The Magic of Design Thinking

Written by Asa Goldstein

On December 31, 2019
design thinking startup marketing

When many of us think about innovation, we envision a disheveled intellectual stumbling upon a spontaneous lightbulb moment that changes the world. However, this is hardly ever how real innovation occurs. Ever elusive, breakthrough innovation is almost always the result of careful research and rigorous experimentation. So, what if there were a system that could reliably spark innovation and solve business headaches? Luckily, there is.

Ulrich Wechselberger/Pixabay

Design thinking is a highly effective and human-centric approach to creative problem-solving, and businesses around the world are using it to improve their products, customer service and marketing efforts. In fact, 75% of companies (both big and small) say that they practice design thinking, and 71% of those businesses say that it improves their work culture, while 50% of them report more loyal customers. Design thinking succeeds because it focuses on resolving customer pain points rather than relying upon spontaneous inspiration on the part of the company. That’s why it’s a practice used by brands that succeed.

Design thinking is typically broken down into five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Let’s walk through them together.


Three Persons Sitting on the Stairs Talking With Each Other
Buro Millenial/Pixabay

Empathizing with your potential and current customers is the key to innovation. Most marketing and entrepreneurial follies occur because a business lacks awareness of the evolving needs and desires of the target market. There is a 24% gap between what business owners think they know about their customers and what customers think the businesses know about them. For this reason, empathy is a useful tool that often leads to insight and improved customer relations. ESPN revenues increased by 35% after listening to customer input, and when a client feels a genuine connection to a brand, they have a 306% higher lifetime value to the company. 

Woman Wearing Earpiece Using White Laptop Computer

By embracing empathy in your operations, you will quickly outperform most other companies. Research shows that 79% of consumers who gave negative feedback regarding their customer experience online were ignored. These out-of-touch businesses present a perfect opportunity for your business to swoop in and save the day for disillusioned consumers. By the end of 2020, customer service and experience will be the top brand differentiator, and according to the Temkin Group, 86% of consumers will pay more for a great customer experience. Remember, 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products or services.

So, get to know your customers! Conduct focus groups, surveys and interviews until you have an in-depth understanding of their pain points, general concerns and maybe their opinions about your company. Observe them closely as they interact with your services and locations. Then, conduct thorough online research relating to their common complaints. This is also the right time to map out customer journeys and analyze them for roadblocks. Once you feel you have a true grasp of the problems and information at hand, you will be ready to make strong, research-backed decisions.

If you’re struggling to engage with your customers, read our blog “Five Steps to Forging Strong Customer Relationships” to learn how.


Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall
Startup Stock Photo

Now that you’re equipped with more than enough information to move forward, it’s time to define the problem. While this step may seem tedious, it is actually the most critical step because it establishes the focus of the entire process. Out of all of the pain points and potential opportunities that arose during your research, which will you pursue?

Here are some questions to consider when defining your problem:

  • Can some of these seemingly unrelated problems be condensed into one or two root issues?
  • Which solution would help more customers?
  • Which problem presents the biggest threat to my bottom line?

Make sure to condense your problem into one simple sentence. If it’s longer than that, odds are you haven’t defined your problem narrowly enough.


Now, it’s time to brainstorm. Brainstorming is extremely worthwhile. Check out this article from the design firm IDEO for some brainstorming techniques, and this article for a broader collection of brainstorming facilitation processes.

You can brainstorm solo, but it’s better to work with a group, right? Not always. Some researchers suggest that the typical brainstorming session is ineffective because the loudest people succeed rather than the brightest ideas. However, they do suggest some workarounds if you are seeking input from your team:

  • “Have each participant write his or her thoughts down silently.
  • After ideas have been captured, share ideas in a round-robin fashion.
  • Do multiple sessions of writing, followed by sharing, so that people have a chance to build on one another’s ideas.”

These techniques prevent shouting matches from erupting and give each idea a chance to germinate and mature. Seeking team input is always a great idea as it allows cross-departmental innovation to arise from any facet of the company.

Prototype and Test

Person Drawing Line

Now that you have your idea solidified, you can begin prototyping. Whether they be of products, services or experiences, building prototypes enables you to experiment with an array of potential designs before selecting the best. Prototyping increases the accuracy of project financial estimates by 50% and reduces user requests for clarification by 80%. There are numerous additional benefits to prototyping.

Once you decide on the most suitable prototype and refine it to near perfection, it’s time to test it thoroughly. 24% of startups fail because of technical and execution-related issues. So, test your innovation in a variety of circumstances and with a diverse collection of customer demographics/psychographics to iron out any problems that arise. Thorough testing will smoothen out the launch of the innovation and ensures that the money invested in the innovation won’t be wasted on something ineffective.

Magic, right?

I guarantee that you will see immediate results when employing design thinking for your business. How could you not? Design thinking connects you to your customers and helps you address their most pressing needs. Manufactured innovation– ain’t it a beauty? Remember, design thinking is an ongoing process. It is the outcome of a business culture of empathy and creativity. So, the best way to ensure that design thinking continues in your office is to provide adequate avenues for your employees to participate in the process, whether through suggestion boxes or weekly innovation meetings.

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