Design Thinking

PAS QuickNotes 90

By Thomas Fisher


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Design has existed as long as the human species itself, enabling us to adapt to new conditions and innovate in the face of changing needs. But design has traditionally focused on the function and appearance of products and physical environments, while largely ignoring the creation and delivery of services. This disparity has led to a lot of badly designed systems, processes, and policies, resulting in unnecessary dysfunctions and ugly consequences.

Design thinking has emerged in recent years as a way to bring more creative, “right brain” insights into linear, “left brain” processes. Through design thinking, we can improve these services. For the planning profession, design thinking also represents a creative, humanities-based approach to the physical environment, complementing more data-driven, social-science approaches.

This edition of PAS QuickNotes defines design thinking and suggests how planners can use this agile, five-step process to help improve systems, processes, and policies in their communities.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Thomas Fisher
Thomas Fisher is the Dayton Hudson Chair in Urban Design and Director of the Minnesota Design Center at the University of Minnesota.