How to Use Design Thinking for Business

Design thinking isn’t a simple ergonomic exercise or another word for creativity. It’s a novel way of thinking that focuses on market research to keep the consumer’s needs in mind. It can be applied across functions in business, with numerous benefits to the firm practicing it. 

Let’s take a look at design thinking, and how you can use it in your business.

Design Thinking Defined

We first need a good definition of design thinking. IDEO CEO Tim Brown described design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” 

So how can you be sure your team is using design thinking?

Interaction Design Foundation identifies five stages to design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. While these steps are not necessarily sequential, they are equally important to the design project. All work towards the ultimate goal of generating the deepest possible understanding of the product and its users.

In the first stage, develop empathy for your customers’ needs through user research. This will help you see product designs through the eyes of buyers, and focus on their desires and preferences.

Then, define your users’ needs and problems. Using the empathetic perspective you’ve gained, create a list of user pain points and desires.

As you ideate, think creatively—focus on alternative ideas and unconventional solutions, informing your brainstorming with the real-world data you’ve accumulated in your research.

Experiment during the prototype stage, and work towards implementing low-cost, low-scale versions of the product. These prototypes will be your testing material as move into the final stage.

By the fifth stage, it’s time to try your solutions out. See if the implementation of your idea is realistic, and incorporate the observations of your colleagues in your assessment.

Similar to the process of creativity in many ways, design thinking is an empathic, user-focused approach to product development.

With the process in mind, how can you use design thinking in your business, and what will design thinking do for you?

Stay Ahead of the Competition

First of all, use design thinking to stay ahead of the competition. That creative, human-focused heart of design thinking is a driver of innovation.  New products, new ways to promote—encourage design thinking to encourage the constant evolution of your business around customers’ shifting needs.

Inform Your Product and Service Launch

Another way to use design thinking is to improve the way you launch products and services. With the research and feedback that design thinking requires, you’ll have clear picture of your customers and their expectations. Your product rollouts will be fast-tracked and you’ll experience less risk. After all, a product or service designed specifically for the needs of a market segment comes with far fewer surprises than one designed without human interests in mind.

Marketing with the End User in Mind

Use design thinking in your marketing as well.  When you design your communications and promotions with “end-users’ problems instead of the CEO’s ego” in mind, your messaging becomes more relatable and more engaging. Don’t think of design thinking as exclusively product-related. Or, if you must, think of it as related to all aspects of a product’s life.  

Customer-Centered Communications

Apply the same research you gathered in stage one of design thinking to your communications. This kind of intimate, needs-focused approach will keep you from releasing a print ad when your target audience is Millennials. And it will remind you to keep your B2B videos short and sweet.  It’s another way to reduce risk when the product hits the market. Raise awareness of your product and brand through design thinking.

Design Thinking Can be used Internally

Internally, use design thinking to boost morale. This can remind your team “that the solutions are there and help them focus on how to find them.”  Do some design thinking of your own and put yourself in an employee’s shoes. 

Which environment would you rather work in: one in which things are done ‘by the book,’ with no room for alternative thinking, or one in which creative ideation is promoted and problems have multiple solutions? It’s safe to say most of us would prefer the latter.

Challenges and Opportunities in Design Thinking

Since design thinking often involves “a number of different groups of people in different departments,” it can present communication challenges—but it can also present an opportunity for togetherness. The process of design thinking runs from research through testing, so it naturally involves cross-functional work. The same people in charge of marshaling market research are not likely to be the ones testing the first prototype, after all.

Let this inter-departmental idea exchange be another major boost to morale and to company unity.  Cross-functional communication might not be instantly perfect, but over time it will build loyalty to the company.  Team members will get a broader understanding of their role in their organization, and the true size of their team—their team isn’t just their department, it’s their company.

Design Thinking Helps You Look Beyond Today

Finally, use design thinking to get your business thinking about the future.  It’s natural, and usually good, to focus on immediate concerns and the near future at furthest, but a truly lasting business needs to think further down the road.  

In studying and anticipating the patterns and needs of consumers, design thinking allows a focus on the future, not just the present.  If you know what your market wanted two years ago, and you’ve got an accurate picture of their desires today, you can make predictions about next year with more confidence.  Don’t just react to consumer trends.  Use design thinking and let your research help you think about the trends that are coming over the horizon.

Design thinking can transform the way your business approaches product development and release.  Using its five stages of empathize, idea, define, prototype, and test, your business will see faster, less risky product rollouts.  You’ll see more targeted and successful marketing, and you’ll stay ahead of the competition.  You’ll even see internal boosts to morale.  Reimagine the way you imagine the market.  Rewrite the rules of your workspace.  Practice design thinking in your business today.