thinking framework

The thinking framework is based on the capability approach and the design process, and is visualised and explained below.



  1. By identifying potential users’ opportunity space designers can obtain comprehensive user insight. The opportunity space consists of:

    • Capabilities. These are the valuable ‘beings and doings’ that a person can achieve. Within the capability approach, the definition of capability differs from its use in everyday language. Gasper (2007b) explains that within the Capability Approach (CA) capabilities refer to attainable outcomes and are consequently hypothetical, while in daily language, capability is mainly used in the sense of inborn or trained potentials (skills, abilities and aptitudes). The focus in the CA is on these opportunities that enable people to do what they want to do and to be who they want to be (Robeyns 2005); the real opportunities that people have (Alkire 2005).

    • Functioning. When a person achieves a certain capability set, the capability set is turned into a set of functionings (Sen 1999).

    • Resources. Kleine, Light, and Montero (2012) describe eleven resources which comprise an asset portfolio that can be converted into capabilities. These resources comprise: health, information, self-governed time, educational, psychological, material, financial, cultural, social, natural and geographical resources

    • Conversion factors. Conversion factors say something about the circumstances in which a person lives and are defined as “the degree in which a person can transform a resource into a functioning” (Robeyns 2011, p. 13). Kleine, Light, and Montero (2012) describe conversion factors as the ‘opportunity structure’ of a person. Robeyns (2011) divides conversion factors into three sources: personal (factors internal to a person, such as metabolism, physical condition, gender, reading skills, intelligence), social (factors from the society in which one lives, such as public policies, social norms, practices that unfairly discriminate, societal hierarchies, or power relations related to class, gender, ethnicity or caste) and environmental (Factors that emerge from the physical or built environment in which a person lives. Aspects regarding geographical location are, for example; climate, pollution, the proneness to earthquakes, and the presence or absence of seas and oceans. Aspects regarding the built environment are, for example; the stability of buildings, roads, and bridges, and the means of transportation and communication).

    • Choice making behaviour. Kleine (2011) developed the ‘Choice Framework’ as an attempt to operationalise the CA. In this framework she describes four dimensions of choice: the existence, the sense, the use, and the achievement of choice. If different capabilities exist and people sense their availability, a person can make a choice which results in a specific outcome.

    • Preferences. Things that people like or want, more than another thing (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

    • Needs and wants. The things that people need and the things they desire. Often used by product designers to indicate the information that needs to be obtained from the potential users.


  2. The insights inform the design process, aiding in defining the problem and developing design requirements.

  3. The insights are considered throughout the product development process, enabling designers to make deliberate design decisions, keeping the potential users involved.

  4. To enhance people’s real opportunities, product designers can develop products and services that provide users with choices they value.

  5. When the choice is made to use the product and/or service, it impacts the life of its user. The new opportunity space can be evaluated and again used to inform a new design process.


To illustrate this transformation: a person might be able to own a mobile phone (individual resource), but only has the capability of distant communication when this person is allowed to use it (social conversion factor), is able to use it (personal conversion factor) and has power supply (environmental conversion factor). Whether this person actually achieves the capability for communication depends on the awareness of the phone’s ability for distant communication (sense of choice) and the availability of other valuable options (such as playing a game on the phone, or going out and enjoy time with friends) which the person might prefer over communication through the phone. If this person actually uses the mobile phone (use of choice), this capability turns into a functioning.