What What comes to mind when you hear or see “design thinking?” The cognitive, strategic, and workable processes used to develop design concepts are not left to just designers and design teams. At its core, design thinking is a process used for creative problem-solving. When applied to the business world, design thinking has the power to shape and drive innovation. And it works. That’s why many large corporations have instilled the strategic mindset to help evolve their businesses. From IBM and MassMutual to Nike and Airbnb, many successful mainstream companies have heavily profited from the use of this methodology.

What Is Design Thinking

“What is design thinking?” returns hundreds of articles discussing design methodology and its significance in the working world. Much more than a buzzword, design thinking is a well-structured business concept that prioritizes people and champions empathy in the workplace. 

A study from Adobe found that companies that encourage creativity are 3.5 times more likely to outperform the competition about revenue growth. Salesforce incorporated design thinking in their sales team discovery process and found a 100% increase in revenue.

The Approach In the Workplace

So, what is design thinking, and how do you use it? Let’s break it down. Overall, a design thinking approach minimizes uncertainty and reduces the risk of innovation. At the core of design thinking is the human-centric methodology that asks the question, “What’s the human need behind this product/method/process/service?” 

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Ultimately, design thinking is the fusion of what is desirable (from a human perspective), technologically achievable, and economically feasible. It helps to consider all parts of a problem or challenge to understand it holistically, steering projects clear of ambiguity and uncertainty. This approach encourages businesses to focus their efforts on the end-user. Adopting a design-centered approach allows companies to better understand their clients and meet the needs of their target audiences.

The first step in understanding “what is design thinking?” is to identify the problem at hand. Whether the problem is unexpected or a planned innovation, pinpointing the “what” is the crucial first step. From there, the methodology leads teams to understand the “why,” “how,” and “what’s next” in the innovation process, which allows them to create the best possible outcome.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

1. Empathize

The first stage of the design process is to empathize with the end-user by understanding the perspective of the target audience/customer/consumer to identify and address the problem at hand. It is also a crucial step in the process to clearly understand and work with team members to strengthen team dynamics and overall performance to meet a common goal. This stage is all about gathering as much information as possible to prepare for development in the next step.

To do this, design thinkers are encouraged to cast aside all assumptions (because assumptions can stifle innovation) about the problem, the consumers, and the world at large. This allows them to consider any possibilities about the customers and their needs objectively.

2. Define

Putting together all of the information gathered in the first stage, the next step is to define the problem. Careful analysis of observations made will be synthesized to pinpoint the core problem that needs to be addressed. The goal is to convert the defined problem into a tangible, human-centered statement, rather than focusing on technology, monetary returns, or specifics of a product.

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3. Ideate

In the third stage, information has been gathered, a problem has been clearly defined, and now it’s time to generate ideas around this data. How can you and your team think outside of the box to create alternative solutions to the issue you’ve identified? Proper ideation begins with a clear understanding of your target audience and the ins and outs of the problem. 

As such, the ideation phase consists of brainstorming. Your team will collect as many ideas as possible at the start so that by the end, the team can investigate and test them.

4. Prototype

It’s time to experiment! During the prototyping phase, your team will identify through trial and error which of the possible solutions can best solve the primary problem(s). This typically will include scaled-down versions of the products or systems in question, which allows for proper investigation of the generated solutions.

5. Test

All of the work and information come together when testing the product in the final stage. It’s important to note that this is still an interactive stage. Often, testing the product leads to redefining problems/solutions and a better understanding of the consumer. This stage allows for all details to be flushed out and refined to create the best solution possible.

The Benefits Are Plentiful

The benefits of design thinking are plentiful. From improving team dynamics and productivity to reducing the cost of innovation and getting ahead of competitors, the methodology is a proven working process to create successful change. Just look at the economic impact design thinking has had on IBM. The company reported that the implementation of design thinking has increased its team efficiency by 75%, and it experienced a 301% return on its investment. 

As stated in the IBM Design Thinking Field Guide, “Our approach is to apply design thinking at the speed and scale the modern enterprise demands. It’s a framework for teaming and action. It helps our teams not only form intent but deliver outcomes — outcomes that advance the state of the art and improve the lives of the people they serve.”

How to Implement And Create Successful Change

Experts offer Design Thinking Workshops to help teams navigate the process and create successful change. This leadership is imperative, as design thinking is far from a linear path.

As IDEO founder David Kelley explains it, “it’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.”

Once design thinking skills are learned, business leaders can incorporate them into team management to encourage a healthy, sustainable dynamic. This allows businesses to continuously question their products and practices, helping them to generate solutions in the most productive environment possible. Having a critical eye to question what needs to be done for employees to do their best work, how to ensure thought diversity to encourage creative and critical thinking, and how to empower employees to take action when necessary is imperative to maintaining a strong relationship with ongoing innovation–either for products and services or within the company culture.

“The main tenant of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is the same thing–building empathy for the people you’re entrusted to help.” -David Kelley, Founder of IDEO.

Interested in learning more about design thinking and how you can adopt this methodology? At Voltage Control, we’re happy to help. Contact us to learn more about the design thinking process and how to incorporate design methodology into your company culture. 

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