The first half of this blog post was originally published in 2013, written by design genius Jessica Dugan. This updated version includes a second half written by our Director, Brandon Chinn.

As a practitioner of service design, I often get asked for recommendations on great books about design thinking methods. After many impromptu conversations at conferences, workshops, and other events, I’ve finally decided to put them down on paper.

For me, these books provide new and innovative concepts on design thinking methods that serve as the perfect resources for anyone studying or working in design and innovation. Once you’ve mastered these concepts, you’ll increase your arsenal of tools to employ for different design challenges. We draw on these for inspiration when we work with our clients to address their growth problems that have “unknown unknowns” – challenges that require a completely new solution – where their traditional analytical methods fall short in addressing.

Top Design Thinking Books

1. 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization by Vijay Kuma

Kumar is a professor at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago, my alma mater. Sure, I may be a bit biased, but the book’s extensive library of design tools and methods, simple, easy-to-apply format and great full-color photos and examples make it a worthwhile read. Here’s how I’d best summarize its value: it’s my three-year, six-figure Master’s education in design methods in under 400 pages.

2. Human-Centered Design Toolkit: An Open-Source Toolkit To Inspire New Solutions in the Developing World by IDEO

The original go-to time on design methods, the HCD toolkit provides a selection of design tools in an easy step-by-step guide. Originally written to help aspiring social innovators create innovative solutions in third-world countries, the tools and approaches can be applied to a variety of problems, including those you may find in your organization.

3. This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider

Like the title says, this book offers the basics: the who’s, what’s and how’s of service design. The applied service design section at the back has some great case studies of the different design methods in context.

4. Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

Admittedly this is shameless self-promotion for Peer Insight, however, Designing for Growth is unique in its approach to design methods as it was written for practicing managers and provides related business context aimed specifically at those readers. We’ve gotten great feedback, from managers and non-managers alike, on the ease of understanding and applying the design tools to their own growth problems.

5. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

Not really a book of design methods but Ries’ overall approach to problem solving is akin to design thinking’s basic “research, test and iterate” philosophy. As you read, challenge yourself to look for the overlap in methodologies as well as where one approach bolsters the other.

More on this point: Over the years working on innovation projects with really great companies, we’ve learned that design thinking works best when paired with other schools of thought, such as lean startup, agile development, change management, organizational development etc. Our best work pulls on all of these. So as practitioners, we try to show up with multiple tools in our tool belt.

Powerful Methodologies to Combine with Design Thinking

6. Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale & Agility (and How You Can Too) by David Butler and Linda Tischler, (Simon & Schuster, February 10)

As design thinkers, you’ll want to always stay agile and customer centric, but once you have a solution that works, you need to start thinking about scaling it. David Butler does a fantastic job explaining how to design for agility and scale and he can speak to it credibly as the VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Coca-Cola.

7. The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks  by Joshua Cooper Ramo

Ramo posits that as the world becomes increasingly connected, today’s successful figures have a unique skill for observing and understanding our new age of networks, be they social, economic, biological etc. Designers have intuitively known this all along, recognizing that good design is about seeing and uncovering connections, relationships, and systems. Who’s reading it? Dominic Barton, The global managing director of McKinsey, Reid Hoffman, a cofounder of LinkedIn, Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, Wendell P. Weeks CEO of Corning…just to name a few¹.

8. The Ten-Day MBA by Steven Silbiger

If you’re practicing design thinking in a large organization, or a big company, chances are you’re working with folks with a very different mindset, one that’s largely captured by the traditional MBA. As a good design thinker, you should be empathizing with that stakeholder. This book will help you get inside their head, speak their language, and understand their priorities. It’s also a great way to start to develop an enterprise perspective of whatever organization you’re designing within.

9. Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger L. Martin

Where design thinking got its start! An oldie, but a goodie, Design of Business is required reading for anyone practicing design thinking in a business. Martin makes the case for how DT is the true foundation for successful, profitable corporate innovation. Thief and doctor his message when making your case within your own business.

10. The Designing for Growth Field Book by Jeanne Liedtka, Tim Ogilvie, and Rachel Brozenske

I know, shameless plug, but hear me out. I recently gave a copy of, what we at Peer Insight call, The Field Book to a friend who already had the accompanying textbook. I packaged it with a sharpie and this advice, “if you want to learn this, you’ve got to go do it. At some point, talking about the theory of this, or reading other people’s case studies will only get you so far. You’ve got to get out in the field and do this with your project.” This book (ironically) is all about getting you to stop reading and start doing!

If your business is looking to implement a new growth project or redesign your business initiatives, Peer Insight can help. Contact Peer Insight today to learn more about design thinking and other beneficial services for your business.

For a complete guide on design and innovation, check out our Corporate Innovation Playbook!

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