Design Thinking Process: Why Is It Useful for Business?

When you need to solve a problem, improve an existing product or invent a completely new idea, your way of thinking should be creative and unconventional to find the best solutions. Such an approach is described by the term design thinking.

Design Thinking Definition

We used to think that design is something that we can see, the look of objects around us. But design is also the process of crafting new solutions (physical things, software applications, methodologies, plans, etc.) through trial and error.

What is design thinking process? Design thinking is an interactive methodology for solving problems that focuses, first and foremost, on the end user, and is based on a creative, rather than an analytical, approach. The main feature of design thinking, as opposed to analytical thinking, is not critical analysis, but a creative process, reasoning and intuition that make the most unexpected ideas transform into better results. The design thinking process steps are clear and sequential, and you can even make the prototype from materials at hand.

Despite the fact that design thinking is traditionally positioned as the opposite of the analytical approach, many researchers have demonstrated that a creative process includes both divergent and analytical methods, and they are equally important for achieving not just a new, but a useful outcome.

Tools of the methodology are applicable to any industry and area of life, from business and engineering to education and personal travel planning. Brainstorming, for instance, is considered to be the main tool for group creativity.

To start the design thinking model implementation, you must eliminate the silo mentality most organizations still follow and encourage a cross-disciplinary outlook. In this regard, DevOps management may be of use.

Read also: Top Guidelines for Effective DevOps Implementation

The study on the design thinking adoption in organizations carried out by Parsons New School provides the following statistics:

  • 75% of organizations report that they are engaged in design thinking
  • 71% of organizations that practice design thinking report it has improved their working culture on a team level
  • 69% of design-led firms agree that design thinking makes the innovation process more efficient

Design Thinking Process: 5 Main Stages

As we’ve already mentioned, there are some defined steps in the design thinking process. The models of the design thinking process may fluctuate depending on the number of stages and their conventional names. Still, they don’t contain fundamental differences and preserve the essence. We will talk about the five-stage design thinking process models in more detail.

Stage 1: Empathy

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The first of the design thinking principles is gaining an empathetic understanding of customer’s pain points, vision, experience and needs. It requires the ability to listen to end users, put yourself in their shoes and look at the issue from a different perspective.

This way, producers or vendors can gather a substantial amount of valuable information that, from their point of view, would not even be considered important.

The two working patterns you can use to better understand your customers are:

  • Continued observation of the area of concern
  • Direct engagement with people via interviewing, questioning, consulting, online feedback, etc.

Empathy must be the core feature of human-centered design thinking systems.

Stage 2: Problem Definition

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The following step is to put together gathered information, analyze it and highlight the key issues. Then, it is important to formulate these issues as clear statements. The more correctly you define the problem, the more opportunities your team will discover regarding ways to solve it.

Instead of focusing on what you need as a seller (e.g. increase revenues by 10%), put the needs of those who use your product — your clients — first (e.g. get a better delivery service). Making customers a priority is key to your business success.  

Stage 3: Generation of Ideas

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Now, you progress to the stage of asking the following types of questions:

  • “How can we improve…”
  • “What should we do in order to…”
  • “What prevents us from…”

Such questions instigate idea generation. There exist numerous ideation techniques: brainstorming, the worst possible idea, SCAMPER, mindmapping, storyboarding, etc. You can choose any of them, but to make the process a success, it is necessary to follow some common rules:

  • Involve employees from different departments
  • Create a friendly atmosphere
  • Eliminate criticism
  • Go beyond rational methods
  • Discuss absolutely all ideas
  • Visualize (write, draw, sketch, use stickers)

When you get as many ideas as possible, sift them through the “reality filter,” focusing on those that are viable, and vote for the best possible solutions.

Stage 4: Prototyping

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The next step is to create an inexpensive physical version of the future product. A prototype is needed because it helps:

  • Put a product into a working environment
  • Gain opinions
  • Reveal bugs
  • Save money in future

A simple prototype can be shared within the design team, across other departments or outside the company for potential users. Therefore, it should be interactive, so that people could test it, and cheap, so that not to go bankrupt in case of failure. Sometimes, it is even enough to use simple materials such as paper, carton, glue and felt pens to realize an idea and make it tangible.  

Eventually, a prototype will tell more than you could imagine, helping you find the right solution and not lose money.

Stage 5: Testing

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The final stage is testing the prototype and getting feedback. Users should try a solution and say what they like and what they don’t. This stage may be disappointing, but it saves resources and invests in creating a truly useful product.

During the testing phase, alterations and improvements are made, and even the initially defined problems can be redefined.

Read also: The Evolution from Testing to Quality Engineering

We have outlined five stages of the process, but they are not necessarily sequential. They can follow one another, as well as occur simultaneously, or be repeated during the entire project. After the final stage, you can even return to the beginning, if needed. As such, design thinking should be considered as a flexible non-linear process consisting of separate modes.

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Benefits of the Design Thinking Methodology

Numerous professionals are willing to implement the design thinking approach in their working practice due to the benefits it provides both for customers and vendors. Here is a list of the most notable pros you can expect to get when adopting the technology:

  • An opportunity to view a problem from a different angle
  • Determination of problem root causes
  • Encouragement of creativity and innovative thinking
  • User-centered approach
  • A broader search for solutions
  • Effective collaboration
  • Reduced expenses
  • The final outcome is ensured to meet customer requirements

The cons are less obvious. The only thing we can say is that the methodology will not work for projects with definite requirements and other restrictions. It is only suitable for projects that are open to innovations and have unclear or flexible demands.

Bottom Line

First of all, the design thinking approach focuses on end users, and only then does it consider technical and economic possibilities. The main principles of the methodology are diving into the user experience, unconventional reasoning and individual scenarios for every task.

The process is iterative and flexible, giving more freedom and opening doors to creativity. As a result, it leads to the core goal of design thinking — user experience improvement through the improved product.

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