What is design thinking and how can it help your company

Business & Growth
November 4, 2021
January 4, 2021

Design thinking is a challenge for all companies. Done properly, it can deliver results that can change the world.

The best example is Apple which has always used design thinking in its approach.

Think of Steve Jobs, a man obsessed with the user experience. Jobs had a laser-focused mentality for products. He was notorious for driving people crazy searching for solutions in places no one had been before. Here was a guy who hired psychologists to help in the design of the graphical user interface of the Mac. His focus was on craft, empathy, focus and simplicity, Apple products to this day are the most user-friendly in the market, right down to the packaging. Design thinking turned Apple into a market disruptor.

The best example of that was the iPhone. Rather than joining companies like Motorola, Nokia and Hutchison which dominated the mobile phone market in 2002, Apple instead looked at how to design a phone that was different. When it was launched in 2007, the iPhone disrupted everything because it was not aimed at the telephony market. Instead, it was a device that was used for data collection and emails, telephony was only a small part of the package. With design thinking, Apple created a new market, one that it now dominates.

Design thinking is not about creating objects, it’s about shaping new business opportunities.

Reports from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United Nations are now looking at how design in creative industries has become the big economic driver. And of course in the US, there’s the design firm IDEO and the Kelley brothers.

Apart from Apple, companies leading the way in design include Google, Virgin, Airbus, Amazon, Skype and Eurocopter, all unique businesses that have created new market. They are showing the world that design creates tomorrow something that doesn’t exist today. For them, innovation is not about technology outputs but about input, encouraging new ideas within the organisation and team.

How do we define design thinking? To begin with, think of design as a verb, not a noun. It’s an active process of problem-solving. It takes in a variety of ways of looking to resolve issues. So it’s not about designing a chair, it’s about working out a way of suspending someone in a space. The key to design thinking is empathy. How will what we are creating be received by the other person? How can it make their lives easier? That’s why design thinking is about understanding what a customer is really looking for. Now, that might not be solved by anything you have to offer. With design thinking, you work out how you can come up with the right sort of solution that meets the customer’s needs.

Design thinking is used in a variety of settings. There are hospitals, for example, where reception desks become mobile and receptionists are given iPads where they can walk up to each patient and greet them individually. Philips has moved away from being a light bulb manufacturer to a company looking to develop smart homes, where connected lights, TVs, or kitchen devices communicate with one another and fit the needs of the people who live there.

Design thinking challenges businesses to think about their customers and create a better experience.

So in summary, think of the following:
  • Design thinking is a human centred approach
  • Design thinking identifies opportunities by looking at prospective data and identifying gaps in the market
  • Design thinking uses observational techniques to uncover problems and issues that people haven’t picked up on
  • Good design requires people to believe in possibility and to think in the abstract
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