Engineering Design vs Design Thinking

I have been posed the question before, and was most recently solicited on twitter: What is the difference between engineering and design thinking. As most of my colleagues know, I’m a fan/student of design thinking. My intuition tells me it is right for use in school. However, this particular conversation really forced me to lean in and think about specific differentiators between the two.

One bit of information that I left out of my “argument” was perhaps my all time favorite definition of designing thinking as proposed by Roger Martin – @RogerLMartin – of the Rotman School of Business. Martin describes design thinking as the overlap between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking.



His visualization of design thinking is so elegant to me – perfectly capturing the tension between the analytical (ie. engineering design; “prove it”) and the intuitive (ie. trust your gut; “love it”).

Matin's Definition of Design Thinking (1)

Anyway, I captured the previously mentioned twitter convo using Storify.  How did I do? How would  you differentiate between engineering design and design thinking?

5 Comments on “Engineering Design vs Design Thinking”

  1. For Design-Lab High School we created a STEMD curriculum that stretches from the S on one end – (Science – discovering the way the world is) to the D on the other end (Design – discovering the way the world could be). Both have processes to learn – the scientific method and the design thinking process – that overlap in some ways but have ultimately different goals. (

    • TJE says:

      Martin –

      This is interesting, and Design-Lab High School looks incredible! Is the STEMD approach linear and primarily siloed (ie. Specific S,T,E,M, & D learning outcomes learned individually)? Or are they taught in a transdiciplinary, problem centered way?

      • TJE – Design-Lab Schools STEMD curriculum is taught in a problem-based, transdisciplinary, design-thinking approach. Having said that, we must all face the logistic realities of current school-based learning – at any given time, students are primarily going to be in a room with 20-30 other students with generally one teacher. Each teacher has a certain amount of curriculum for which they feel responsible – whether or not it shows up in the particular project on which the students are working. While not wanting to be “linear” we seek to minimize redundancy, needless repetition, or inadvertent omission of important content as students progress through the grades. There are “class periods” and limits to the length of school days, weeks and years. We seek to design practical ways for every student to work independently without putting untenable stress on the small number of teachers and others available to provide the attention they need. True transdisciplinary, problem-centered learning can not just “happen” – it must be designed, and there are few viable models that currently exist in practice rather than theory. Creating the schools we would like to see requires the ongoing application of design-thinking processes involving all the stakeholders from the students, parents, community members, school staff, faculty, administration, maintenance, support, and so on. We must together imagine, design and create the schools we want to have.

  2. Avi Lambert says:

    Reblogged this on Photonic Public Relations and commented:
    A bit academic but a good question to ask: how does design thinking differ from other approaches?

  3. […] Engineering Design vs Design Thinking → […]

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