The Design Thinking Group on LinkedIn is a large and diverse community. It currently has more than 96,000 members and is on track to surpass 100,000 in the early fall. That is a lot of people interested in Design Thinking.

In a recent survey conducted by TeamFit (full results will be published in August) we asked members of the group to share their definition of design thinking. The most popular answers were as follows:

37% Human-centric design
19% A way to solve wicked problems
14% The generalization of design patterns to problems not often thought of as design problems

One can debate these definitions, and there has been much debate in the community, but this result does seem to capture how the term is used in the real world. I was surprised that the answer “A formal business process developed by IDEO and taught at places like the Stanford” scored only 7%. I had actually expected this to win out given the excellent work being done teaching design thinking at the Stanford University

This survey is only part of our research into Design Thinking. We are also studying the skills claimed by people engaged in design thinking. We are doing this through the survey, which asked many questions on skills, through analysis of the TeamFit skill graph, and by looking at the skills claimed by people in the LinkedIn Group. In this post, we focus on the last of these.

We took a random sample of 400 people from the group and gathered their LinkedIn skills. We then uploaded these to TeamFit for analysis. There was a good representation of the group. For example, there were people from 54 different countries as shown below.

There were 1845 unique skills found. Below is a TeamFit skill map of the top skills and the overall distribution.

The level of expertise was calculated by the somewhat simplistic approach of counting endorsements. We understand that this is a weak indicator but it is the data available(TeamFit normally uses a much richer set of evidence and connects skills to how they are applied by project).

In TeamFit, you can filter by skill category. Below we see the skills filtered by Business, Technical, Domain, Design and Foundational skills.





Foundational (Skills used to build other schools)

A few things to note. There is a good blend of business skills and design skills (but see below). A wide range of domains are covered, there are 158 different domain skills and they are widely distributed, from advanced manufacturing to food services, from non-profits in micro finance to education. Given this, I was surprised by how concentrated the design skills are in relatively conventional areas like user interface and graphic design.

That sent me poking down into the long-tail design skills. There were a few things if interest well down the list (like ‘storytelling’ with 5 people) and skills that I would have expected to be more common (‘design for manufacturing’ with 3 people). In general though I was a bit disappointed as I had expected a much wider range of design skills. I will cross check this with the skills identified in the Design Thinking Skills and Applications survey (I know, we need to get that analysis done). If this finding holds then I think it is a problem. We are going to need a much wider range of design skills to solve the wicked problems that we face.

One issue with the above data is that it is the composite for 400 different people. That can obscure important differences. We applied a clustering analysis to see if there are obvious skill clusters. And there are. The two big clusters we found can basically be characterized as ‘Designers’ and ‘Business Consultants.’ This again is not surprising as the design thinking movement is being driven by both sides. Thought leaders include people like Roger Martin on the business side and John Maeda, Tim Brown, GK VanPatter and Hartmut Esslinger on the design side. Design thinking is not just for or the domain of designers. If it was it would be a lot less interesting. Some of the people in our circle are even applying design thinking to pricing design (see Don’t set prices. Design Pricing!).

The other clusters are around Engineering and there was a micro cluster around Food and Food Services (we so have several food designers in the group). I love the notion of ‘food designer,’ this micro skill cluster includes the skills: Food (5)Food industry (2)Food processing (2)Food Safety (2). I suspect that a different random sample would have picked up other micro clusters, around areas like organizational design, learning design and so on.

Click here to open the working module
Tap on and tap off to apply filters.

As a bonus, we have added in associated skills. For any skill in a skill cluster, we have added in the associated skills from each of the other clusters where they exist. There is richly suggestive, but as we cannot tie these back to projects from the LinkedIn data (we would be able to do this if the data were generate from TeamFit) most comments would be speculative. Just to help you read this, in the snippet below, the skill is Materials from the Engineering Cluster. This skill tends to co-occur with the skills Project Management, Microsoft Office (I really wish people would stop including this as a skill on LinkedIn) and English on the Management cluster. The associated skills for Engineering – Materials on the Design side are a lot more interesting. Design for Manufacturing is an obvious associated skill for Manufacturing, SolidWorks is a tool often used in the space. It is interesting to see Finite Element Analysis and Rapid Prototyping come up as well. It is worth looking at all of the many associated skills that connect to any one skill. Skill become powerful when used together.

This analysis left me with a question though. When I look at these skills I wonder how well they overlap with the skills we found at Frog Design, IDEO and Fjord (see Skill insight can clarify your competitive position – comparing Fjord, Frog and IDEO). We plan to add a few more design agencies to this data set (let us know if you would like to see your agency included). We will then compare the LinkedIn Design Thinking Group skill graph with that for the design agencies. One would hope that there is a good overlap as this seems like a natural pool for the design agencies to hire from. We shall see if that is the case.