Design thinking cards compared – The best method card set for your workshop!

Design thinking cards compared – The best method card set for your workshop!

Tools for Design Thinking

You’re gearing up for your next workshop and you want to make sure you have the best tools to help your team succeed?

Design thinking cards are a great way to do just that.

The methods described on the cards will get the creative juices of your team flowing in a few minutes and make sure you create something your customers love.

No matter what you want to create!


When it comes to design thinking cards, there are a few different sets to choose from.

And of course, you want to make sure you purchase the best set for your needs.


From the photos in the online stores, it’s hard to decide how they differ but I have them all at hand and can give you a few more insights 😉

method cards - tools for design thinking

In short: Which is the best method card set for a workshop?

The Fraunhofer Institute’s Method Cards is the absolute best set of method cards if you’re looking to get guidance for your team workshop to develop a product or servicebrainstorm around an idea or test different prototypes.

But depending on your goals and setup, another option might fit better!


In this article, I will compare the most popular design thinking card sets and help you decide which one is right for your specific case.

design thinking cards - best card set



What are design thinking cards?


What are the differences between different design thinking cards?


A detailed look


IDEO Method cards


Fraunhofer Institute Design Thinking Method Cards


75 Tools for Creative Thinking


Bonus: The Design Thinking Toolbox


The free alternative: IDEO’s Field Guide to Human-centered Design (PDF download)


Conclusion: Which are the best method cards for your design process?



What are design thinking cards?

Design thinking cards are a tool used in design workshops and projects to help teams progress through the design process, in a human-centered way, and inspire great design.

Usually, each card explains one method (= problem-solving activity).

The core of human-centered design is to truly understand the user’s perspective and the goal is to generate unique and new ideas (pssst… those two are the secret ingredients to true innovation!)


The cards work by breaking down design strategies into manageable steps. Each method helps to get results in each step of the process.

Those methods enable everyone involved to effectively collaborate and come up with an outcome that users truly love.


While typically used by designers and design thinkers, methods can be used and facilitated by anyone on the team.



What are the differences between different design thinking cards?

All design thinking card decks provide methods to apply throughout a human-centered design process.

The decks differ in the following points:

  • On which design phases they focus (a few focus heavily on idea generation, not really on the rest of the process)
  • If they focus on interaction with users or workshops at the office
  • All card decks work for team workshops. A few are also suitable to work by yourself

Under all the listed cards in this article, there’s no difference in quality – they are all very high quality, written with years and years of experience!

It’s really about which set fits your needs, project, and setup.

A detailed look

IDEO Method Cards

IDEO is a silicon valley-based design firm that played a huge role in making user-centered design known in the world. They changed how stakeholders collaborate in the product development process and came up with many of the methods that are well-known and used in different variations today.

“This is not a “how to” guide. It’s a design tool meant to help you explore new approaches and develop your own.”

The IDEO method card set focuses on all phases where the project team interacts with and learns from users, the thing they absolutely master.

IDEO method cards - design thinking cards for user-centered design

Number of method cards: 51

Published: 2003

ID: 61457

How they position themselves: “51 Ways to Inspire Design”

Categories: Learn, look, ask, try

IDEO method cards set overview

Area of the design thinking process: empathize, ideate, test (foremost phases where research in the field and understanding the user is involved)

Type of Work: For collaboration with users for product design and service design

Group size: Made for interdisciplinary teamwork


  • The cards are exclusively available in only one shop, William Stout Architecture Books in San Francisco. They ship worldwide.
  • They are often sold out. Wanting to order just in time for your workshop might lead to disappointment… If you would like to buy a set and they are available at the online store, grab it!
IDEO method cards booklet and cards

Fraunhofer Institute Design Thinking Method Cards

The Fraunhofer Insitute published their deck of cards to help everyone interested in design thinking to apply human-centered methods to their project work.

And it truly is a quick start to design thinking!

With instructions more detailed than on other cards and a very helpful booklet, the methods could even be facilitated by someone who is less experienced in design thinking and didn’t have the time to go through a whole course on the topic.

If you want more guidance, have a look at the Design Thinking Toolbox lower in the list!

Fraunhofer Institute Design Thinking Method Cards set

Number of method cards: 48

Published: 2021

ISBN: 978-3-8396-1664-2

How they position themselves: “This card set contains 48 cards with the most common methods and easily understandable explanations on how to carry them out.”

Categories: warm-up exercises, empathize, define, ideate, prototype, evaluate

Fraunhofer Method Cards design thinking process illustration

Area of the design thinking process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test

Type of Work: For interdisciplinary teamwork, in core project teams, and larger teams with stakeholders and customers/ users

Group size: Small to large; a few methods also fit working by yourself


  • This deck is written for typical product development processes in corporate settings.
  • The Fraunhofer cards give very good instructions on how to do the method in a workshop and an overview of which materials are needed
  • This set is the most complete set in covering the whole design thinking process
Fraunhofer Institute Design Thinking Method Cards content overview

75 Tools for Creative Thinking

This deck of cards was written by Dutch Studio Booreiland. The design firm focuses on digital design, service design, and branding.

It’s definitely the most commercially and marketing focused deck of cards. It will help you come up with ideas, no matter if you’re working on your next management presentation by yourself or preparing for brainstorming sessions with a large team.

75 Tools for Creative Thinking cards kit

Number of method cards: 75

Published: 2012 / 2017

ISBN: 978 90 6369 275 9

How they position themselves: “A fun card deck for everyone who needs creative inspiration”

Categories: Get Started, Check Around, Break It Down, Break Free, Evaluate & Select

creativity tool - design thinking cards kit

Area of the design thinking process: Define, ideate, test, implement

Type of Work: To stimulate ideas around design, service design, and marketing

Group size: Small groups are indicated on the cards but most methods also perfectly fit working by yourself


  • This set is the most business-focused. It helps me as a designer to draw the connection between design and business.
example of a card from the 75 Tools for Creative Thinking cards set

Bonus: The Design Thinking Toolbox

While researching design thinking card sets, I stumbled across this book a few times. I first didn’t pay too much attention because I was searching for cards specifically.

But WOOW – as I had a closer look and finally ordered the book, I was blown away!

The Design Thinking Toolbox is THE best collection of design thinking methods out there!

It introduces a newbie to the approach of design thinking, draws a connection to real life in your company, and gives a very detailed guide to how to apply each of the methods.

A must-have – no matter if you’re a newbie or a pro!

The Design Thinking Toolbox book - best alternative to design thinking cards

Number of method cards: no cards but 48+ methods inside the book

Published: 2020

ISBN-10: 1119629195

How they position themselves: “Mastering the most popular and valuable innovation methods”

Categories: Understand, observe, point of view, ideate, prototype, test, reflect

The Design Thinking Toolbox - example of a method page

Area of the design thinking process: Covers the full process

Type of Work: For interdisciplinary teamwork, in core project teams, and larger teams with stakeholders and customers/users

Group size: Small to large teams


  • This book is very much focused to connect the idea generation and development side with the business and implementation side. This truly helps to make good ideas become reality.

Read my full review of the book here.

The free alternative:

IDEO’s Field Guide to Human-centered Design (PDF download)

You are tight on budget?

If you are looking for a free alternative to the cards above, this e-book is what you were looking for:

The Field Guide to Human-centered Design is a truly valuable resource. The only reason why it’s free is that IDEO wants to make this information available to literally everybody in the world.

“These books, guides, and free downloads are all great destinations to help you routinely innovate and solve big problems.”

It’s a step-by-step guide through the innovation process, with all the most popular methods to choose from along the way.

Including the design thinking project process being explained along the way. There are easy-to-understand instructions and photos of how work groups used them all over the world.

Number of method cards: No cards but 57 methods and tools

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9914063-1-9

How they position themselves: “A step-by-step guide that will get you solving problems like a designer.”

Categories: Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation 

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

Area of the design thinking process: Covers the full process

Type of Work: Made for group workshops

Group size: Small to larger teams


  • For each method, they indicate what you need (including really basic things like an internet connection) and who should participate

Conclusion: Which are the best method cards for your design process?

Each set of method cards has its own strengths. And each set focuses on different parts of the design process.

  • The 75 tools deck is the best for ideation, thinking outside the box and sparking creativity, in a team but also by yourself.
  • The IDEO method cards are all about working with users and they embody user-centered design.
  • The Fraunhofer cards are the best cheat sheet for designers and design thinkers.
  • The Fraunhofer cards and both books guide you through all the steps of the design process, the others focus more on certain parts.
  • The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design is the best guide for absolute beginners in design thinking.
  • The Design Thinking Toolbox book has the most business-focused methods, the most in-depth explanations and instructions, and the best informative section about design thinking and its role in innovation projects, design work, and corporate projects.
  • The 2 books (The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design and The Design Thinking Toolbox) have example photos of how workshop teams are using the methods.
  • All of the cards and books are suitable for working in teams – from small project core teams or only an observer visiting a user to larger group workshops (if the group is larger than 6 persons, the group should get split into smaller working groups).
If you want to learn more about how to run a design thinking workshop, check out my other article, How to Run a Successful Brainstorming Workshop.
Design thinking cards - best tools for design thinking


design thinking cards

What is design thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative, human-centered approach to problem-solving. It involves defining a challenge, gathering insights, generating ideas, prototyping, and testing solutions.

The design thinking process and its methods are a good way to come up with truly innovative and new ideas.

What are design thinking methods?

Design thinking methods are short activities that bring you a step further in the design thinking process. There is a large variety of methods and you can select which one best fits your situation and problem statement.

Popular methods, for example, are card sorting, defining persona, and user shadowing.

What is card sorting?

Card sorting is a popular method in user experience design. It’s a way to group and structure information. Typically, potential future users lay out cards that for example symbolize different functions of an interface. By explaining their structure and connections, the design team understands how users think and can create a user-friendly design.

How to run a design thinking workshop

A design thinking workshop needs a good structure, thorough preparation, and a clear goal. After a short introduction, the group actively works through problems or questions using different methods. Reflecting and documenting the results is an important part of each workshop and the stepping stone for further project work and the final solution. Design thinking workshops take a few hours up to a few days.

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Design Thinking Cards Compared – The Best Method Card Set for Your Workshop!

Feb 1, 2023 | PRODUCTIVITY, Design Thinking

by Corinne

by Corinne


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