10 Best Design Thinking Tools For Online Collaboration

Online design thinking tools can come in handy—they help you organize your thoughts and plan your trajectory towards completion. 

That’s because design thinking can be a bit…complex. Ideas with team members are all over the place, revisions are never-ending, brainstorm results get lost, scope-creep is nearly inevitable.

Here are answers to a few basic design thinking questions to get you started, with more on the best tools below.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a productive and creative way of solving problems by building products that cater to a niche need. 

Jeanne Liedtka, Design Thinking Expert, noted in Harvard Business Review that: “design thinking has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes.”

The best business model is one that keeps the end-user front-and-center throughout the service design process. 

However, brainstorming sessions are wasted time if you don’t have a way to collect and compile the resulting data using a platform that can make use of the data.

Design thinking can be hugely influential when it comes to developing new products, like when Braun set out to design a simplified IoT electric toothbrush, for example. Design thinking is exactly that: taking what you already know and building off of it to make a better product that answers more of the end user’s concerns for a better customer journey.

What is the Customer Journey?
The customer journey is the probable path (or paths) that your ideal users will follow during their interaction with your product, from introduction to completion. Human-centered design is important to make this journey as painless as possible.
What Are The 5 Design Thinking Stages?
According to Stanford University, the 5 stages of design thinking are: empathy, definition, conception, prototype, and testing. 

  1. Empathy is working to understand the end user’s needs (the “problem statement”);
  2. Definition is the elevator pitch of what problem you intend to solve and how; 
  3. Conception (or, ideation) is creative brainstorming (“ideate”) to find the best solution through product design;
  4. Prototyping is creating the most basic version of your product;
  5. Testing is turning that minimum viable product into a fully functional, QA tested, launch-ready item.

What Do Design Thinking Tools Do?

Design thinking tools help overcome complex problems; for example, you may need to facilitate a design sprint and you’ll want some way to make sure the design thinking process, mind maps, and user research all come together nicely in a finished product. 

Design thinking tools will also help organize the iterative process: that is, building and improving upon what you already have. 

This article will help you quickly compare and evaluate the best design thinking tools available right now. 

List Of The 10 Best Design Thinking Tools

Here’s a shortlist of the best online design thinking tools:

  1. Userforge
  2. Smaply
  3. Invision
  4. Creatlr
  5. Sprintbase
  6. Marvel
  7. Stormboard
  8. Mural
  9. Shape
  10. UserTesting

Find overviews and screenshots of these tools below.

Design Thinking Tools Comparison Criteria

What do I look for when I select the best design thinking tools? Here’s a summary of my evaluation criteria for design thinking remote tools: 

  1. User Interface (UI): Is it clean and attractive? Are ideas easy to post and group together by theme? 
  2. Usability: Is it easy to learn and master? Is the user experience satisfying and engaging? 
  3. Integrations: Is it easy to connect with other online tools? Any pre-built integrations? Can it connect to storage software like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, or OneDrive? Can they connect to graphics or icon databases, like The Noun Project or Adobe? 
  4. Value for $: How appropriate is the price for the features, capabilities, and use case? Is pricing clear, transparent, and flexible? Design thinking tools tend to range from $29 to $$$ per month, on average—does the tool fall far outside of that range? How many collaborators are included in the monthly or yearly cost? How many user persona are included in the cost?

Key Features

  1. Experience/Empathy map canvas.
  2. Journey map (or use a specialized journey mapping tool).
  3. Storyboard solutions. 
  4. Persona profiles.
  5. Brainstorming tools.
  6. Wireframe tools. 
  7. Rapid prototyping (or explore more prototyping tools).
  8. User feedback mechanisms.
  9. Human insights platform. 
  10. CX/UX design.
  11. User testing.
  12. Mobile app testing.
  13. Collaboration tools.
  14. IDEO templates.
  15. Meeting notes/note-taking tools/sticky notes.
  16. Prioritization solutions. 
  17. Built-in business processes. 
  18. Iderative princess tools.

Overviews Of The 10 Best Design Thinking Tools

Here’s a brief description of each of the design thinking remote tools on my list showing what it does best, plus screenshots to showcase some of the features.

1. Userforge – Best empathizing design thinking tool

Userforge Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Build user personas and connect them to their story/journey.

2. Smaply – Best tool for journey mapping

Smaply Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Simple mind-mapping tools connect ideas and solution pathways.

3. Invision – Best design thinking tool for rich, interactive prototypes

Invision Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Prototype anyway you see fit, navigation flows & an element library.

4. Creatlr – Best design thinking tool for collaboration with large groups

Creatlr Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Organize your thoughts visually with over 200+ templates and card decks.

5. Sprintbase – Best software for remote design thinking

Sprintbase Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
A Kanban-like board visually organizes idea as they arise.

6. Marvel – Best design thinking tool for rapid prototyping & testing

Marvel Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Build layouts for prototyping easily and incorporate feedback from your team.

7. Stormboard – Best tool for building a shared workspace

Stormboard Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Storyboarding and user journey charts boost brainstorming efforts. 

8. Mural – Best for design thinking tool for enterprise collaboration

Mural Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Visually appealing dynamic whiteboard and note-taking solution. 

9. Shape – Best design thinking tool for customization

Shape Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Shape offers collaborative, customizable boards to cluster ideas, identify themes, display video and images, and more.

10. UserTesting – Best design thinking tool for real-time feedback from users

UserTesting Design Thinking Tool Screenshot
Build different users tests and collect video feedback for highlight reels.

Other Online Design Thinking Tools

Here’s a few more that didn’t make the top list.

  1. Conceptboard – Best for built-in screen share and video chat
  2. Ideaflip – Best free online design thinking tool
  3. Boords – Best web-based storyboarding software
  4. Miro – Best agile design thinking tool (includes huddle boards)
  5. Mockingbird – Best drag and drop UI elements
  6. Digisite – Best for design thinking tool for marketing, CX/UX, and innovation teams
  7. Batterii – Best tool for turning video reviews into insight reports

Free Design Thinking Tools & Toolkits

Though they may have some limitations compared to their paid-subscription counterparts, using a free design tool is a great option for smaller teams or those looking to simply test the waters of the software first. 

Free possible solutions include: 

What Do You Think?

Design thinking tools can help you plan a successful product from start to finish. It’s a way to organize your design process so that no note is forgotten. They can help you visualize where you are and where you are going. 

Have you tried any of the design thinking tools listed above? What online design thinking tool would you add to this list? 

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