Design Thinking vs. Human-Centered Design

Understanding the Difference

Design Thinking vs. Human-Centered Design

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

In the dynamic world of design and innovation, two methodologies stand out for their impact and popularity: Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design (HCD). While they share similarities, such as a focus on understanding users and solving problems creatively, they are distinct in their approach and application. This article will delve into the nuances of each methodology, underscore their differences, and illustrate their unique value through two compelling case studies.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative problem-solving process that seeks to understand the user, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. It involves five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. This approach encourages diverse thoughts to generate new ideas and challenge traditional assumptions in a creative manner[^10^].

What is Human-Centered Design?

Human-Centered Design, on the other hand, is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions tailored to suit their needs. It’s a framework that develops solutions by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process¹¹.

Key Differences

The main difference lies in their scope and focus. Design Thinking is broader, applicable to a wide range of problems beyond just product or service design. It’s a general approach to problem-solving. HCD, however, is more focused on creating solutions that are specifically tailored to improve the user experience and usability of products and services.

Case Study 1: Airbnb’s Turnaround with Design Thinking

Airbnb is a classic example of Design Thinking in action. When the company was struggling to gain traction, the founders decided to employ Design Thinking. They empathized with users by actually staying in the rented spaces themselves. This led to a redefinition of their problem and ideation that focused on improving the quality of listings. By prototyping changes and testing them, they enhanced the user experience, which significantly increased bookings and helped turn the company around⁵.

Case Study 2: Asili – Human-Centered Design for Community Health

Asili is a sustainable community-owned health, agricultural, and water business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The project utilized Human-Centered Design to understand the community’s needs deeply. By involving the community in every design phase, from ideation to implementation, Asili created services that were not only desired by the community but also supported their long-term goals and values³.


Both Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design offer valuable frameworks for innovation. Design Thinking provides a broad, flexible problem-solving approach, while Human-Centered Design ensures that solutions are deeply empathetic and tailored to the users’ needs. By understanding their differences and applications, designers and innovators can choose the right approach for their specific challenges.

This exploration into Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design reveals that while they overlap, each has its strengths and ideal scenarios for application. The case studies of Airbnb and Asili demonstrate how these methodologies can lead to successful outcomes when applied thoughtfully. As we continue to innovate and design solutions for complex problems, understanding and utilizing these frameworks can be the key to creating impactful and lasting change.


(1) Human centered design vs. Design thinking: an overview | Mural.
(2) Human-Centered Design vs. Design-Thinking: How They’re Different….
(3) Explore 10 Great Design Thinking Case studies – The Knowledge Academy.
(4) Case Studies using Human Centered Design – The Compass for SBC.
(5) Human-centred design in industry 4.0: case study review and ….
(6) Case Studies – Design Kit.
(7) Human-Centered Design in Action: #LearnHCD Case Studies 3 & 4 From….
(8) Explore: Design Thinking Case Studies | The Design Thinking Association.
(9) 8 Great Design Thinking Examples – Voltage Control.
(10) Design Thinking Case Studies – Innovation Training.
(11) 7 Real-Life Design Thinking Examples | AND Academy.
(12) What is Human Centered Design (HCD)? (vs Design Thinking) – Hotjar.
(13) Design Thinking Vs Human-Centred Design: What’s the difference?.
(14) Design Thinking Frequently Asked Questions… | IDEO | Design Thinking.
(15) Human Centered Design vs. Design Thinking – The UX Studio.

SPECIAL BONUS: Futurology is not fortune telling. Futurists use a scientific approach to create their deliverables, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to engage in futurology themselves.

Image credit: Unsplash

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