Are There Differences Between Design Thinking, Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking?

Are There Differences Between Design Thinking, Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking?

Design Thinking (DT) is defined for this discussion by Stanford’s D school terms. It is a “a continuous evolving process through the stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Within each stage, problems are framed; questions emerge, along with more ideas, until the best answers are evident and chosen. The steps can be simultaneous or linear and they are repeatable (Mickahail 2014)."

The DT process is presented in the graphic* featured below while also integrating the elements of Creative Thinking and Critical thinking under each “stage” of the DT process. It should be noted that DT stages employ at times highly creative/or critical thinking features. The word lists  were adapted from Fischer’s paper (2002) about creative minds. It features many elements that mirror Bloom’s Taxonomy, indicating what Bloom defines  as “critical thinking skills” are really an evolving blend of progressively integrated creative and critical thinking skills.

Provided also in the graphic *below  is the point at which the fusion of critical and creative thinking skills merge and blend to ‘test” a prototype that grows form the DT process, If the prototype does not work or needs more study, the DT process of the stages:  Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test, will repeat again.

What is the difference between the 3? For the purpose of this discussion and the question,   it is best to state critical thinking and creative thinking work together to create innovation in the Design thinking process. These  thinking processes all work together to bring forth creative innovation and problem solving ideas needed in the 21st century world.

*  See graphic



Anderson, L., & Krathwohl, D. A. (2001). Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational

Objectives. New York: Longman.

Fisher, R. (2002). Creative minds: Building communities of learning in the creative age. Paper presented at the Teaching Qualities Initiative Conference, Hong Kong.

Mickahail, B (2014) Design Thinking Blog,, retrieved:


Virmared Santiago-Rodriguez's picture Virmared Santiago-Rodriguez | June 9, 2018 4:24 am MST

Bethany, thank for this article. It has helped me to see the relationship of the three processes.


Warm regards,



Visit Our Blog

Visit the Research Process Blog for insights and guidance from University researchers Go >>


Recent News