How to Get a Design Thinking Certification: The Best Programs and Courses

Perhaps you’re a UX designer interested in getting a design thinking certification. Maybe you’re a CEO or manager considering one for your team. Either way, you’ll want to know whether or not it’s worthwhile—and, if it is, how to go about making it happen.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting a design thinking certification—including how it can benefit your design career and your business. We’ll also list some of the best programs and courses offering one.

We’ve divided our guide as follows—feel free to skip ahead to the relevant section:

  1. What is design thinking and why is it useful?
  2. I’m a UX designer—should I get a design thinking certification?
  3. I’m a CEO or manager—should I get a design thinking certification for my team?
  4. What are the best design thinking certification programs?
  5. Key takeaways and next steps

And if you’d like a solid introduction to the field before you start any more formal training, you can take a free UX design micro course. Free courses won’t be enough to take you as far as a design thinking certification, but they’re definitely a start.

Let’s jump in!

1. What is design thinking and why is it useful?

First things first: What exactly is design thinking and why is it useful? What’s all the fuss about?

By definition, design thinking is both an ideology and a process used to solve highly complex problems in a user-centric way. So, not only is it a mindset that encourages you to put your users first; it is also a practical, actionable methodology that can be applied in almost any setting.

One of the reasons design thinking is so popular in the business world is that, although it is based on the methods and processes used by designers, it can be used to solve all kinds of tricky business problems—you don’t need to be a designer to use and benefit from design thinking. Another great advantage is that it prioritizes tangible outcomes, allowing you to focus on finding solutions rather than fixating on obstacles and challenges.

So how does it work?

The design thinking process is divided into five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. You might go through each of the phases within the context of a design thinking workshop, or you might refer to the design thinking framework when making strategic business decisions.

Whether you use design thinking as an ideology, a process, or both, the entire approach has been designed to encourage creativity and push for innovation, all while putting the user first. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to design thinking here—check it out if you’d like to learn more.

Diagram of the 5 stages of the design thinking process studied in design thinking certifications: Empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test

2. I am a UX designer, should I get a design thinking certification?

Whether you’re an experienced UX professional or a fresh-faced designer, there are many ways you can benefit from being design thinking certified. Just like any other specialist skills you might choose to learn, a design thinking certification can help to set you apart and enrich your practice as a UX designer.

You’ll learn how to solve problems both quickly and creatively, and, thanks to the inherently collaborative nature of design thinking, you’ll also optimize the way you work with your team and other stakeholders. In addition to improving how you work, you’ll also give yourself a competitive edge; as design thinking becomes more and more popular in the business world, employers will increasingly be looking for designers who can both implement and teach the methodology and techniques involved.

Extremely useful for freelance UX designers

A design thinking certification is also extremely beneficial if you’re working as a freelance designer or consultant, or if you plan on doing so in the future. Many CEOs and business leaders want to tap into the power of design thinking without necessarily getting a certification themselves, so they’ll hire a designer or consultant to take them through the process instead.

If you want to make a business out of running design thinking workshops, a certification will ensure you’re well-versed in the theory behind the methodology—and give you the credibility that clients will be looking for. You can learn more about how to run an effective design thinking workshop in this guide.

But what if you’re already a design thinking expert—do you still need a certification? Even if you’re already incorporating design thinking into your work, an official certification will help to verify your knowledge and present it as a concrete skill.

Employers and clients scanning your resumé, portfolio, or LinkedIn profile won’t always pick up on implicit references to design thinking; they’ll be much more convinced by a visible and credible design thinking certification.

So, should you get a design thinking certification? Here’s a recap of the main benefits:

  • Enrich your everyday UX practice
  • Learn new problem-solving techniques
  • Enhance your collaboration skills
  • Set yourself apart with an in-demand skill
  • Learn how to run Design Thinking workshops
  • Forge a freelance or consultant career as a Design Thinking expert
  • Formalize your existing knowledge with a recognized certification

3. I am a CEO or manager, should I get a design thinking certification for my employees?

We know that design thinking isn’t just for designers; all areas of business can make use of this creative, user-first approach. If you’re familiar with some of the more well-known design thinking success stories—like how accounting software firm Intuit used design thinking to boost sales by $10 million in a year, or how design thinking transformed Airbnb from a failing startup to a billion-dollar business—you may be wondering how you can use design thinking within your own organization.

One option is to hire someone to run a design thinking workshop in-house. Alternatively, you might consider getting some of your team members certified through a specific design thinking course.

With a design thinking certification, you’re essentially looking to train your employees to think like designers—regardless of what department they work in. This is especially useful for those who don’t typically focus on the end user in their day-to-day work, and for those who may not be used to taking a creative approach.

At the micro level, you’ll be equipping your employees and colleagues with highly valuable skills that they can apply to their own projects and tasks. At the macro level, you’ll foster a creative, user-centric mindset throughout the business—and that can have a significant impact on the bottom line.

Historically, design-driven businesses have consistently outperformed their competitors, and studies show that design thinking maturity delivers higher revenue and better returns for organizations.

So, if you’re not already incorporating design thinking into your business practice, you might consider introducing it through formal training. If you’re considering a design thinking certification for some of your team members, here are some potential benefits of doing so:

  • Encourage and optimize cross-team collaboration
  • Establish a user-first mindset throughout the organization
  • Foster creativity and come up with innovative solutions
  • Outperform your competitors
  • Benefit from higher revenue and better returns

4. The best design thinking certification programs

Having explored the benefits of a design thinking certification, let’s take a look at some of the best programs and courses on the market.

1. IDEO U: Foundations in Design Thinking Certificate

  • Mode of study: Online
  • Duration: 2-3 months (based on 4 hours per week)
  • Price: $1,398 USD

The Foundations in Design Thinking program offered by IDEO U teaches the core skills and mindsets of design thinking. It’s divided into two online cohort courses which you’ll need to complete in order to get your final certificate. The first course, Insights for Innovation, shows you how to turn customer needs into human-centered solutions, while the second course, From Ideas to Action, shows you how to prototype, experiment, and iterate on your ideas.

The program is entirely online-based, with each lesson broken down into short videos. Upon completion of the program, you’ll receive your downloadable certificate via email.

2. Cornell University: Design Thinking Certificate

  • Mode of study: Online
  • Duration: 6 months (based on 3-5 hours per week)
  • Price: $3,750 USD

This six-month online program is ideal for anyone who is involved in the design, development, or improvement of products, services, and infrastructure.

The curriculum has been divided into six courses, each taking three weeks to complete: Identifying and framing a challenge, Gathering user emotions, Crafting user narratives, Generating user-centered solutions, Design prototyping, and Testing and iteration. Students can expect to spend 3-5 hours per week on the course and are required to complete a final project.

3. Stanford University: Design Thinking Bootcamp

  • Mode of study: In-person
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Price: $14,000 USD

If you’re looking for an intensive, hands-on initiation into the world of design thinking, look no further than Stanford University’s four-day workshop. Held at the prestigious school, this immersive bootcamp will show you how you can use design thinking to solve real business challenges.

You’ll also learn how to enhance collaboration across diverse, multi-disciplinary teams. The workshop takes place three times a year in spring, summer, and fall, and the tuition fee covers course materials, breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day (but not accommodation).

4. The Design Gym: Design Thinking Bootcamp

  • Mode of study: In-person
  • Duration: 1 day (9am – 6pm)
  • Price: $595 – $675 USD

If you like the idea of a bootcamp but need something less intensive (and expensive) than that offered by Stanford University, The Design Gym offers a reasonable alternative. This one-day design thinking bootcamp is ideal for individuals and small teams looking for a little help to unleash their creativity and come up with original, innovative ideas.

Led by two expert trainers, the workshop will equip you with a range of different tools for empathizing with customers, defining their needs, and creating solutions. Most importantly, you’ll come away with an in-depth understanding of the design thinking process and how it’s being used at big companies across a range of industries. This workshop is currently available in New York City and Los Angeles.

5. MIT School of Management: Mastering Design Thinking

  • Mode of study: Online
  • Duration: 3 months (6-8 hours per week)
  • Price: $3,300 USD

Delivered in collaboration with Emeritus, this online program is for anyone—both teams and individuals alike—who is responsible for driving innovation and growth within their organization. Participants benefit from over 120 video lectures as well as three live teaching sessions.

To successfully complete the course, you’ll need to work on three group projects, ten assignments, and one capstone project. Although the course is online, it takes place on certain dates throughout the year—you can find upcoming course dates on their website.

6. The University of Virginia Darden School: Design Thinking and Innovation Specialization

  • Mode of study: Online
  • Duration: 20 weeks (four 5-week courses)
  • Price: Free via Coursera

The Design Thinking and Innovation Specialization course offered by the Darden School comprises four project-based online courses, with each course designed to run for five weeks. Design Thinking Part I focuses on identifying a human-centered challenge to solve, while Part II shows you how to turn your ideas into action.

The third and fourth components explore discovery tools from the field of human-centered design and techniques for easing collaboration in the workplace. In addition to the online classroom experience which comprises videos, reading, and assignments, students can also take part in discussions and exchange feedback with mentors and fellow classmates.

7. Global Knowledge: Design Thinking Bootcamp

  • Mode of study: Online or in-person
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Price: $2,295 USD

Available in both a virtual classroom and a live format, this bootcamp promises to take you on a hands-on journey through the design thinking process. Over the course of two days, be it online or in-person, you’ll learn how to define and solve problems, how to prototype rapidly, and how to apply design thinking to non-traditional roles.

This is a collaborative course that will see you working with your peers to come up with viable solutions. The live classrooms are available across the United States, with sessions running at least once a month.

8. Innovation Learning: Innovation & Design Thinking Facilitation Program

  • Mode of study: Online and in-person
  • Duration: Variable
  • Price: $1,783.81 USD

This somewhat unique program focuses on “training the trainer”—in other words, it will equip you to run your own design thinking workshops. Through one-on-one or small group coaching, the experts at Innovation Training will help you to create your own custom-made workshop that you can offer to clients or use within your current organization.

The program consists of online workshops, an online course that is the equivalent of a 3-credit university course, and two live meetings. You’ll complete a project to design and facilitate your own innovation workshop, resulting in a final certificate.

9. Rochester Institute of Technology: MicroMasters® Program in Design Thinking

  • Mode of study: Online
  • Duration: 8 months (8-12 hours per week)
  • Price: $1,378 USD

The MicroMasters® program offered by RIT comprises five individual courses, each taking six weeks to complete. You’ll start with Design Thinking Fundamentals before moving through each of the key stages in the design thinking process.

The final course, the Design Thinking Capstone, will see you applying what you’ve learned throughout the program: you’ll be asked to solve a given problem using the design thinking process, which you’ll submit as a project.

Participants are expected to devote 8-12 hours per week to the program, and in order to get the final certification, will need to earn a verified certificate in all five courses successfully.

5. Key takeaways and next steps

So there you have it: ten of the best design thinking certification programs the market has to offer. Before you commit to a particular course, it’s important to spend some time thinking about your own unique goals and requirements.

For instance, what are your reasons for obtaining a design thinking certification—are you looking to enhance your own design career, or to bring the spirit of creativity and innovation to your organization? What kind of UX qualification do you really need? At the same time, think about your needs. Can you commit to an intensive bootcamp, or would a flexible, online format be more feasible?

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few options, be sure to do your research: check for independent reviews and, if possible, speak to an advisor from the organization offering the course before you sign up.

If you’d like to learn more about improving your UX design practice or thinking like a designer, check out the following:

What is CareerFoundry?

CareerFoundry is an online school for people looking to switch to a rewarding career in tech. Select a program, get paired with an expert mentor and tutor, and become a job-ready designer, developer, or analyst from scratch, or your money back.

Learn more about our programs