Design thinking, a human-centered approach to innovation driven by an empathy for the user’s problems, is, among many things, a collaborative and creative process.

There’s no bigger lie than the old adage: great minds think alike. The truth is: great minds think differently from one another. Greatness comes in diverse forms and with diverse approaches to problem-solving.

Today’s developers, the successful ones, embrace this variety in thought processes and approaches. The key buzzword, the sought-after quality in today’s design teams is cognitive diversity: the inclusion of a group of people with different ways of thinking, who can offer different viewpoints, and who know how to look at a problem from a different perspective. 

Fostering cognitive diversity in the design team requires tools that are malleable and that encourage the free flow of ideas and feedback.

If, like the majority of today’s top innovators, you agree that cognitive diversity matters in the workplace, you will want to use a design thinking platform that is both customizable and flexible.


The 5 Stages of Design Thinking

Placing the needs of the user at the heart of product development, challenging preconceived ideas, and identifying alternative yet practical solutions, is the main objective of design thinking. In other words: approach the problem or concern from the user’s perspective, empathize with them in order to create innovative solutions that can be put into a practical, testable product.

Design thinking is comprised of 5 distinct stages.


  • Empathize


Think like the user. View the problem, concern, or challenge from their perspective. And, by doing so, gain a greater understanding of their wants and needs.


  • Define


Take the information you’ve gathered during the Empathize stage and use it to form what is called a ‘problem statement’: a concise description of a targeted design problem.

  • The problem statement is broad. It encompasses a variety of users in a variety of contexts.
  • The problem statement contains words such as want, need, or wish.
  • The problem statement is based on practical applications whose solutions, while not necessarily immediately apparent, are not unrealistic.


  • Ideate


Generate a wealth of ideas, favoring quantity over quality at this point in the process. Place the emphasis on diversity and creativity, not on feasibility. 

Common methods employed during the Ideate stage include brainstorming or worst-possible-idea sessions.


  • Prototype


Produce a scaled-down version of the product or aspect of the product that attempts to solve the problem or alleviate the concern identified in the previous stages.


  • Test


Present the product to a sample group or a group of beta users. Allow them to freely explore the proposed solution and gather their feedback. Depending on the results, the product may need to be tweaked or refined, or in a worst-case scenario, scrapped altogether. 

Repeat this step as often as needed until you have a working practical solution that can be implemented on a larger scale.

As you can see from the goals and methods employed in these stages, the software used to see the process through all five stages must have the following characteristics:

  • The software must be powerful enough to gather and organize a large amount of data. 
  • The software must be interactive and allow for a free flow of ideas and feedback both from members of the design team and from the user or users.
  • The software must be flexible enough to be molded and changed as the problems and solutions become more clearly and specifically defined.


Criteria for Evaluating Your Design Thinking Software

User Interface (UI)

  • Is it clear and intuitive? You want your design team to focus on identifying and solving the user’s problem, not on how to navigate a complex platform.
  • Is the software forgiving of human error? Is it equipped with the necessary AI to recognize, prevent, and mitigate entry errors or mistaken deletions? To err is human, to forgive is effective software.


  • Is it fast, meaning: does it allow your design team to enter and sift through data in a timely fashion? 


  • Does the software function on various types of devices and browsers? Can it be used seamlessly with other popular programs: graphics or icon databases such as The Noun Project, IcoMoon, or Adobe; online storage such as Dropbox or OneLine; online collaboration tools or social media platforms?

Track record

  • Has the software company been in business for a relatively long time? Many excellent design thinking platforms have been developed only to see the company behind them fold soon thereafter, leaving their users with little to no customer support. 
  • Does the software company have a good reputation? 

Important Features to Look for

Ready-to-use templates

Effective design thinking software needs to be intuitive and easy to use. One of its principal goals to save your design team time. This can only come about if onboarding is simple and quick. 

One of the ways design thinking software achieves this is by providing ready-made templates that the design team can implement with little to no tweaking.

Tutorials and a comprehensive knowledge base

In order to get the most out of the software, you need to know how to use it. And your design team can’t afford to spend an exorbitant amount of time learning how.

As intuitive and user-friendly as a particular software program may be, there will still be a learning curve when it comes to exploiting some of its more advanced features. Any serious software developer will equip the user with the necessary tools to help them get the most out of the product: video or screen-shot tutorials; articles or blog posts; etc.

Journey mapping tools

In order to fully empathize with the user in his or her journey through all the stages of their interaction with the product, a design thinking platform will provide what is known as a customer journey map. The emphasis is on providing a clear and visually appealing representation of the user’s experience.

Customer journey maps come in the form of flow charts and dynamic graphs. The way the platform chooses to visualize the customer’s journey is often what will make or break the product for your design team.


Since one of the main goals of design thinking is to understand and empathize with the user, the design thinking platform needs to give developers a clear idea of who the user is, either real or fictional.

Design thinking software allows your design team to create real or fictional profiles of the user, which consist of demographic data, technical data, use and buying habits and history, etc.

Feedback import capabilities

Especially important during the prototype and test stages, the design thinking platform needs to be able to collect and organize feedback and data points from beta users coming from all kinds of devices.

Performance analytics

This can refer to the user during the prototype and test stages but also to the design team during the whole lifecycle of the design process. The data needs to be clear and actionable, meaning the data collected is then presented in such a way as to inspire the design team to make the necessary adjustments to improve performance.

Data security

Whether it’s through authentication protocols, data encryption, firewalls, antivirus extensions, or a combination of these and other tools, the design thinking platform must ensure that your data is secure and that your design team and the users feel confident using it.


A Shortlist of Popular Design Thinking Platforms

Some software programs focus on only one or two stages of design thinking, while others aim to guide the design team and the user through the whole process. Depending on your needs and your budget, you may want to consider some of these popular solutions available:


As its name suggests, Stormboard focuses on the brainstorming part of the design process, offering a collaborative all-in-one virtual workspace. 

There is no installation needed. It works on any device and in any browser.

It comes with hundreds of templates for immediate use and boasts a bank-grade internet security connection.


Created specifically for remote design projects and workshops, Sprintbase uses a series of virtual whiteboards that users can work on in sub-teams which can then be integrated into larger projects.


Billed as a ‘thinking Canvas’, MURAL uses a drag-and-drop whiteboard design that places the emphasis on diagrams and the visual representation of ideas.

It helps organize projects into lists, flowcharts, frameworks, or drawings.


Lucidspark is another virtual whiteboard platform designed to help teams brainstorm and collaborate on projects. It’s intuitive, comes with practical ready-to-use templates and boasts free-hand drawing capabilities

Their pricing model is per user. However, for companies, they do invite you to contact them for a quote. At least the basic features are free, so you can take it for a spin before purchasing. 


A journey mapping tool with a persona generator, Smaply lies on the simpler end of the design thinking software spectrum. It focuses more on the initial stages of design thinking, empathize and define. 

Unfortunately, they don’t offer a free basic version of their software. But they do offer a 14-day free trial, during which the exported files are watermarked.


Billed as persona-generating and mapping software, Userforge carries out more or less the same tasks as Smaply. And it has more or less the same features. Where it differs is mainly in aesthetics.

Both Smaply and Userforge offer free trials, so if you are looking for a dedicated journey mapping or persona generating platform, it’s worth taking either or both of these options for a spin. 

Cisco Cognitive Collaboration Solutions

If you’re looking for a more AI-enhanced virtual collaboration platform, Cisco has created one of the most powerful, if not the most popular.

The focus of Cisco Cognitive Collaboration Solutions is on AI-enhanced Webex rooms that assist and enhance virtual meetings. It is especially useful for minutes and transcriptions as voice intelligence solutions provide real-time transcription and closed captioning for the hearing impaired. 

A digital in-meeting assistant can help take notes and help with highlights and follow-ups. After the meeting, you can go back to any point in the meeting with a key-word search.


They claim to be the world’s largest product design collaboration platform. They have an extensive knowledge base and step-by-step tutorials that take you through every stage of the design process.

They make it very easy to share prototypes. So this could be an interesting solution for a design team that is especially concerned about the prototype and test stages of the design process.


Another solution that puts a heavy emphasis on prototyping and testing is Marvel. You can use the basics of the app for free, and an upgrade is optional starting at 12$ per month for individuals and 42$ per month for teams.


As its name suggests, this platform is dedicated to the testing phase of the design process. They boast a large panel of beta users who can provide real-time feedback on your prototype. You can define the demographics of your beta users and the way they give feedback, including self-guided videos of your users interacting with your product. 



Design thinking is an interactive and creative process. And today’s tools are developed to bring people together to brainstorm, collaborate, and try out new concepts and products.

As technology evolves, so does the way we interact with it. That is why successful design thinking platforms allow room for flexibility. However, no one wants to spend time learning new software just so they can then use it to develop another product. That’s why an emphasis is placed on an intuitive interface that is ready to use with templates that can help you to hit the ground running. 

The above-mentioned software programs and platforms are just the tip of the iceberg, but they are among the most widely used in the field. Take them for a spin and see what bold ideas you can bring to life and share.