How to Apply the Design Thinking Process to Your Business

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The design thinking process emphasizes collaboration, visual depiction and experimentation. Here's how to apply it to your business.

"Going wide... is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do."Tim Brown

The Design thinking process is an approach to dealing with difficult, multidimensional problems by considering all ideas and constraints as well as individuals and groups affected by a problem. The goal is not to develop a solution, but rather to develop a series of repeated actions that are continually tested to refine and adjust results.

Fast Company describes design thinking as a protocol for solving problems and discovering opportunities that focuses on an evolving process instead of on achieving an object or end-result.

Related Article: The Dropbox Effect: How to Utilize the Lean Startup Methodology

The concept is rooted in work in artificial intelligence and design engineering from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was applied to business most notably by Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO and author of Change by Design. Forbes contributor Barbara Armstrong distills design thinking’s three core principles:

1. People-centered

Online shopping site Zappos is famous for its unique company culture. It created Zappos Insights, a social media site for employees, customers, and entrepreneurs to take training and seminars, ask questions, and share experiences.

2. Highly collaborative and highly reliant on visual communication to “sketch” ideas and processes

Root Inc., a firm that specializes in organizational change, emphasizes visual storytelling by citing a research report that 70 percent of learning is acquired this way. Good storytelling condenses information to provide greater context, meaning, and emotion to more fully engage people.

3. Experimental, iterative and highly tolerant of failure

In a culture of design thinking, failure is embraced as an inevitable outcome of experimentation. Analysis of a failure points towards the next set of challenges and leads to the design of a more effective solution. A classic case is the Post-It Note, which resulted from series of failures and a key accident.

Related Article: Sound Stupid? Dumb Business Ideas That Turned Out to be Pretty Smart

How can you apply design thinking to your business? Forbes contributor Lawton Ursrey notes that the following ideas will be helpful.

  • Define the problem.
  • Invite everyone affected by the issue or problem to share their experiences and thoughts, preferably by literally “painting a picture.”
  • Reduce distractions and eliminate multitasking. The team should focus on the design task for the duration of a design meeting, whether it is for a day or a week.
  • Encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking. Yes, it’s a cliché, but you want people to break out of their normal roles and look at things from a fresh angle. Always examine options, even options that may be quickly discarded.
  • Accept personality differences and recognize that everyone has something to contribute.
  • Encourage creativity and exploration, even if it ultimately leads to dead ends. Don’t expect to solve the problem at the end of the first meeting. People need time to ponder and question assumptions.
  • No judging. Nothing is too stupid or silly to consider. Seemingly silly and stupid ideas end up changing the world.
  • You’re looking for something better, not perfect. Nothing is ever perfect.
  • Celebrate what the team learned or created with other stakeholders.
  • Pick a course of action, allocate resources, and execute, but be prepared to rethink.

 

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