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What is the difference between Design Thinking and Agile?


Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The core principles of design thinking have remained focused on employing human-centric approaches to design. The fundamental requirements from design thinkers have been to empathize with the user. Digital transformation, Information Technology, Big Data, Deep Tech, and Artificial Intelligence have enormously affected design thinking. These together have fostered multiple tangents. Design thinking is crucial to turn emerging technologies into user-friendly products. It supports the technology while considering all possibilities regardless of how advanced it is. The growth of design thinking has accelerated at lightning speed and is evolving as a discourse. The attitude of companies towards it is important as they find new ways to innovate.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The design thinking of yesteryears was indicative of tools and technologies prepared for society back then. From personal computers to the Office Suite, the focus was on the delivery of the product. It was a solution-based thinking model. Whereas, today, the tools focus on gathering data on human behaviour. This is possible through giant social media networks. Dealing with wicked problems requires creative thinking and non-traditional strategies. Hence, most of the present-day design thinking exercises express ideas and opinions.


After testing them using digital technology, the prototypes are often driven out. The aim is not to build a tool but to test the hypothesis and gain credible feedback. Yet, the push to get it out there in haste can lead to experiences that may not be relevant to consumer aspirations. On missing the mark, one might not even get a second chance. Thus, multidisciplinary teams can achieve results by combining design thinking with agile methodologies.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

In the domain of design thinking, software development methodologies have attained a prescience in their implementation process. Among them, Agile has almost become synonymous with design thinking. Both complement each other but are not the same thing. They are like a perfect pair in a corporation that functions in tandem. The two - Design Thinking and Agile - merit in trying to borrow from each other. They also benefit in finding synergies amidst them in the hope of a better outcome. While they overlap in many ways, they should not be mistaken for each other. The distinction between the two requires reiteration.


Agile and Design Thinking contains principles and frameworks that aid teams to align. Both focus on the successful implementation of a hypothesis. Agile, owing to its name, prioritizes delivering the product prototype rapidly. It focuses on the ‘how’ in the project delivery. It helps break down the planning process and scope of work. It is an active process that responds to market change. In essence, it is inclined to reach the market fast and iterate with improvements in concert. Although it does consider customer experiences, with incremental improvements, it is easy to lose sight of it.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

On the flip side, design thinking explores the idea from all possible angles to arrive at several options for assessment. It focuses on understanding the ‘why’ in a problem. The process begins with analysing the reason for its occurrence by grasping its roots. It is an empathetic approach that can solve specific challenges. While researching ethnography and the human psyche, design thinking uncovers human needs. Furthermore, only after a careful study does rapid prototyping for new ideas begin. The goal is to define a solution that could satisfy users’ needs.


Corporations can work on harmonising design thinking and agile. The teams must focus on delivering a significant outcome for users rather than on output-centric goals. The notion is that quality trumps quantity. There is a need to find a balance between understanding the customer and the speed of product delivery. By integrating design thinking into the process early on, one can improve consumer satisfaction.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

That said, everyone pursuing design thinking must understand how the two methods differ. Design thinking not only deals with predefined problems. But, it also provides users with a way to make better choices. It doesn’t emphasise how best to get there but drives the process through innovation. The aim of design thinking is not to deliver the product in hurry but with as much depth and quality as possible.


After the initial stages of design thinking, the design thinkers have a better understanding of the product. Subsequently, agile can be an operational or managerial offshoot. Nonetheless, Agile is not considered a part of design thinking. It is because design thinking covers methodologies that cannot be rushed.


Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India



About the Writer

Saakshar Makhija is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the Co-Founder of Emblema Designs, a graphic design, and digital marketing venture. He has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF) and India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. He attended the summer school organised by the "Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture" by the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Spain.


About the Editor

Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK, and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio.


About the Illustrator

P. Trishita is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a multipotentialite, illustrator, singer, and occasional songwriter.

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