API Design

Is Product Thinking the same as Design Thinking?

product thinking vs design thinking

Product Thinking and Design Thinking are two methods whose goals are intertwined. Here’s a look at some definitions, how they are similar, and how they differ in key ways.

Product Thinking

Product Thinking looks at drivers and the competitive landscape. It helps you determine the actual problem the user is facing.

By looking at Product Thinking as the product in the context of its overall purpose, Design Thinking is applied to a mix of features and focused sprints, both based on the user’s thinking.

This includes the overall process of merging the problem of the users to the solution of the business.

Key questions to ask for Product Thinking

Always keep the customer experience in mind with key questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why solve this problem?
  • What is the job at hand?
  • Strategy: How will it be implemented?
  • Goals.
  • Timeline.
  • Features needed to reach the end goal.

The bottom line, with Product Thinking, you need to identify the problem and the impact across the organization before proceeding to the next step — Design Thinking.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking looks at the users, behaviors, and needs of the problem from the task level. For example, if you want to increase the adoption of a feature, head over to Design Thinking.

It seeks to understand the problem from the user’s perspective to design a better feature or service. This includes defining user expectations and identifying difficulties in task completion to pinpoint best-in-class strategies.

Additionally, Design Thinking results in direct solutions based on users’ expectations. It benefits the designer in the process of forming hypotheses by directly defining the problem to be solved and providing a clear goal to measure.

It’s helpful when confronting complex issues that are nebulous by adopting a better approach to identifying what the user needs.

This involves brainstorming and implementing a hands-on approach across departments to identify and solve the problem.

With constant changes and revelations, Design Thinking helps to thrash out the problem with concrete actionable ideas.

Encouraging Product Thinking

To facilitate Product Thinking, you have to create a focus on jobs to be done, and the teams that will support them.

When you view the product experience as a whole, you are looking at the problems which need to be solved and the impact it has on users and support teams — this is the crux of Product Thinking.

These are core tenants of this philosophy:

  • Looking at the specifics of the problem and how the solution impacts the whole product.
  • Asking what leads the user to seek us out to solve the problem.

This is where Product Thinking is working hard to understand the identified problem, who it impacts, where it’s occurring, where did it begin, and how can it be solved by the product in the process.


With Product Thinking, you are looking for the problems in total. What shape is the whole?

You then proceed to Design Thinking to identify the direction of features and workflows to solve for each task the user is completing.

At this point, you can now form a testable hypothesis to answer the problems at hand. The hypothesis is now a measurable goal, you can use it to test the solution to the problem. Once testing is completed, you may then measure against the hypothesis and validate your solution.

With a Problem Thinking mindset, it’s always leading you towards a tangible solution based upon user needs and organizational capabilities.

Asking questions

Product Thinking asks questions at every stage. There are five methodologies for Product Solving to find the answer to the problem (5 Ws and an H):

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

From a Product Thinking standpoint, we arrange the caveat for what we want to solve for in the form of the question “Who and What.”

  • What’s the expectation of our users?
  • Who’s experiencing it?
  • Who’s involved in solving it?

Even though you may understand the bigger problem users face, you still need to assemble the proper teams to address the “What” part of the equation.

Next, come the product and developer teams to solve the problem from a design thinking perspective. The only true source for solutioning lies in “Who” is impacted by the problem.

By understanding the users impacted we can better meet their expectations or set new ones. Now that we know what is going on and why it’s happening, you can deduce how to solve it.

See also: How API product intelligence helps you measure impact

Bringing value

To gain value, you need to:

  • Seek out when it happens?
  • Did we create the problem?
  • Who can answer the problem and act on it?

You now go into a solution phase. By asking the traditional 5Ws to answer the question of what the problem is and how to go forward, you have identified the level that adds value.

  • How?
  • How are we responding?
  • How can we bring value to the solution?
  • What is the feasibility of this solution?

From here, you have the baton pass to the Design Thinking mindset.

  • You are armed with the 5 Ws.
  • Why are dealing with this problem
  • When did it begin and when can we get going?
  • How can we solve it?
  • You can now move into Design Thinking.

You need to have a strong design feature to go forward to help solidify the statement.

Product & Design Thinking skills

Asking the right questions! That’s the key. You have a lot riding on understanding the problem that the user is trying to answer.

The business value of asking the right questions helps simplify the process by leading people to give you information without bias and give a clear path to meeting their expectations.

The simpler the questions, the more truthful the answer.

See also: Understanding the role of the API Product Manager


Always think of Product Thinking as viewing the whole product and how it fulfills its purpose and Design Thinking as bridging the gap with the users in the individual features, both seek to bring the teams together around the user’s need.

The worst thing for Product Thinking is not to be measurable, use what you have identified as a goal to measure against at every stage of development

Product Thinking gives you the map and goal of the journey and Design Thinking will help solve the problems faced along the journey.

When we have lessened the gap with the users in all areas of our teams, we are successful.

Start aligning your API metrics with these 3 objectives.

Key Takeaways

  • Product Thinking and Design Thinking work hand-in-hand, with Product Thinking focusing on holistic problem identification and impact, leading seamlessly into Design Thinking for detailed feature and workflow solutions.
  • Product Thinking employs the 5 Ws and an H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) at every stage, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of user needs and organizational capabilities.
  • To bring value, Product Thinking establishes when, why, and how a problem occurs, passing the baton to Design Thinking for a strong design feature, solidifying the solution's statement and ensuring a successful journey.
  • Product Thinking provides the map and goals, emphasizing the importance of measurability at every development stage, while Design Thinking solves problems along the user-focused journey.