'Design Thinking' should be used by all businesses as a strategy for innovation

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Wyn Jones is the Creative Director of Design Reality, a Product Design & Innovation consultancy based in North Wales. Here, he writes about how thinking like a designer can help your business.

 

New innovations are happening all the time whether we like it or not. As a result, businesses are being forced to adapt quickly to meet market demands or customer needs, often within tight budget constraints and with minimal disruption. With this constant need for innovation, businesses should be taking a leaf out of designers’ books and apply the tried and tested process of ‘Design Thinking’ as a strategy for innovation.

Design Thinking is not just for designers, it’s for every business

To appreciate the value of design thinking you firstly need to understand what it is. It is a problem-solving strategy that aims to break repeated behaviours and provide a catalyst for change and innovation, with a very real process to follow that delivers results. It is a philosophy used by designers for over 50 years to solve complex problems and provide solutions. It revolves around understanding the needs and desires of the people for whom a product or service is being designed for, whether it be a phone, taxi service or a new way of banking.

Put simply, it’s a process of questioning…everything. It is especially useful in solving problems that are ill-defined, or even unknown, by reframing the problem in a human-centric way and developing a practical approach to understanding it through prototyping and testing. When applied correctly, it can be used as a process of experimentation to test out ideas and deliver fail-safe concepts ready for investment. Ideas guaranteed to work. 

More recently, design thinking has been attributed to the success of many businesses including Apple, Spotify, uber or Monzo. They have used the principles of design thinking, together with a design-savvy team who understands the process, to create an environment where a creative culture can thrive, and innovative ideas can flow. As a process, it is a wonderful catalyst for change and evolution.

A long-term commitment to design thinking has been shown to increase revenue and brand value with the design of new products, services and experiences that are highly appealing to the target customer. There are also many benefits internally within organisations using this approach. It is a great way of uniting different teams and creating a space for the productive sharing of ideas and building of innovative solutions that have the broadest support at the outset. It has the added benefit that teams are invested in discovering and deploying the solution together, transcending hierarchy and job role. 

How to implement design thinking in your organisation

The first step is to communicate the process in a language everyone can understand from the start, from design-savvy individuals who can guide the process. It’s important to outline the process and define it in the context of real problems, not theoretical ones. Once this communication is established within an organisation, it often has the added value of serving to improve constructive dialogue as future challenges arise. The objective in the first instance is to create the right environment for a real, and a much broader, understanding of the voice of your customer. Who they are, what drives them, their values and beliefs, for example.

Going beyond the constraints of customer research, design thinking moves on to incorporate prototyping and testing an idea, which starts an ongoing, and valuable, dialogue with current and potential customers. An idea is validated and ‘de-risked’ giving an organisation confidence to invest in its development. Going through the process, organisations can shift from the bias of instinctive thinking based on assumptions of what people want, to more of an inclusive, empathetic way of thinking that gives people what they actually want. 

Design thinking has typically been associated with designing products, but it’s just as beneficial for services and internal processes

The nature of using design thinking means that you must imagine a future beyond what exists today. The more imagination and creativity, the more unique the likely solution. You can look at the more practical ‘near-future’ and apply design thinking to provide a quicker solution and return, from a market’s conservative expectations, for example. A more ‘distant’ design thinking future can provide long-term research projects where possibly new technology needs to be developed to create a new market. Businesses should be considering both.

Common business scenarios where design thinking can be applied to great effect are improving customer reviews, improving brand value, increasing market share, increasing employee retention, developing intellectual property and controlling your own product range.

Each organisation will have its own bespoke approach to design thinking that works for them. What matters most is that it’s not an isolated process, but an organisational mindset, that is implicitly progressive and focused on the end outcome. 

Returning back to where we started, innovations are constantly happening, and businesses need to have a strategy in place to innovate and stay competitive. As Albert Einstein said, ‘if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got’. So, change things up, break the cycle of repeat behaviours and use Design Thinking to create something revolutionary.