Design thinking and trend research have a lot in common. Want to know how they overlap and how they complement each other? Read my vision on how these domains can integrate organically.



I’m collaborating with DesignThinkers Academy in already for many years. This made me think about how these two worlds collide.

Let’s start with a definition of Design Thinking first, as it is interpreted often in various ways. I like to use the description of the DesignThinkers Academy, which states:

“Design thinking is a mindset to develop and deliver innovative ideas, change and solutions to complicated problems. It is an activity-based process with a strong emphasis on teamwork and co-creation.”

The core of this definition is that Design Thinking is not a tool, it is a mindset and a way of tackling challenges and finding solutions.

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When we turn to the trend research process, I can see a strong overlap in ways of working that both types of mindsets bring along. ⤵️

Design thinkers and trend researchers both like to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. They love to see change as an opportunity instead of a threat. Both incorporate a high level of activity in their respective procedures which preferably are not executed individually but in collaboration with others. And last but not least, design thinking and trend research are focused on stimulating innovation.



When we zoom in on a common way to visualise the process of design thinking, The Double Diamond, I also see a lot of entry points for trend research.
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design thinking trendHeller de Paula


​In my book ‘How to Research Trends’ I describe three main goals of trend research. These easily overlap with the stages of The Double Diamond. The three trend goals in a nutshell are:

👉 Detect: trend research is firstly about detecting manifestations of change happening right now. It enables you to detect signs of change more easily and earlier. And it also helps you to develop outside-in thinking instead of inside-out.

👉 Understand: by analysing all manifestations of change and their underlying value drivers you will understand these from a wider people centred and holistic perspective.

👉 Act: trend research serves as a foundation for vision building, strategy development and guides decision making. It influences your decision to act (or not) on change to improve people’s future quality of life.

Do you already have a hunch on how these three main goals of trend research overlap with the design thinking process? Check The Double Diamond image and explore possible overlaps.



​➡️ For me, scanning and detecting change relates to the research phase in The Double Diamond. This is the stage where you would use a divergent approach to explore with a very wide scope.

➡️ I feel that analysing and understanding change is strongly linked to the define phase in The Double Diamond where you get insights. Here you can add trend insights to general user insights. This will create interesting directions as a starting point for the next stages in the design thinking process.

➡️ Which then easily flows over into applying trends and acting on change, where trend insights can play a role during the develop and deliver phase to ensure an innovative outcome. Just like current insights are used to develop and deliver innovations in a design thinking process.


Does this resonate with your own thoughts when you compare trend research with design thinking? Let’s make it more concrete and look at how trend research can enrich two frequently used tools in design thinking: personas and journey maps.



For the past couple of years I’ve been training people in doing research while in the design thinking process. Mainly focussing on guiding them in the basics of exploring and looking outside-in using qualitative field research.

This often focuses on investigating attitudes and behaviours of people. And it mainly exposes current needs and wants of a specific target group.

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I feel it is interesting to add trend research into the design thinking mix to uncover emerging needs and wants. This way you amplify your research input and gain insight into current as well as future needs of people.
You can use the general design thinking tools to translate your trend findings into, for instance, future persona descriptions. These future persona cards show the motivations and drivers of frontrunners in a certain domain. This can partly overlap with motivations of lead users. But frontrunners don’t necessarily have to use your product or service. They might even be turning to other types of services. They could feel your organisation is not offering what they need or they are inventing alternatives themselves.
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Same goes for a tool like the customer journey map, which is often used to describe the current journey of a customer. But what about a future journey?

By using trend insights you envision multiple future journeys of your target group. You could also think about innovative ways to solve possible future problems or challenges during a journey.

Using the journey tool in this way helps to envision the impact of a trend on people’s daily lives in the future. For the implementation phase you can create roadmaps to get your service or offering up to par with these future journeys.



To conclude, I feel that design thinking and trends have a lot to offer each other and are a powerful combination. So let’s experiment more in cross-overs between these two.

If you have any suggestions, ideas or experience with this, please leave a comment or contact me. Happy to exchange views with you on this!