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8 Best design thinking books

must read list

Design thinking is often described as the secret sauce to innovation.

It’s practiced by the most innovative design firms and project teams.

It’s the process behind great ideas.


Can you relate to one of the following?

  • You have heard the word design thinking here and there and would like to learn what it is, how it works, and how it could help you in your work
  • You’re interested in using design thinking in your organization but have no idea where to start
  • You had first experiences doing design thinking and would like to dive deeper into the topic and understand its framework
  • You are looking for methods in your product development work that put the user’s needs at the center
  • You are a creative and would like to use creative ideation and development methods with non-designers


Find out in the list below, which of the essential design thinking books will be the most interesting for you to learn more about the theory and practice of design thinking.

I have read them so you don’t have to 😉



 My design thinking book recommendations


Design thinking process

 1 | The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, Larry Leifer

 “The design thinking playbook will help individuals, teams and organizations” from the blurb of The Design Thinking Playbook

The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer
What is The Design Thinking Playbook about?

 The playbook is the best one-stop shop for a jumpstart into your design thinking journey!

In the first part, the design thinking process and most typically used tools/methods are explained (personas, how might we questions, etc.).

The second part is giving guidance on how to apply design thinking into practice. It gives ideas on how to create a good working space and tips and tricks on forming interdisciplinary teams.

The book is written very close to practice, filled with expert tips!

The last part is an outlook on how big of an impact design thinking can make in the world: How it can help transform whole business organizations, how it can be leveraged within the digital transformation and how it can be combined with data analytics.

inside The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer
Who wrote The Design Thinking Playbook?

This is a design thinking book written by experienced design thinkers: Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer have used design thinking as an innovation tool for decades.

They all have worked with corporate clients, as well as in research, and in teaching.

You can feel their experience in the design thinking playbook: Not only is it a deep dive into the subject, but it’s also written very close to practice.


Who should read The Design Thinking Playbook?

Everyone who wants to learn design thinking and everyone involved in corporate projects.

The playbook is the perfect guide to applying design thinking in a corporate environment and teaches not only the creative part but also the business part of successfully developing innovative products with the help of design thinking.

It’s also a good tool for creative leaders seeking guidance on how to use design thinking in multidisciplinary project teams.

Good news – there’s more: For more practical guidance, the authors wrote a whole book on design thinking methods, The Design Thinking Toolbox.

2 | The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

“This is a starter kit for good design” Don Norman in the preface of the revised edition of The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
What is The Design of Everyday Things about?

The book explains how design and human psychology are interconnected.

The roughly 300 pages dive deep into understanding why everyday objects work, or where their design creates problems. It’s full of examples which are connected to the theory of psychology and human centered design.

The Design of Everyday things was first published in 1986 and this is the revised and expanded version from 2013.

flickering throuhg pages of The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
Who wrote The Design of Everyday Things?

Don Norman is one of the world’s most influential designers of our time.

He both teaches and practices design; he co-founded Nielsen Norman Group, was a VP at Apple, and professor at several universities, Harvard being one of them.

Norman was one of the key figures to establish what we today call design thinking and human centered design.


Who should read The Design of Everyday Things?

It’s not a coincidence that The Design of Everyday Things appeared on every professor’s must-read list during my studies – this book is written for people who practice (product) design. I’m sure people in related professional fields (or people who really want to know why they like or hate some of their everyday objects) will find it equally valuable.

Design thinking for corporate leaders

3 | Change by Design by Tim Brown

“How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation” – Change by Design’s subtitle

Change by Design by Tim Brown
What is Change by Design about?

This is the book that links design thinking with the every day of business!

Change by Design is an explanation of design thinking and how it helps convert user needs into market demand.

A human-centered approach is key to innovation, according to Change by Design. The book describes how teams ideally work in a collaborative process (how projects and processes are set up) to become more human-centered.

Tim Brown packages the theoretical background in lots of practical examples. He also gives straightforward instructions and tips on how to apply design thinking in corporate settings.

peek inside the book Change by Design by Tim Brown
Who wrote Change by Design?

Tim Brown is the former CEO of IDEO, one of the few design firms that essentially shaped design thinking into what it is today.

IDEO are not only developing products for their customers, but they also help implement new products, making sure that the business model and overall user experience are on point.

So Tim Brown definitely knows what he’s talking about, from decades of practical experience.


Who is Change by Design for?

For anyone in a corporate setting, to know why, where, and how to start with creative processes:

This book is a must-read for you if you

  • want to understand how creative techniques will benefit your organization in processes and product development and give you a competitive advantage
  • want a proven process that helps drive innovative ideas while mitigating the risks around the unknowns
  • want to learn how you incorporate design thinking into your projects


For creatives in corporate settings:

This book was extremely useful for me as a creative to make sense of how design thinking fits into the business world of my company. In a corporate setting, I often find myself speaking a different language than the people around me. Arguments that would blow away design colleagues just don’t land with managers, no matter how hard you explain why.

If you pick up the way that Brown explains creative processes to non-creatives, you learn how to connect your creative arguments with relevant business principles. So that you can speak a language your colleagues will understand.

Design thinking case studies

4 | The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley

“Lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading Design Firm” subtitle of The Art of Innovation

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
What is The Art of Innovation about?

The book is a peek into the smart brains of IDEO’s team.

It uncovers the secrets of how their multidisciplinary teams tackle a project, and how they problem-solve and come up with innovative solutions.

The examples are explained in detail and the book includes pictures of the discussed products.

Along with project examples, The Art of Innovation gives you close-to-practice instructions on applying a human-centered approach to your product development projects.

And oh yeah … the project examples are from brands like Apple, Procter & Gamble, and AT&T, to name a few.

page example from The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Who wrote The Art of Innovation?

Tom Kelley is one of THE key thought leaders in design thinking and human-centered design (HCD). He is one of the persons who majorly shaped the design firm IDEO, which his brother co-founded, from its early stages to what it stands for today:

IDEO not only works with clients on projects but also teaches their methodology and frameworks to designers and non-designers around the world.


Who should read The Art of Innovation?

Anyone who wants to understand how design thinking is applied in practice should add The Art of Innovation to their must-read list.

Kelley is excellent in not only describing his team’s designs but also the unknowns, struggles, and obstacles they faced during the process and how the team overcame them. He also highlights their customer’s strategies and wishes going into a project and provides background around the market at the time.


Note: The book was first published in 2001. While the examples in the book date back to the late 90ies (not necessarily the book for you if you’re looking for new examples specifically), every detail around the described processes is still very relevant today.

5 | Design Thinking by Nigel Cross

 “Understanding how designers think and work” Nigel Cross in Design Thinking

Design Thinking by Nigel Cross_
What is Design Thinking about?

 Design thinking by Nigel Cross describes the creative process. Case studies throughout the book help us understand the theory.

The book helps to explain how designers think, how they work, and how they come up with new ideas in the bigger scheme. But it’s not a direct explanation of the design thinking process (as it is described in The Design Thinking Playbook or The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design).

Who wrote Design Thinking?

Nigel Cross is one of the early design thinking thought leaders. He wrote several books about the design process and design thinking.

Nigel Cross has an academic and educational background.


Who should read Design Thinking?

This book is for you if you want to fundamentally understand the creative process.

It’s for outsiders who want to get a peek into the world of design and for creatives who want to learn about their process on a more theoretical level.

Design thinking mindset

6 | Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley

“We took many things apart, and put some of them back together.” Tom and David Kelley in Creative Confidence

Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley
What is Creative Confidence about?

This book is completely focused on the mindset needed for design thinking.

Being creative, having good ideas, and being innovative is not only for artistically creative people, as you might assume at first. Design thinkiers are not the lone genius working by themselves, they are problem solving, analytical thinking persons from various fields of expertise, working in multidisciplinary teams.

Creative confidence is what lies in every one of us, even in those who describe themselves as not creative at all.

The book describes different ways how creativity shows, takes readers on a journey of discovering their creative confidence, and offers practical advice how it can be further trained.

inside the book Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley
Who wrote Creative Confidence?

David and Tom Kelley are brothers and are most known for their design firm IDEO (David is the founder and Tom is a partner in the company). They have evolved, practiced, and taught design thinking and other creative methods for most of their lives.


Who should read Creative Confidence?

Everyone. Especially if you’re interested in design thinking but not so sure whether you would be good at it – or in other words: whether you’re creative.

The book breaks down the traits that are important to build creative confidence and gives many examples. You will most likely identify yourself with the described persons in one or the other way. This will help you grow in your confidence to be a creative person, no matter where on this journey you are.

Creatives and creative leaders can use the book to better understand their own creative potential and to get ideas on how to help people outside the creative field co-create with them.

Design thinking tools and methods

7 | The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design by IDEO

“In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different scenarios, different places” – Emi Kolawole, quoted in The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

brainstorming workshop full group discussion - design thinking methods
What is The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design about?

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design is a handbook for applying human-centered design in practice. The book is written with social projects in mind and features case studies and example photos from real-world examples of social projects from different countries.

After an introduction covering the design thinking process and mindset, the 3 main chapters explain design thinking methods, grouped by the phases of the process.

page example from the free PDF download of The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design by IDEO
Who wrote The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design?

The book’s author is IDEO, a human-centered design firm (the one that is the major reason why HCD and design thinking are so well-known today).

The IDEO team based this book on their experience with social projects around the world.


Who should read The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design?

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design was written for people working in the social sector. But really it’s for everyone practicing HCD (to design an organization, product, or service).


In their mission to make knowledge to create change in the world affordable for everyone, the PDF version of this book is free for everyone and can be downloaded on the design kit home page:


8 | The Design Thinking Toolbox – Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, Larry Leifer

“A guide to mastering the most popular and valuable innovation methods” subtitle of The Design Thinking Toolbox

The Design Thinking Toolbox by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer
What is The Design Thinking Toolbox about?

This book is an extension of The Design Thinking Playbook. It’s a collection of the most common methods used during design thinking workshops.

To find the most relevant methods in design thinking (or tools as they are called in the book), the authors interviewed design thinkers from around the world and brought their book down to the 48 tools the community rated as the most valuable.

Each of the methods is explained, there are instructions to run the design thinking session, templates, practical tips from a design thinking community member, and example photos from real sessions.

You also get an overview of which tool to use in which phase of the design thinking process.

double page in The Design Thinking Toolbox by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer
Who wrote The Design Thinking Toolbox?

Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer are practicing design thinkers. Their experience includes design, engineering, business, and teaching.

Their decades’ worth of experience working in multidisciplinary innovation teams is packed into the design thinking toolbox.


Who should read The Design Thinking Toolbox?

If you want a fast start to doing design thinking with a corporate team, this practical design thinking tool kit is the best you can get!

The intro section summarizes everything you need to know to start practicing design thinking in workshops and the main section explains the tools very well.

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8 Best Design Thinking Books

Dec 15, 2022 | Design Thinking, PRODUCTIVITY

by Corinne

by Corinne

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