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Fraunhofer institute design thinking method cards review

If you know something about design thinking, you will be familiar with some methods that you can use in your project work.

Methods are a central part of how to successfully apply design thinking.

They are work tools and activities that help you get to a defined outcome in the project process.

If you know a bit more, you’re aware that there are hundreds of design thinking methods out there.


The Fraunhofer design thinking method cards are the newest in my own collection, they first came out in 2021.

Let’s have a closer look:

What’s inside?

The Design Thinking method cards are in A6 format and they come in a flat box that fits the stack of cards quite neatly, without too much extra space.


Inside the box, there are 48 method cards and a booklet.

The booklet introduces design thinking at the Fraunhofer Institute and their 5 design thinking process phases.

fraunhofer method cards booklet

Structure: Through the steps of the design thinking process

The cards are structured after the design thinking process phases:

  • 8 warm-up exercises to break the ice at the beginning of a workshop
  • 9 cards for the phase “emphasize”
  • 5 cards for the phase “define”
  • 9 cards for the phase “ideate”
  • 9 cards for the phase “prototype”
  • 8 cards for the phase “evaluate”

The phases are color-coded.

fraunhofer institute cards flickering through stack

What’s on the cards

On each card, the whole process is visualized. The method’s phase is highlighted with the respective color.


On the other side, the method is described in a short text. Often, there is a note with additional info on the purpose or goal of the method.

The group size and time needed for the activity are listed below the instructions.

Symbols indicate what material is needed for the method:

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Sticky notes
  • Flipchart
  • Timer
  • Materials for quick prototyping
fraunhofer design thinking method cards front and back side elements named

My experience using the Fraunhofer design thinking method cards

First impression

Spreading the cards, the first thing that caught my attention was the color code. You can find it on both sides of the cards. It’s very prominent, especially on the back side, and the fact that it’s printed over the margin makes you recognize the color even in the stack.


Another graphical element that stands out is the icons that indicate which type of material is needed for an exercise. They help get an overview very quickly.


What is less quick to capture is the method itself. It’s described in a short, easy-to-understand text.

But it is all in form of text.

There is no drawing or visualization that helps identify or further explain the method.


The methods cover the full design thinking process (the colors mark the 5 phases of the process).

This makes them a go-to guide for your whole project, from the first idea to a successfully closed project.

fraunhofer method cards front side - design thinking process

Do you have to be experienced in design thinking to use the Fraunhofer design thinking method cards?

No, and yes.

To start using the cards, I would say you don’t need to be experienced in design thinking. The booklet summarizes what design thinking and the 5 process phases are and on each card you get the process visual as well, telling you which method to use at which step of the process. The warm-up exercises and easier methods are quickly explained and every non-design thinker will understand what to do by reading them.


Also selecting methods in each phase of the project is easy and quick for everyone.


Where it gets trickier is with the more complex methods. Those are the ones where you need to actively practice the design thinking mindset, for example in the way you ask questions to people. Also, the ones where templates help the group to structure their output and methods that are more foreign to non-design thinkers are not explained with a few written sentences. You could write whole books about those methods and how to successfully apply them.

For those complex methods, at least in-depth research about the method is needed to prepare for the workshop. Better if you have someone present who is familiar with design thinking and can set an example for the group.


Watch a video where you see the method explained and actively applied.

Who are the cards for?

The Fraunhofer method cards are made for collaboration in a corporate project team setting and they are quite versatile:


For small to larger teams or workgroups

The methods usually need a small group of persons, only a handful could also be done by one person alone.

This makes them perfect to use within a core project team.

If you have a larger group, with additional team colleagues, stakeholders, or users, you can split the workshop group into smaller work groups.


Short exercises

Most exercises are short with very targeted outcomes and fit within a 1-hour workshop: The time indicated on the cards is often around 5 – 15 minutes. Longer activities for more deep dive group work are indicated for 20, 30 minutes, or more. And a few, mostly around user observation, take up to days.

With most methods easily fitting inside a 1-hour workshop, the cards are perfect to use with a project team, in regular work session meetings.

Of course, if you have more time, you can use a few methods to reach within a longer workshop, each serving a specific goal.


Note: The time indicated on the cards is not the full time around the activity but only the activity itself. In a workshop, you typically introduce the topic to the group. Then you explain the method. And at the end of the exercise, you debrief.

Especially for people not experienced in design thinking, I would calculate enough time to explain the methods and give them guidance. This could be in form of a template to fill. Or it could be by giving some examples in front of the group.


Easy to use in a normal office

The big majority of the cards use materials that can be found in every office: Pen, paper, a timer (a phone timer will be all you need), and whiteboards (while I would argue that for most exercises that indicate the need for a whiteboard, you would be completely fine with laying things out on a table or on the floor).

Only very few methods need easy prototyping materials, such as cardboard, tape, etc.

You can use them in a corporate office without any additional investment which I think is key to getting project teams started with design thinking. Not only because you save material investment but also because whiteboard, pen and paper are in the comfort zone of office employees.

Fraunhofer Instutute design thinking method cards for corporate innovation projects

Final thoughts

If you are an experienced design thinker, the Fraunhofer method cards are a very useful working tool, helping to find suitable methods for different project phases.

They are guidance enough as you live the design thinking mindset and know how things will look in practice.


If you are not (yet) a design thinker, the method cards are a quick and easy way to make your first experiences with design thinking in your corporate project.

They explain the methods to the point, very fast. And for most exercises, you don’t need more than pen and paper which is crucial to have your whole team onboard quickly (it might take more convincing to get a group building prototypes…).

But to truly live design thinking, you will have the following options:

  • You dive deeper into the topic and learn design thinking yourself. Ideally, you will participate in workshops led by experienced design thinkers. By practicing, you will start to embody the design thinking mindset and learn how the methods are applied in practice.
  • If you don’t have time, you can hire an agency or consultant who specializes in facilitating design thinking workshops. They can help you run a workshop or even guide you through a whole project.



I like that the Fraunhofer method cards cover all phases of the design thinking process. They truly help you incorporate design thinking throughout a project, from start to finish.

fraunhofer method cards back side - method instructions
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Fraunhofer Institute Design Thinking Method Cards Review

Oct 13, 2022 | PRODUCTIVITY, Design Thinking

by Corinne

by Corinne


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