Design Thinking – Simplifying Innovation!!!

We are living in a world of unprecedented distraction, disruption & noise. In this scenario, it is increasingly getting even more challenging to get attention of your Customers or your Prospective Customers. There are more questions than answers to this problem and Design Thinking helps improve the engagement of our customers and serve them in a manner that keeps bringing them back to us again & again.

In this article I will attempt to:

  1. Bring greater clarity & understanding about the concept of Design Thinking
  2. Bring Clarity to the 5 stages of Design Thinking
  3. Decode how Design Thinking can help your Business

So let us dive in.

In 2020, it’s going to be more important than ever for businesses to understand design thinking and how you can apply it.

But just what is Design Thinking? How is it different from just general design? There’s a lot of information about this process that can be confusing to people, especially if they’ve never heard of design thinking in business.

Firstly, let us briefly explore the history of Design Thinking. In 1969, American sociologist and psychologist Herbert Simon published an article named ‘The Sciences of the Artificial ‘ which is said to have laid the foundation for Design Thinking. In this article, Simon set out seven key steps for using design thinking as a creative approach to problem – solving.

In the early 90s, the international design and consulting firm IDEO was founded. IDEO is often hailed as one of the most instrumental figures in bringing Design Thinking to the mainstream. The IDEO Design Thinking model divides the process into three key phases: Inspiration, Ideation & Implementation.

In the early 2000s, Design Thinking started to be introduced as a course at university level. A notable leader in this field was the Stanford School of Design which began teaching Design Thinking in 2005. This is just a handful of events that have contributed to the Design Thinking process as we know it today.

The simple definition of Design Thinking is that it has a solutions-based approach to problem-solving. Design thinking asks you to set aside your assumptions and brainstorm lots of different ways to approach and solve a problem.

The five stages of design thinking are: 

  1. Empathize: Empathy is the cornerstone of any successful design project. Instead of thinking about what you would want in a certain situation; ask what needs other people might have. Engage and empathize with people. The extent to which you understand and empathize with your users ultimately determines the outcome of your design. As a designer you need to build empathy at every opportunity; get to know your users; experience their pain points as if they were your own and use this empathy to make smart design decisions.

            “The highest form of knowledge is Empathy” as rightly said by Bill Bullard

  1. Define: In this stage you need to define the problem so that you understand what you’re trying to solve. Firstly, you need to gather all of your findings from empathize phase and start placing them together. Once you combine all your findings, you formulate a clear problem statement which will guide you throughout the design thinking process.
  1. Ideate: By this stage, you have a fair idea of your target users and what they want from your product; you also have a clear problem statement that you’re hoping to solve. The next step is to come up with possible solutions. In the ideation phase the group is encouraged to venture away from the norm, to explore new angles and to think outside the box. You’ll generate lots of different ideas and potential solutions. Remember, there are no bad ideas!
  1. Prototype: A prototype is essentially a small version of a product or a feature—it can be a simple paper model or a more interactive digital representation. The aim of this stage is to turn your ideas into something real which can be tested on real users. This is crucial in maintaining a user-centric approach, allowing you to gather feedback before you go ahead and develop the real product.  You create a basic version of some of your best ideas and test them out. Do they work? How do people respond to them? 
  1. Test: In this step you view your user and the prototype as they interact. The testing phase will quickly highlight any design flaws that need to be addressed. Based on what you learn through user testing, you’ll go back and make improvements. Once you’ve identified your best prototype, create the finished product and test it again.

Testing is technically the “last” stage of design thinking, but more often than not, you’ll end up thinking of something new and starting the process all over again. In design thinking, that’s a good thing! 

How Design Thinking helps your Business: Design thinking helps businesses identify better, understand and address the problems that plague businesses and their customers. It values solutions over processes; creativity and innovation over traditions. Here are some practical benefits of design thinking in business strategy.

  1. Collaboration: Good design is collaborative. It draws inspiration from everywhere – including culture and surrounding communities, it asks for feedback from the whole team. If sales struggles with customer retention, design thinking strategy encourages salespeople to look outside of sales strategies to develop new techniques and ideas to understand how to make improvements. Some business groups call this “collective expertise.” This kind of design thinking influence leads to strategic innovation company-wide.
  2. User-focused: One huge benefit of design thinking is that it is focused on the end-user. Whether it’s about developing a new technology or new project management process, defining who’ll be using the business solution is key to understanding exactly how to develop it.
  3. Testing: Testing ideas by creating prototypes or sketches and getting feedback early in the process can help us to lead to big breakthroughs and better ways of doing. It also keeps businesses from investing a lot of time and money into solutions that ultimately won’t work, because it keeps input flowing early & often and encourages the business leaders and strategy developers to use that input in their process.
  4. Boosted morale: Sometimes, facing challenges can be stressful to the entire organization. Having a design thinking mindset can remind both businesses and individuals that the solutions are there and help them focus on how to find them. This can be encouraging and supportive for the business.

Here is a collection of design thinking success stories that will help reinforce one’s conviction that design thinking can deliver incredibly powerful results and be applicable to everyone, across all industries.

Braun – Created a Better Oral B Toothbrush by designing a simplified IoT Toothbrush

Deutsche Bank – Achieved Customer Proximity by adopting Design Thinking approach

GE Healthcare – Built a better MR scanner experience for children by using paintings and storytelling

Nike – Became a Fashion Powerhouse through Design Thinking

Airbnb – Avoided Bankruptcy & Developed a Winning Business Model using Design Thinking

Makassar, Indonesia – Decreased Traffic Congestion in a City

As we’ve seen, the Design Thinking process can be applied to all areas of business. It’s a tool that can be used by anyone, in any department to foster innovation and find creative solutions to complex problems. Whether you’re a designer, a teacher, or a CEO; the Design Thinking process will transform the way you think, collaborate, and come up with ideas.

Remember, even if you don’t recall the five stages, the most important thing to know is that design thinking is human-centric. It asks you to consider what your audience needs and wants so that you can deliver a product they’ll be happy with.

In our next blog I will talk about the first stage of Design thinking, i.e. “Empathize” and how it will impact your Business.

Here is a link to the feedback for the Design Thinking workshop I conducted for L&T recently: