not user oriented.

Examples of brilliant engineering but bad design:

  • A wheelchair
  • Governmental websites
  • Electrical supplies for electronic equipment
  • Boarding aircrafts
  • Crossing streets safely for the blind
  • Ticket systems for public transport
  • Supply of stores
  • Microwaves and other devices that you can not operate without studying the manual

Remember: existing but poorly designed solutions are low-hanging fruit for new ideas that really generate value. They are opportunities easy to spot as riggers for a creative thinking effort.

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4 Replies to “Engineering vs Design Thinking”

  1. What is the difference between Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile?
    By Nicolò Mantini

    I often get asked what the difference is between those terms. “Is lean startup opposite of design thinking? oh no, maybe it is the same?” and “Ah ok, so you mean agile?” or “I think Agile is a better word for it”. Those are some of the comments I get whenever I talk about one of the terms above.

    Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile: What is the difference?

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