Design thinking requires a certain mindset in order for it to be successfully implemented in a process, system, product, or exercise. 


“[design thinking] is described as a process in 4–5 steps, mostly with an emphasis on brainstorming, ideation, and tons of multi-color post-it notes. And this is where the problem starts. (…) the design thinking framework is (…) certainly not some magic formula you can just learn, apply, and then get results from. Any process followed blindly starts to be a problem.” (Amol R. Kadam, author and entrepreneur “Design thinking is not a process, it is a mindset”)

The design thinking method of problem-solving focuses more on the problem statement than the solution and motivates the designer to ideate innovative methods of problem-solving. 


Generally, the design thinking process is fairly straightforward. It consists of two stages: Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking. 


Divergent Thinking focuses on exploring the problem and solution dynamic. 


Convergent Thinking focuses on taking action. 


However, asking the wrong questions, and trying to solve the wrong problem, can lead to incompatible solutions. 


Hence, a design thinking mindset is essential to ensure that the problem is thoroughly analysed through a fresh lens, that is different from the traditional approaches one adopts. 

Image Credit: Design Council

Various design thinking mindsets have been suggested by a number of organisations such as the Stanford, and IDEO. Margaret Hagan in her book “Law by Design” suggests some core design mindsets that designers should incorporate in order to frame, inspire and guide their approach to the design process. 


Stanford was the original source of design mindsets and it inspired a number of other subsequent mindsets that were formulated. Primarily, Stanford promotes visual prototyping, focusing on values, crafting clarity, embracing experimentation, focusing on action and collaboration. 


Image Credit: YUJ Designs

Show, Don’t tell

The ‘Show, Don’t tell’ mentality focuses on visual experiences and encourages designers to create visual or speaking prototypes, for insightful communication with consumers. Some examples of this technique include infographics, visual contracts, graphic reports, comic strips, animations, web-based interactive tools, and visual storytelling methods. Justice Adda is a pioneering Legal Design social enterprise.

“Good design is a lot like clear thinking made visual”- Edward Tufte (statistician and artist)


Focus on Human Values

Empathy is a primary design mentality that was introduced by Don Norman and stems from the fact that engineers are trained to think logically, which lacks transversality and the ability to balance logic with empathy for the user. Therefore, for the larger picture, each design decision should be taken by keeping the user at the center. 

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Craft Clarity and Embrace Experimentation

A design mindset is inclusive of a clear vision, which is framed to fuel ideation. Different techniques such as mindmaps and charts among others are used at this stage. Creating a prototype is an important step in experimentation and thinking outside the box.  Lawyers by their very training and conditioning tend to be risk-averse and strive for perfection. Such persistence to achieve perfection often leads to a delay in arriving at solutions. Instead, the fail-fast method of extensive testing and prototyping can help lawyers pivot perfectionism and arrive at comprehensive solutions. The fail-fast method of prototyping aims at developing products incrementally and continually testing customer satisfaction to ensure that the product meets sufficient customer needs before taking it forward. 


Act and Collaborate

Effective design involves collaborations with teams of different specialties and interests. Most importantly, it involves taking action. A prolonged ideation stage, without action results in an ill-experimented prototype. 


Margaret Hagan in her book “Law by Design” introduces some similar mindsets building prototypes, being user-centered, working with a mixed team (collaboration), and visualisation. Here are some other interesting mindsets that she has pioneered. 

Pause Feasibility

Hagan proposes that in order to think from a clear and fresh perspective, it is important to sideline all available constraints, such as regulation, budget, managerial limitations, etc, and think wildly about the possible solutions to the problem. The goal of this mindset is to promote creative thinking. Thinking with possible constraints in mind leads to low ambition and limited scope of the extent and scale of the solution which can otherwise be widened with a far-reaching approach.  When thinking of solutions, it is essential to start with a clean slate, without any inhibitions, constraints, or fear of risk and failure. It is important to approach solutions in a creative, unrestrained manner.


Everything is a Prototype

This mindset takes a leap from the prototype-driven way of ideation, which involves building an idea, once it is conceived, procuring feedback, iterating, or abandoning it. Instead, this mindset introduces the “Quick to Build, Quick to Test” way of working. This process encourages the designer to expose an idea even before it has been developed completely and imbibe critical feedback before the iteration or abandon stage. The fail fast, learn fast technique of building solutions is instrumental here too. The fail fast, learn fast technique demands that you immediately gather feedback before arriving at a conclusive solution and based on the received feedback, then decide if it is worthwhile to continue building the present solution. 


“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings” –


Welcome Criticism and Hold Off the Perfect Solution

Another essential mindset of a designer should be their ability to welcome constructive feedback and criticism and disincline oneself from Type-A perfectionism. Another important trait of a designer’s mindset is to not jump to solutions too quickly and follow the process of building an appropriate solution.  Legal Lookbacks is an interesting platform, that allows lawyers to share their mistakes anonymously and safely. Embracing imperfections should emerge as an essential aspect of lawyering. 


Choose Specific Archetypes

An essential, complementary mindset for user-centered designers is to avoid thinking of users as a generic mass. Instead, it is encouraged that users think of specific archetypes in order to guide their work, ground use-cases, and build ideas around them. For instance, instead of building solutions for ‘property disputes’ per se, one should try building solutions for a specific archetype: 

  • A middle-class man, in the early stage of his career, in possession of a single property.
  • A widow, with young children to look after, involved in an ancestral property dispute, etc. 


Take a Beginner’s Mindset

It is essential for designers to be curious and possess an attitude that constantly questions the “Why”. This mindset uncovers the Deeper, Less Obvious Needs of the users, which could otherwise be passed over in the course of a transactional approach. Adopting the ‘5 Whys’ method of analysis is an interesting tool that can help solution providers develop solutions faster and in a lean disposition. The 5 Why method is part of the Toyota Production System and requires an individual to make informed decisions by arriving at the root cause of the problem, having asked 5 whys, to ultimately eliminate it. A simplistic 5 Why illustration is given below: 

The stoic Method of questioning is also instrumental in the adoption of a beginner’s mindset. This method can be understood through the following 6 different categories of questioning: 

  • Clarify The Thought Process
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Explore the Evidence or Referential Basis for The Argument
  • Explore Alternative Viewpoints and Perspectives
  • Explore the Implications and Consequences
  • Question the Question

IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Mindset

IDEO proposes a number of mindsets, of which, empathy, experimenting with prototypes, and iteration (procuring early feedback and refining work) are central and common with other design mindset postulations. However, IDEO proposes some other interesting mindsets: 

Image Credit: Innovation Training


Embrace Ambiguity

Being comfortable with the ambiguity that comes during the initial stages of the process is important to be able to embrace criticism and constraints.  You cannot predict all factors. Work in probability and embrace the unknown. 

The Bayesian theory of probability is can help in embracing ambiguity. The simple idea behind this theory is two-fold: 

  1. State assumptions. 
  2. Weigh these assumptions against reality and update them accordingly. 


Optimism and Creative Confidence

Creative confidence and optimism allow designers to trust their instincts, explore different options, experiment, and undertake challenges. 

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