How to Use Design Thinking in Your Business

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Need to Supercharge Your Business? Think Like a Designer.— Paul Sloan

Design thinking is all the rage these days, especially in lean startups. The benefits of using design thinking in business include:

  • Saving time and money developing new products.
  • Actually solving the problems end users face.

For most of us, design thinking comes naturally, and we use parts of it in our everyday lives. As a graphic designer, you may sketch out ideas for a logo and collect client feedback before diving into Adobe Illustrator. When deciding where to go for lunch, you get an opinion from your partner before picking a restaurant that suits both of you.

thinking, design thinking

What is Design Thinking?

The term “design thinking” was first used in 1969. It has been coined and explained by several people, namely Herbert A. Simon, Robert McKim, and Peter Rowe. Most recently, the CEO of IDEO took the term and ran with it — or rather, he talked about it in a popular TED talk in 2009.

Design thinking means understanding users’ needs and thinking creatively to solve their problems. This human-centred, prototype-driven innovation process  can be applied to products, services, and business design.

One of the crucial elements of design thinking is visualising the concepts as the lack of concrete ideas often stem from ill-defined problems. Thinking visually forces people into simplifying the concepts and making them tangible and therefore easy to understand.

Forbes gives the following definition: In the simplest terms, Design Thinking is “a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues, with the intent of an improved future result.”

If these are the simplest terms they could think of, we have different ideas of what “simple” means. To help those unfamiliar with fancy business terms understand what is design thinking, I thought of an example.

The Problem

Let’s say you have an idea to write a book about automating tasks with Python. Before writing it, you’ll want to validate your idea by talking to people in your target audience.

So you take a couple of business owners to lunch and ask questions like:

  • How do you learn about automation now?
  • Are you aware of the benefits of automation?
  • Do you know Python’s syntax?

They’ll say they have no time to read books, but are happy to read short blog posts over their lunch break (when they aren’t bothered by people asking them questions). One of them mentions Primer as an app she likes. Another catches up with business skills while in the gym by listening to podcasts.

idea, design thinking

The Solution

Armed with this knowledge, you head to your office and start brainstorming the possible solutions to the problems you now know about. You had no idea that your target audience invests so little time into learning.

You need to forget about your initial idea and explore the possible solutions without being tied to existing solutions and ideas. Based on the feedback, you come up with a smartphone app with bite-sized lessons on Python.

You create the simplest possible version of this app to test the idea. The simplest version is not a web-based mobile app. It’s a sample 5-step course explaining how to automate a single task. It can be a blog post.

Then you ask a few business owners to follow the course. They’ll take it and give you feedback on whether it solves a problem for them. They may not follow it at all, and in this case, you’ll need to figure out why. Either way, you’ve just saved yourself the time and effort of building a product that no one wants.

And this is design thinking.

It’s a scientific approach to solving problems, with the focus on solving the end users’ problems instead of the CEO’s ego. Non-data driven ideas don’t matter anymore. It’s the constant iterations and testing that lead development.

scientist, design thinking

Design thinking is the opposite of scientific method. Psychologist and architect Bryan Lawson conducted a study where he asked a bunch of scientists and architects to solve a puzzle. He discovered that each of the two professions took a different approach to solving it. While the scientists tried over and over again to find the correct solution, the architects first organized the pieces to the puzzle before diving in. If you want to read more about it, here’s the best explanation I could find (with more illustrations!).

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