[…A design nomad stuck between theory and praxis …]

Congratulations. You have stumbled across the blog of Dr. Stefanie Di Russo. This place contains semi-formal critiques on design, strategy, sustainability and of course, design thinking.

Stefanie only talks in third person when updating her ‘about’ page.


  1. Peter Hall

    Great site, really like the illustrations too! When do you get your doctorate?

  2. Pingback: Design Thinking Resources « Bouncing Ideas

  3. Hey!
    Am curious to know more about your PhD craziness – Swinburne has some fun old memories for me.
    Can’t seem to find a way to send you an email … but mine is carl(a)hastrichdesign.com.

  4. Bec

    Hi Stefanie,
    Super great blog – I’ve been staying in touch with it for a while now.
    I’m doing my Masters of Design by research in a similar area of research at QUT in Brisbane. Would love to get in touch via email.

    • Hi Bec

      you can contact me at: stefaniedirusso[@]gmail[.]com

      look forward to hearing about your research!

  5. Ajay Bansal

    Hey, design thinking is my current interest and while browsing web, came through your blog. good stuff.

  6. Dear Stefanie,

    I stumbled across your very interesting essay about the history of design thinking. I’m a student in a different field – peace and conflict studies. What caught my attention (besides an overlap of terminology) are the different concepts of participation, overall focus, and intended sustainability. I see parallel categories in the critique of (modern Western) prescriptive development politics and conflict work – highly debated topics. I’m looking forward to find news about your article – I might like to compare a bit in my master thesis. Your history overview seems to have the potential to shed some light on or at least enrich the debate about different design patterns of social policies.
    I like also the description about the back and forth between scientification and humanisation – another parallel to the different cultures of peace.
    I say explicitly parallel, not equal, what means that details have to be interpreted in context. Thank you for this blog, maybe you could even let me know when you have published your article?

    Btw – I might be missing foundational knowledge – it is not clear to me why exactly your pyramid is a pyramid and not just a layer model. What is the quantity or dimension that makes it thinner at the top?

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Henning

      Thank you for taking the time to read my writing and comment. I am working on collating material i have written for this blog into a journal article; the developments of such will be posted here. I would like to learn more about your research, particularly your discussion on the parallels between design and social policy. I have an understanding of what you are referring to, but this would be much more superficial than your knowledge on the topic. I think it would be really interesting if you outlined your thoughts- perhaps on your blog? Then we could open up more of a discussion 🙂

      In regards to my pyramid model of design thinking; this was done to highlight both hierarchy and applications of the highest (refined) order of design thinking. This pyramid could have been portrayed as a layer model but a layer model does not signify hierarchy as much as a pyramid model does. The peak is the highest order of design thinking which has evolved from the lowest order (bottom layer of the pyramid). It indicates the refinement of and thus hierarchy of design thinking today.

      Look forward to reading your thoughts,


  7. Hello Stefanie,

    I’m Kayla from NovoED. We are offering a free online course from Stanford, Design Thinking Action Lab.

    Students will learn the design thinking methodology which brings creativity to solving problems. Allowing you to precisely define a problem as an opportunity for innovation. This course would be a great fit for many professionals and students who actively follow your blog. Would it be possible to put a blurb or write up on your blog about the course.

    We’d love for you to join us in the class as well. I invite you to check out the course preview video Design Thinking Action Lab https://venture-lab.org/designthinking.

    Please reach out to me if you have further questions or need additional information. I would be happy to set up a phone call to discuss the possibility of working together. I look forward to hearing from you.



  8. Kate Chmela-Jones

    Hi Stefanie,
    I read your blog with great interest. I am also currently enrolled for a PhD in design. My research interests include human-centred design and design education – I am conceptualising a model for the inclusion of an hcd philosphy into an undergrad graphic design programme in a South African context. I am familiar with the various hcd teaching approaches at graduate and post grad level but have yet to come across something relevant at undergrad level. Could you perhaps point me in the right direction?
    Kind regards,

    • Hi kate,

      I would first look at D.School and their program structures. I believe they teach human centered/design methods to undergrads as well as postgrads. Additionally, IDEO have put out a few useful materials for teachers wishing to embed human centered values into the curriculum, through the ‘Toolkit for Educators‘. This is generally aimed at primary and secondary teaching but is just as relevant for undergraduate classes with no prior learning in human centered/design methods. The human centered methods (as opposed to more design-ery methods) that are often spoken about are actually basic ethnographic tools used in anthropology research. You have perhaps already researched these areas, but basic human centered design methods (as seen in the HCD Toolkit by IDEO) can be easily transferred into design education at an undergraduate level in design. The fact you are struggling to find examples in undergraduate learning in design education is a good thing (signs you have found a significant gap?).

      Swinburne have implemented classes that aim to provide undergraduate students in design basic understandings of research methods and methodology. This is perhaps the closest example i can find that is directly relevant to your research: http://www.future.swinburne.edu.au/units/Methods-of-Investigation-ADAGD214/local

      I hope this helps,


  9. Kate Chmela-Jones

    Hi Stefanie,
    Thanks so much for your reply – it’s much appreciated. I have not come across the Swinburne programme in my research so it’s a huge help – thanks!

  10. Greetings, Stephanie.

    My name is John Lee.
    I am a conference co-chair for the 12th annual Design Research Conference hosted by the IIT Institute of Design.
    We believe that readers of your blog would be interested in this year’s conference theme.
    Would you be willing to post an announcement for the conference?

    Here is the description:

    The 2013 Design Research Conference: Exploring Creative Balance in Design

    The Design Research Conference (DRC), organized by graduate students at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago, brings together a large and expanding network of design professionals. This year’s twelfth annual conference explores the forces of ego, empathy, technology, and humanity and aims to understand design’s role in mediating these forces: Are they opposable? Synthesized? Unified? Practicing designers, artists, scientists, engineers, educators, and entrepreneurs will present a variety of perspectives on balancing multiple creative forces amidst complex systems and issues.

    We are honored that speakers such as Don Norman, Mickey McManus, John Payne, Liz Danzico, Matt Jones and many others will speak about balancing these forces.

    The IIT Institute of Design was founded in 1937 as The New Bauhaus. Today, ID is the largest full-time graduate-only design program in the U.S. with a curriculum centered on a methodological and human-centered approach to design and strategy.
    The DRC will be held October 8-9, 2013 at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Find more information concerning the conference, speakers and registration at drc.id.iit.edu.

    If you’d like more information regarding the conference, and its full speaker lineup, please feel free to contact me. You may also find updated information as we lead up to the conference at http://drc.id.iit.edu. We look forward to hearing from you.

    John Lee
    Graduate Student
    Institute of Design IIT
    2013 DRC Co-Chair
    2013 WelcomeID Co-Chair

  11. Pingback: A Brief History of Design Thinking: How Design Thinking Came to ‘Be’ | Happy Help

  12. Hi Stefanie:

    First of all, congratulations for your blog. I loved your posts about the history of Design Thinking.

    I would like to reference you in my thesis since those 3 articles helped me a lot. Should I mention this website or you have any publication I can reference to?



    • Hi Diego,

      Im very pleased to hear you have found my posts useful. You will need to reference this website/posts for now, as i have not published these entries yet. Im currently working on an article based on my writings here and will update any publications on this blog.

      Good luck with your thesis!


  13. Hi Stephanie:

    Thank you for your “Reality Bites” insight – elephant satire is always appreciated!
    Just wondering if you have any recommendations on how to persue a PhD in Business Design Thinking / Sustainable Strategy / Innovation. How did you come to realize that you wanted to complete a PhD? Once you made your mind up, how did you research or come to land with your current opportunity?

    Really appreciate any insight you have. Keep up the amazing insights on Design Thinking…you are a gifted writer, and thinker.


    • Hi Chris!

      My first bit of advice would be to decide what faculty you want to study in. Business, design or science? The discipline you choose will be the primary focus of your studies. So if you are more interested in business (and how business leaders incorporate design) you might enter into a PhD in a business faculty. Likewise, if you are more interested in design and the design process (but how it is applied in business) you should apply to study in a design faculty. The shift in emphasis may seem subtle but its really the core/foundation of your PhD- and often the focus of your literature review.

      Im going to make a nerdy confession and admit that i always wanted to pursue a PhD. From a young age i loved academic research and the idea of becoming a researcher. I just didnt know what i was going to research until i entered into the design field. Your pathway into a PhD depends on the university, however. Swinburne will accept honours students straight out of an undergrad degree (and provide training), whereas other universities in other countries will not accept you without a masters. You usually submit an application with a research proposal- the question you would like to pursue- along with your academic history (grades) and a CV. If the university finds you applicable, they will then match you with a supervisor and away you go. Unless you enter in under a pre-defined research project, you have a fair amount of freedom to pursue what you want.

      My personal suggestion is to pursue a PhD when you are 1. ready, 2. in love with your topic and 3. committed to three intense years of study. I personally feel it is better to do a masters prior to committing to a PhD (it trains you in academic research writing), or at least work in industry so you have some practical experience to contrast with the academic world (and gives you a back up plan if you decide to leave). I do not recommend doing one because you are not sure what else to do (ive seen many young students enter in on this mentality and end up dropping out or hating academia by the end). Much like everything, a love of what you do will make it a more enjoyable experience 🙂

      Apologies for the long comment!


  14. Dear Stefanie,

    I am a designer and have worked for at least 10 years. Design thinking was taught in my academic years, I practiced the process more to find a solution for any design work. But as years go by, I realised something is still missing. So I decided to work for NGOs and help friends and ‘practice’ the real Design Thinking. It was a mind change but wasn’t still the mindset. Designing for NGOs does not mean that one practice Design Thinking. So I went searching more and more for answers.

    I stumbled upon your blog as I had to google ‘Design Thinking is a Mindset’ for my Bachelors design thesis. After designing a logo for an NGO, they asked me if I’d to like to design their campaign. I saw that they used the logo inconsistently and had lack of funds. Instead of taking on the job for money sake, I suggested a collaboration with students from my university as they wanted to do a campaign. I realised I had subconsciously practiced design thinking. I wanted to research more into this topic for my theory segment. I realised when I research books about collaboration with design, books like participatory design, service design, user experience design and human-centred design appeared. I even went to service design conference because I was not sure what it is. I am amazed how you put it all together. I wanted to ask your pemission if I can use your wheel for my thesis and quote you. I am so happy to find your work on design thinking. Makes me feel that what I went through all the years was worth it.

    Best Wishes,

    • Hi Lee,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment and for reading this blog. It means a lot to get feedback from readers. I am also really happy to hear you have taken time to research and investigate design thinking for yourself and your work. You can use and cite whatever you like from this blog for your thesis.

      You are not alone in finding design thinking difficult to comprehend- it is still tricky for me and other academics or practitioners to articulate it comprehensively when asked. All your years of work and reflection are definitely worth it, especially when you translate this knowledge to your students!

      Keep going!


  15. Kinyetta

    Hey Stef, I just started my PhD in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. program this past August and I am interested in Design Thinking as well. I am curious if you know of an original academic source that cites the 5 modes of design thinking. I got hammered by one of my advisors for using a non academic source that explains the 5 modes: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. However, I could not find 1 original source as to where those 5 modes came from. In my research all publications lead to this citation: Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (2007) Design thinking process. Stanford University, Palo Alto . But this is a ghost town. I’ve even checked with our librarian and they couldn’t find it. Its interesting how many publications use the same citation to a document that may not exist. Any suggestions?

  16. Pingback: Exploring Design Thinking | I think ∴ I design

  17. Hi Stef,

    I’m just gonna add another comment about what a godsend your blog has been for everyone who is trying to understand design thinking–your charts in particular, have helped clarify some concepts for me. I was wondering if you might have any resources (or academic advisors) for someone who is trying to apply design thinking in the field of architecture and urban planning. As a recent graduate from USC’s School of Architecture, I dropped the B.Arch for a B.S. two years in and then took a Design for Social Innovation course through the Entrepreneurship department that forever changed my life, in terms of what I think architecture should be doing, and how we should be designing as the profession undergoes a paradigm shift with new manufacturing techniques and automation. The closest research area I’ve found is participatory, bottom up community engagement for the planning of cities and buildings. I took a break from architecture and started the Design for America chapter at my university but it was pretty painful to lead a “studio” without having a solid passion for the business side of things. My academic interests during my capstone in architecture then scattered to other fields that have to do with human-centered approaches such as gamification, public spaces, smart cities, and augmented reality and how third world cities could be re-imagined as mobile networks. But obviously with so many interests and lack of concentration I can’t seem to find a job at the moment that fulfills my strong desire to simply work on experimental projects that test out such methods. I keep thinking that whatever I find out I will then be able to contribute to in a master’s in architecture later on, but I feel like most likely, architecture programs will think that I’m just full of bullsh** and not take me as a serious applicant (my thesis advisor didn’t, at least). Do you think a PhD would solve my need to just learn and experiment? Is design thinking a growing field in academia, and if so, is it flexible? Both my parents pursued PhDs in chemistry, but design research is a whole ‘nother animal I don’t know how to comprehend.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi Jess,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. When you say apply design thinking in architecture, id argue that architecture already (inherently) uses design thinking. There are definitely local governments/councils who are adopting a design thinking approach towards urban planning, or who outsource consultancies that do. Following the work of these projects is a good start to get an understanding of how design thinking is used in this area. I dont know of anyone personally who works with urban planning and design thinking specifically, that i could connect you to. (This might be a good call out to anyone who reads this and can offer some help!)

      It sounds like you have a good grounding already in design thinking and social innovation. I wouldnt let the business side of things deter you- this is equally as important as design thinking itself. Without an understanding of the existing systems in which businesses and individuals operate, design outcomes will not be implemented with success (and after all thats the whole point of the practice).

      If you are really passionate with investigating experimental projects, a PhD is perhaps one of the few avenues that allows you to explore experimental ideas. If you have not done a masters yet, and feel unfulfilled by industry, it might be worth looking into doing a masters (by research) to refine your interest or to help you decide what you want to do. If you find you love the research/theory side of architecture and all that surrounds it, you could then pursue a PhD.

      Its upsetting and frustrating to hear that you had to experience an advisor who didn’t take you seriously. If I had of listened to some of my tutors through my education i would not be where i am today, so dont let one persons (generally grumpy) attitude dictate what you can/cant or should/shouldnt do. If you have a strong case for investigating a wild topic, with a good proposal you would be accepted and taken seriously. As corny as it sounds, believing in yourself and your ideas is the best way to succeed (that and hard work). If you can present a convincing argument for an idea you have, theres no reason for anyone not to take you seriously. And those that dont usually havent the creative insight or have had others who shot them down before and they caved to convention because it was easier.

      I think design thinking is becoming a growing field of research in academia. Though if you decide to do a PhD you should do so because you want to become a researcher. As much as a PhD is a great way to freely explore innovative ideas and practices, it is about obtaining a license to research. So if you want a career in research and academia then i recommend thinking about a PhD.

      And don’t do what your parents did/want you to do. It is your life and you need to decide what will make you happy. If you enjoy the practicality and hands on approach with industry, then find social groups, jams, meet ups/etc to join and experiment with ideas as a team. With new, innovative and emerging fields, there is really no right way to obtain the knowledge you want. It is more a question of what kind of road you would like to take getting to the knowledge you want.

      I hope this has helped and good luck!



  18. Hi Stefanie,

    My name is Abrie Coertze, currently I’m proposing a part time masters at WITS, South Africa about design thinking and how it is a methodology that needs to be practised when we are designing for our developing world. I’d really just like to send you my aim & rational and ask you for some advice. My personal email address is jacoertze@gmail.com. If you feel comfortable in mailing me, it would be greatly appreciated.



  19. Maha

    Hi Stefanie,

    I’m MSc integrated Product Design student at Brunel University London. I’m currently Halfway through my dissertation and I hate it. Luckily, I stumbled upon your blog that helped me gain so much insights and directed me toward many work that I was not familiar with.

    My dissertation is mainly to develop a co-design toolkit for design students at university level. I would love your help with a 20 minutes interview or a short chat about co-design and the younger generation of designers. Please let me know if you’d be up for it. Thank you.
    Best wishes,

    • Hi Maha,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond on my blog. I would be more than happy to help. You can find my email within my ‘about’ section.


  20. Hi Stefanie,
    I was curious about your info graphic about the history of design thinking and if there are any others you have seen or come across? I think it is great but love to see it expanded in a way that might provide a bit more info. I have read only a few of the authors you note (need to read more) but I think your graphic is great to get the big picture or even as an educational tool to drill down on more. I wish I had time to delve deeper into all of them in hopes of creating something akin to the types of visual that visual Hugh Dubberly does. Are you familiar with his models and process maps? http://www.dubberly.com/models or http://www.dubberly.com/concept-maps In any case, per my first question any advice would be great, and if you are interested in creating maybe a more robust visual history, would love to work on something like that. Need to read your thesis next.

  21. Christian


    Love your blog!

    Right now I’m working on my dissertation about social innovationn from the perspective of social psychology in the context of Puerto Rico. I found your blog because of a search I was doing about Bruce Archer, actually trying to find the pdf of Systematic methods for designers. Do you think it would be possible for you to send me a copy of the pdf? I would appreciate it infinitely!


  22. Hi Stef,

    I just came across your blog, Culture Eats Innovation for Breakfast. It’s fantastic and should be a must read for every manager (and up!) in government. Though I loved all of the text in the blog, this part really spoke to me:

    “Innovation is fundamentally risky and creative. A hierarchical organisation with a lack of transparency, direction and autonomy provided to its employees will not allow for creativity, risk, and thus innovation, to manifest. All of the design and creative toolkits in the world won’t save your ‘disruptive’ business strategy.”

    I’m excited to read more of your blogs!

    All the best,

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