Design Thinking - Analysis Vs Synthesis

In this chapter, we will see the difference between two ways of solution-based thinking, i.e. Analysis and Synthesis, and also get to know how it helps in design thinking.


Analysis is derived from the Greek word ‘analusis’, which translates into ‘breaking up’ in English. Analysis is older than the times of great philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. As discussed in the previous section, analysis is the process of breaking down a big single entity into multiple fragments. It is a deduction where a bigger concept is broken down to smaller ones. This breaking down into smaller fragments is necessary for improved understanding.

So, how does analysis help in design thinking? During analysis, design thinkers are required to break down the problem statement into smaller parts and study each one of them separately. The different smaller components of the problem statement are to be solved one-by-one, if possible. Then, solutions are thought for each of the small problems. Brainstorming is done over each of the solutions.

Later, a feasibility check is done to include the feasible and viable solutions. The solutions that don’t stand firm on the grounds of feasibility and viability are excluded from the set of solutions to be considered.

Design thinkers are, then, encouraged to connect with the diverse ideas and examine the way each idea was composed. This process of breaking down the bigger problem statement at hand into multiple smaller problem statements and examining each as a separate entity is called analysis.


The underlying assumption in analysis is reductionism. Reductionism states that the reality around us can be reduced down to invisible parts. The embodiment of this principle is found in basic axioms of analytic geometry, which says “the whole is equal to the sum of its parts”. However, understanding of a system cannot be developed by analysis alone. Hence, synthesis is required following analysis.


Synthesis refers to the process of combining the fragmented parts into an aggregated whole. It is an activity that is done at the end of the scientific or creative inquiry. This process leads to creation of a coherent bigger entity, which is something new and fresh. How does synthesis come into picture in design thinking?

Once the design thinkers have excluded the non-feasible and non-viable solutions and have zeroed-in on the set of feasible and viable solutions, it is time for the thinkers to put together their solutions.

Out of 10 available solutions, around 2-3 solutions may need to be excluded since they may not fit into the larger picture, i.e. the actual solution. This is where synthesis helps.

The design thinkers start from a big entity called the problem statement and then end up with another bigger entity, i.e. the solution. The solution is completely different from the problem statement. During synthesis, it is ensured that the different ideas are in sync with each other and do not lead to conflicts.

Analysis + Synthesis = Design Thinking

Analysis and synthesis, thus, form the two fundamental tasks to be done in design thinking. Design thinking process starts with reductionism, where the problem statement is broken down into smaller fragments. Each fragment is brainstormed over by the team of thinkers, and the different smaller solutions are then put together to form a coherent final solution. Let us take a look at an example.

Case Study

Problem Statement − Suppose the problem statement at hand is to contain the attrition that happens in companies worldwide. High quality employees leave the organization, mainly after the appraisal cycle. As a result, an average company loses its valuable human resources and suffers from an overhead of transferring the knowledge to a new employee. This takes time and additional human resource in the form of a trainer, which adds to the company’s costs. Devise a plan to contain attrition in the company.

Analysis − Now, let’s break down the problem statement into various constituent parts. Following are the subparts of the same problem statement, broken down to elementary levels.

  • The employees are not motivated anymore to work in the company.
  • Appraisal cycle has something to do with attrition.
  • Knowledge transfer is necessary for new employees.
  • Knowledge transfer adds to the cost of the company.

Synthesis − Now, let's start solving each problem individually. In this step, we will do synthesis. Let's look at one problem at a time and try to find a solution only for that problem statement, without thinking of other problem statements.

  • To solve the problem of lack of motivation, the management can plan some sort of incentives that can be given on a regular basis. The efforts put in by the employees must be rewarded well. This will keep the employees motivated.

  • To solve the issue of occurrence of attrition during appraisal cycle, the management can conduct a meeting with the employees leaving the organization, and take their insight as to what led them to leave the company.

  • For knowledge transfer, the management can hire only those people who are experts in a domain.

  • Regarding concerns for budget of knowledge transfer, the management can have a document prepared by experts in a domain and this document can be uploaded on intranet. This can be made available to new joinees. Hence, additional human resource is not required for knowledge transfer and this will reduce the figures in the company's budget.

Now, if we observe carefully, the third solution may not be feasible all the time. We cannot be assured of expert professionals coming for interviews all the time. Moreover, expert professionals demand more compensation than not-so-expert professionals. This will increase the company's budget.

Hence, we will now combine the other three solutions to form a coherent one. The final solution will be for the management to first have a talk with the employees leaving the organization to know the reasons behind attrition, then come up with awards in suitable categories and then, create an easily and universally accessible document in the organization for knowledge transfer.

This way, analysis and synthesis together help in design thinking process. Design thinkers start with breaking down a problem into smaller problems that can be handled and studied easily. Then, the different solutions are combined to form a coherent single solution.

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