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Design Thinking vs Systems Thinking

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Design thinking is the process of creating new things to solve problems.
Systems thinking is the use of big-picture thinking.

Building-up vs Breaking-down

Design thinking is a process of synthesis. This means that it approaches problems by building things up and creating.
Systems thinking is most often associated with analysis. This is the process of breaking things down into their component parts in order to understand them. In theory, systems thinking can also use synthesis but in practice it tends to be more on the analysis side of things.

Narrow vs Wide

Systems thinking looks at end-to-end impacts of strategies to consider effects such as unintended consequences. Design thinking potentially, but not necessarily, has a more narrow focus.
As an example, systems thinking might look at a new product for its impact on the competition, your brand, customers, financial performance and operations considering opportunity costs in each area. Design thinking might be focused on creating a product that customers will like without much thought for secondary impacts.


There isn't a strong relationship between design thinking and systems thinking. They aren't opposites nor do they have much in common. They aren't mutually exclusive and can be used together to solve problems.
Design Thinking vs Systems Thinking
Design Thinking
Systems Thinking
The use of synthesis to create value and solve problems.
Thinking about strategy from an end-to-end perspective that considers broad implications.
Primarily Associated With
Next: Systems Thinking
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Abstract Design
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Choice Architecture
Complexity Hiding
Contextual Design
Design Abstraction
Design Philosophy
Edge Case
First Principles
Life Design
Design Driven Business
More Is Different
Divergent Thinking
Passive Design
Silent Design
Speculative Design
Ephemera Design
Transition Design
Essential Complexity
Working Backwards
Feature Fatigue
Worse Is Better
Feedback Loop
Form Follows Function
Human Factors
Less is a Bore
Less is More
Low Technology
Management By Design
Modeless Design
Nudge Theory
Test And Learn
Value Sensitive Design
Visual Thinking
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