Culture and Process in Design Thinking

Written by David E. Elliott on May 9, 2019

In my work as an educator and facilitator, I like to use techniques from human-centered design, and design thinking in particular. When I introduce design thinking to people, they are really eager to experience all the benefits, especially the teamwork, the very precise problem identification, and of course the often unique and really effective solutions to problems that the process generates.

However, there is something to be cautious about.


The process is on one side and the other is the culture in which the process operates. The culture side is very important, sometimes even more important than the process. You can’t separate process from culture to get the results you really want.

There are four key cultural elements:

  1. Optimism—to be able to imagine a more effective future than the current state.
  2. Courage—to color outside the lines and experiment.
  3. Equality—the ability to work together as equals, leaving behind hierarchy.
  4. Collaboration—the ability to work effectively together and co-create

Those four elements are the oil that makes a machine work. They’re the magic in the process. If you’re interested in design thinking, I encourage you to experiment with it and to explore it. Keep in mind, however, that the cultural elements need to be attended to and be consciously created and facilitated to get the full results of the process.