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15 Free or Nearly Free Design Thinking Tools

Posted by Jordan Nottrodt


Embrace design to reach better results, achieve personal goals, thrive as a team, and improve the world around you.

Design Thinking is a process and mindset that's human-centred, iterative, and collaborative. Design Thinking methods are accessible to any industry and any experience level so you can get started today.

Begin applying this approach, and reaping the benefits, with the following free design thinking tools.

📚 If you're new to deisgn thinking, you can learn more with this Introduction to Design Thinking.


Here are 15 Free Design Thinking Tools: 

(Or nearly free)


1. Empathy Map

An Empathy Map is a worksheet used to conduct empathetic interviews about an experience or problem. They often produce "aha!" moments because they help you empathize with a client or stakeholder's real experiences, wants, and needs from their own viewpoint. Learn more about how to use an empathy map. You can download Overlap’s free template below.

Download Your Empathy Map




2. Feedback Grid

With a feedback grid, you can add structure to your feedback by collecting insights that are meaningful and constructive. The tool encourages people to share what they like, what they would improve, questions they have, as well as any additional new ideas. It’s feedback you can use right away. Learn more about feedback grids and download a free template below.

Download Your Feedback Grid




3. Journey Map

Want to understand the experiences of your customers or stakeholders? Mapping out complete experiences is a worthwhile process that can gather deep insights into people's needs. Journey maps prompt you or your clients to remember all of the details of an event, including parts that initially may seem insignificant. 

Download Your Journey Map




4. Impact/Effort Matrix

Group your ideas and action items with an Impact/Effort matrix. It’s a quick and effective way to spotlight clusters of high priority ideas. Once completed, your ideas will be separated into four helpful groups, clearly illustrating your priorities.

impact effort matrix.png


5. Impact/Power Matrix

Generate a list of stakeholders and map them out on a Impact/Power matrix. The High-Impact stakeholders should be your highest priority when making decisions. Completing this stakeholder analysis helps build consensus in your organization or team about where your efforts should be going.

stakeholder analysis.png


6. Invision – Prototyping Program

Get your ideas out there for testing as soon as possible by creating prototypes early and often. Feedback grids (above) can help you improve your ideas on each iteration. Invision is a free tool that lets you create clickable interactive prototypes that can be shared and assessed online.


7. Canva – Prototyping Program

Canva is another prototyping option. The online tool is free and easy to use for novice designers. Canva helps you prototype professional 2D graphics in minutes so that you can begin getting feedback right away.



8. SurveyMonkey – Surveys

Want to hear from your customers, stakeholders, or community? Surveys are a great option for reaching a large number of people as a complement to interviews or when more in-depth research methods are unavailable. SurveyMonkey is a good place to start for building general surveys, and the program offers a free basic plan.


9. Typeform – Surveys

Typeform is another online surveying option. It allows you to create sophisticated and visually appealing surveys, though it has limitations on accessibility. Typeform is great for younger audiences and offers a limited version for free.


10. Post-its ($)

Post-its begin most of Overlap's engagement sessions because they encourage people to start solo, an important strategy for ideation. They are an excellent tool for writing down ideas alone, then compiling and sharing them as a group. You can also use Post-its to create calendars, assign tasks, and for Agile project management.

Overlap stickynote wall.jpg


11. Sharpies ($)

The physical act of writing on a sticky note will force decision-making and idea-sharing. A bolder writing tool is extra beneficial because it limits words, which creates clarity. Aim for 3-5 words per sticky to keep ideas concise and clear.

Sharpies Design Thinking Tools.jpeg


12. Dot Stickers ($)

Use dot stickers to vote on possibilities when you need to make a decision as a group. After everyone understands the options, assign dot stickers (we recommend three) to each person to use as their vote. Let everyone place a dot on their favourite three options. Everyone's voice will be heard, and in the end, the clusters of dots will highlight the ideas that have the most support.


13. Prototyping Kit ($)

Use a prototyping kit to build ideas quickly in order to receive feedback sooner. Iterating often is an essential aspect of design thinking. Your prototyping kit will help you visualize, create, and share ideas for immediate feedback. What’s in a prototyping kit? Anything you can build with: Play-Doh, popsicle sticks, cardboard, tape, glue, markers, paper, stickers, pipe cleaners and any other miscellaneous crafting supply.


14. Sketchbook ($)

Acquiring a sketchbook is inexpensive, and you can use it to take notes, doodle, draw diagrams, and sketch prototypes. Creating your own alphabet is a great way to enhance your visual thinking too.

Design thinking tool Sketchnotes.png


15. Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies is an ideation card deck that was developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. It helps you work through over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas with each card offering a challenge to help you break through creative blocks.

You can buy your own deck of Oblique Strategy Cards, but there’s also a free Oblique Strategies website.


Want to learn more about Design Thinking?

Check out the latest from Overlap’s Blog for stories, insights, and industry trends. Or subscribe to hear about recent content and free resources.

💡 75 Design Thinking Tools and Resources Explained

💡 How You Can Prepare For The Future Using Strategic Foresight


Tags: Design, Tools, Design Thinking