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Design thinking strategies to innovate your business

Posted by Nikky Lee - 31 July, 2023

Adopting design thinking (DT) strategies can help you innovate in your business and processes, develop new products and develop a positive culture, where customers are always at the centre.  This will boost not only your customer retention, but also your company culture, which in turn will make you a more profitable business all around.

What is design thinking?

DT is a problem-solving methodology that businesses can use to create and improve product and service experiences. When used effectively, it can become the foundation for driving a brand strategy or business forward. It is especially useful when businesses want to innovate as, more often than not, they must shift their mindset to solve their challenges. This leads to more agile strategies.

DT can be applied to products, services, and processes—basically anything that needs to be improved. And in today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, what doesn't need improvements?

Design can apply to any strategy or innovation initiatives where we seek to improve the status quo. Herbert Simon defines "design" as the "transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones”.

In essence, it’s a repeatable process that uses creative techniques to yield results—often results that surpass expectations. For this reason alone, it’s an attractive, dynamic and crucial methodology for businesses to embrace today.


Related content: Identify the moments of truth in your customer journey


How is it different?

Empathy for customers and their needs is the heart of the DT methodology. From there it relies on creativity and open, inclusive brainstorming to generate ideas to solve a particular customer problem (or challenge). The context of the customer—i.e. who they are, relevant likes and interests, and, again, their needs—are then applied to those ideas to find the most appropriate solution.



Building up, not tearing down

Compared to critical thinking, which focuses on analysing and breaking down ideas, design thinking is about building up ideas. It’s about building on what has come before and creating an improved product or service.

The DT method can serve to foster a customer-centric culture that finds innovative ways to solve problems. Most of all, it’s a culture where everyone feels included. DT environments are judgement-free zones. All ideas are valid, no matter how far out of left field they are. Everyone, from your interns to your marketers to your engineers, is encouraged to participate, even if they don’t think they’re creatively minded.

How design thinking nurtures your culture and customer experience

The design way of thinking is incredibly helpful to improve organisational culture. It can help bring your team together, making everyone feel included, empower individuals to act – and in effect will make your company one where people feel appreciated and will want to stay on for the long-term.

Here are five design principles, which can help move your business forward in the right direction.


1. Embrace differences

Without letting them become excuses. Obviously, not everyone is creative or strategically minded. Design thinking embraces differences in the way that it accepts people for who they are and emphasises their strengths, not weaknesses. Some people may not speak up but may have the best ideas in the room. Perhaps some individuals just need more encouragement but most people have the ability to be creative.


2. No multitasking

Reduce your distractions. The best ideas are usually created outside of the office. And when strategising in meetings, no laptops or mobile phones! Distractions can quickly fragment the thinking and creative process in the room. 


3. Everyone’s welcome

Everyone should be invited and have the chance to share their opinion. Okay, so maybe your meeting goes over time but it’s crucial to hear all perspectives and will make for a more productive session. Observe how things happen naturally, this will usually give you a sense of how you could divide the team into smaller groups.


4. Don’t judge

All ideas should be welcomed. Don't criticise or judge any ideas when brainstorming. Make this known to the team so that they are aware that no matter what they say in the room, it is okay and appreciated. This helps people feel comfortable speaking up. You’re all trying to find a solution to a problem, so establishing a safety net is a great way to make more people want to participate, which leads to more brilliant ideas. Or as iHeartMedia's Bob Pittman says on the company's evolving culture: "We don't allow one person to kill an idea here".


5. Don’t aim for perfect

Watch out for what practitioners call "precision creep". You might not change the world, but even nominal improvements are great. If something is really far off, you can add in a friendly reminder of the problem at hand and that a bit of precision could be added, as in the end you will need to come up with a realistic solution.



The 5 principles of design thinking

1. Empathise

Take the time to understand who your customers are and their needs—and whether those needs are being met. If you run regular voice-of-customer surveys, you can leverage the insights from these to understand your customer’s pain points in relation to a product or service. 


2. Define the problem

It’s not just about defining the problem but defining the right problem to solve. When brainstorming, always question the problem first and try to empathise with the type of customer whose experience you want to improve.

To gain cross-functional insight into each problem, gather information from various perspectives and question them. When probing, repeatedly ask: Why? Why? Why? until you’re left with the real issues you need to deal with.

Visualising problems helps during this stage. The more you can paint a picture for your peers, the better you’ll be at forming viable solutions.


3. Create and consider many ideas

DT operates on the premise that there is more than one way to fix a problem. Moreover, different people will solve problems in different ways. When you’re brainstorming, it’s key that many different solutions are ideated, regardless of the problem at hand. There should be no fear of failure when proposing ideas.

When a few potential options are revealed, the whole group needs to embrace them. Old ways of thinking and previous preferences need to be put to the side in order to let the new ideas grow and flourish.


4. Prototype

Once you’ve found your potential new idea, create a prototype or example of it. This stage is not just limited to ideas for new products, it also applies to new services and processes. For example, you may choose to roleplay a new idea, service or process to see how it might work. Often there’s a need to go through steps one to four several times to further refine your ideas to ensure the right solution is brought to the forefront.


5. Test

Now that you’ve developed your new idea, it’s time to test it and iron out all the kinks—and check that it meets the needs of your customer. This may involve using control groups and reworking your prototype as issues come to light during the testing stage.


6. Implement

Once you are satisfied that your new idea will adequately solve/resolve a particular customer need, it’s time to implement it across your business.


Want to know more? Download our free eBook and learn how design thinking can improve the customer experience and organisational culture in your business.


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Topics: Customer Experience

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