Designing Success: Transforming Ideas into Innovation with Design Thinking

May 15, 2024
Customer Experience | 7 min READ
Over the last century, the increased velocity of scientific and technological breakthroughs has created a sea of opportunities for businesses. This has also resulted in increased competition, as organizations have disrupted their markets with new products, services and channels.
Michael Pearo
Michael Pearo

CX Consulting Director


Rising competition in an environment of ample opportunities has created the need to innovate in order to create value. At the same time, the room for risk-taking has narrowed in a strained financial climate.
As a result, innovation must be de-risked and delivered in a reliable and repeatable fashion. Innovation consists of two essential attributes – novelty and utility. Any product, service, solution, or business model that is both useful and novel is said to be innovative. But how can business drive innovation on-demand? The answer is design thinking.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking is a framework for delivering innovation with repeatable success. It is an outside-in approach for problem solving and building innovative value propositions through the process.
Design thinking is called so because it focuses on creativity and empathy. In other words, it enables businesses to place the people for whom they are problem solving for at the heart of the solutioning process. Instead of focusing on the problem, the prospective users and their needs become the front and center of the process.
To sum it up, design thinking is user-centric, iterative, and collaborative in nature. So, what does this process look like?
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The design thinking process
The design thinking process consists of anything between 4-7 steps. However, this process is not a linear one – design thinking teams may loop around or repeat some of these steps.
There are six core steps in the design thinking process:
  • Empathize: This entails narrowing the focus to your customers – what problems they face, and how these problems affect them. It is essential to rid yourself of assumptions and preconceptions in order to truly understand their needs.
  • Define: Based on the learnings of the first step, the key components of the problem are defined. Note down what has prevented the creation of a solution in the past. Then reframe the observations as a problem statement that will anchor the rest of the process.
  • Ideate: This is the step where innovation is unleashed. Ideation entails abstract thinking which offers room for overcoming cognitive fixedness and figuring out novel ways to solve the identified problem.
  • Prototype: Prototyping facilitates the shift away from abstraction towards a concrete solution. Prototyping helps test the viability of a range of solutions.
  • Test: The testing phase enables teams to learn which parts of a solution work, and what doesn’t. This facilitates refinement from a user perspective, and results in a thoroughly tested end result.
  • Iterate: Iteration is not exactly a stage in the design thinking process. Instead, iteration could happen between any of the last three steps – i.e., ideation, prototyping, and testing. Iteration results in incremental progress, with frequent course corrections.
Why you should adopt design thinking?
Design thinking is an approach that breaks away from the traditional ways of problem-solving. It has emerged in response to modern markets and contemporary competitive dynamics. Here are five reasons why businesses should adopt design thinking:
  • Exploring divergent ideas: Design thinking anchors ideation to a problem statement that has been vetted through a rigorous process. Because ideation occurs on an abstract level, it encourages teams to explore divergent solutions to a problem, and then retaining the parts that work.
  • Innovating with constraints: Innovation always comes with uncertainty. The outcome is novel, and therefore your teams are navigating uncharted waters. Design thinking gives a structure to this process, thus minimizing the risk of failure.
  • Overcoming fixedness: Traditional approaches to problem solving like market research severely limit the ability to understand the needs of the customers. Design thinking goes beyond market need and places the customer’s needs at the heart of the solutioning process.
  • Grounding creation: By moving gradually from abstract responses to a problem statement to a prototype, design thinking enables teams to unleash creativity while staying grounded.
  • Incremental risk taking: Instead of going ahead with a single idea and committing to it until the end, design thinking encourages incremental steps. This limits the risk that comes with errors and facilitates frequent learning which can then be applied to the next iteration.
It is important to note that design thinking is an adaptable process. It offers the room for incorporating other frameworks into the process, thus making it relevant to businesses across multiple industries.
Practical tips to adopt and scale design thinking
Guiding innovation with design thinking can be a tricky process – especially as it is a loosely defined framework that can be adopted to fit varying needs.
Here are a few practical tips that can help overcome these problems and enable organizations to successfully apply design thinking.
1. Assemble a cross-functional and diverse team
Diverse perspectives and ways of thinking are the bread and butter of design thinking. Diversity breeds creativity, and design thinking channels divergent ideas to a constructive end.
2. Onboard the people for whom you are trying to solve
Design thinking is a user-centric process. Just building user personas is not enough. Successful design thinking teams typically seed the team with direct interactions with end-users.
To make this happen, creating buy-in amongst end-users and getting them invested in the process is crucial.
3. Stress the importance of designing with empathy
Empathy is the foundation of user-centricity. This means observing their pain points without any bias and understanding the basis of their needs.
Empathetic observation lays the groundwork for solutions that resonate with the users, ensuring the success of the entire project.
4. Use visual tools to guide the process
Visual collaboration techniques like storyboarding and mind-mapping can make the trajectory of a design thinking process more accessible and comprehensive to all users.
Summing things up in a visual story drives retention of crucial milestones and constraints, thus driving an initiative to successful outcomes faster.
5. Encourage the team to experiment and take risks
Innovation cannot happen without risk-taking. However, systematic experimentation coupled with thorough documentation and iterative testing mitigates risks by channeling uncertainty into constructive outcomes essential for innovation.
6. Learn how to practice outside-in thinking
Design thinking is an outside-in process. This means that you must learn to stand in your users’ shoes and look at the solution to a problem from their viewpoint.
7. Incorporate rapid prototyping in the design thinking process
Rapid prototyping seamlessly complements the design thinking process. It encourages teams to incrementally move from low-fidelity prototypes to high-fidelity, fully functional ones based on frequent user feedback.
8. Engage the team with warm-up exercises, training, and workshops
It may take some time for your team to pick up design thinking skills and get hands-on with the tools. Warm-up exercises familiarize teams with prototyping and visual tools, allowing them to concentrate on creation rather than tooling.
Foster design thinking skills through expert-led workshops, employing techniques like gamification and artistic exercises to unlock team creativity.
9. Review the outcomes in retrospective meetings
Lastly, make every iteration count. Hold retrospective meetings to thoroughly discuss the learnings from a particular iteration. Document new hypotheses to test, and any constraints that might have been discovered.
This will prevent your teams from moving in circles and wasting resources in the process.
Next steps
Design thinking is a valuable tool in today’s resource-constrained, high-competition markets. It gives structure to innovation, and de-risks the process while providing ample free room to ideate without bounds.
However, the greatest virtue of design thinking – i.e., its applicability to various situations and scenarios, also makes it challenging to implement. With the help of external consultants and design thinking experts, businesses can adopt this approach to their advantage, and reap its benefits in the form of truly innovative and disruptive services and solutions.
Building a Next-gen App for a logistics leader with Design Thinking
A logistics leader sought to modernize their solution in order to:
  • Provide modern, intuitive, and best-in-class customer and user experience
  • Develop and roll out a single product strategy and roadmap to provide a next-gen, scalable solution
  • Reduce high-maintenance cost and efforts for the application
Birlasoft proposed a design thinking engagement to understand current state of the users for the applications, their needs, pain points, and what they wanted to see in a next-gen solution.
  • Defined Roles and created a Research Plan for Contextual Inquiry and Interviews
  • User research conducted on-site, tele-conference, and via online surveys
  • Developed as-is Process Maps
  • Developed Personas and matching Journey Maps
  • Conducted an Experience Mapping workshop
  • Developed Product Backlog for MVP Release
  • Conducted design sprints to test and validate key research findings
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