Design think your way to success

Apr 12, 2024 1:26:11 PM

The design thinking approach to problem-solving is as popular in corporate boardrooms as it is among charities. That’s because it puts people’s needs first to find innovative ways forward. And small businesses can benefit from design thinking as much as anyone else! This blog explores what it’s all about and why it’s still a favourite for so many.

From design to the digital era

As you might guess, design thinking began in the competitive product design industry, where a top user experience was a critical advantage. David Kelley, an engineer and designer, led a programme at the Stanford Design School to help companies understand the discipline of putting users first.  It’s there that the computer mouse was created.

Although David’s own background was with airplanes at Boeing, putting the spotlight on customers’ needs was vital. It’s also relevant in technology and service industries. Similarly, there’s growing recognition of the value of collaboration and co-creation. As a result, you can learn design thinking as a discipline along with iterations such as human-centred design. 

Parallel payoffs for small and large businesses

Small business owners can benefit from design thinking in many ways. Among the top pay-offs are improving how customers experience your offering, uncovering new ideas, solving difficult problems, lifting efficiency, and building teamwork. 

Design thinking is all about starting with the customer and their needs. It means whatever you come up with will suit them well, boosting loyalty and more. One example of this is when the Air New Zealand customer lounge allowed people to order their coffee through the app. It meant customers could relax instead of standing in a queue and the staff could manage peaks without the pressure of a row of stressed travellers glaring at them. Satisfaction rating soared.

Benefits are broad

Surprising new ideas can arise when you look at things through different eyes. Airbnb started because its founders saw a shortage in accommodation around a conference, whilst they had a spare bed. The idea of being the world’s biggest accommodation supplier without owning a single room or hotel would have once seemed impossible. Not anymore.  

Even the most complex problems can benefit from design thinking. A local success story is car sharer Cityhop. They’re making a difference in the wicked problems of congestion, climate change and parking shortages all by offering users electric and hybrid cars by the hour – it means city dwellers can more easily live without their own vehicle and there are fewer emissions.

The drive for efficiency is never-ending in small businesses. Just like good processes, design thinking can help reduce unnecessary work, costs and waste. Think of the courier packages for online orders. Many are now compostable, but they also double as a return envelope. It’s a win all around!

Design thinking has empathy at its heart, so collaboration and co-creation necessarily become stronger. Even the act of inviting your customers and clients to the table can build relationships. Design thinking sets out a framework and process to ensure everyone’s views are heard and explored. In this way, it creates an environment of trust and contribution.

One small business owner found their staff disagreed about the name for a new service. They tried a design thinking process and, to their surprise, quickly came up with a superior new alternative that everyone loved. The whole team was proud of the name and bonded over its success. 

It's all about experiencing it

If you’re curious to try design thinking in your business, the best thing you can do is learn more about the practice and gain some experience. You’ll find plenty of articles, workshops and courses online. Starting at the source with free resources from Stanford or Ideo. Then, look out for ‘hackathons’ or invitations to participate in design thinking workshops. Charities and companies often run these, and it’s a great way to see the process in action. Here’s what you can expect.

Design thinking defines ‘mindsets’ to open up the best ideas. These are empathy, optimism, learning from failure, iterating, having creative confidence, ‘making it’ (fast prototyping), and embracing ambiguity. With these mindsets driving your approach, the process can be summarised in key phases.

  • Defining the problem or framing the question
  • Gathering inspiration – and hearing from your users
  • Generating ideas
  • Making prototypes 
  • Testing to learn – trying your prototypes out
  • And, then, sharing what you’ve learned. 

Often, at the end of this, you’ll have an exciting potential solution. But in the pursuit of continuous improvement, you’ll keep refining and adapting over time. 

Find the right people

Most people who join a design thinking process with an experienced facilitator can see the value immediately. And that’s why it’s so important to participate and learn before you attempt to lead your own session. That will also allow you to find the right people to be involved. If you’re seeking an external consultant, be sure to ask about their experience, successes and failures, and ask for some references. Design thinking is incredibly powerful, but it does not fit every scenario and can use a lot of unnecessary time and resources if the scope is too wide. 

Design thinking requires skill and experience, but the rewards can be immense. You may be able to uncover ground-breaking approaches to difficult problems and bring together your team and clients in new ways. When competitiveness and customer expectations are only increasing, design thinking can help you find new ways to maintain an edge. 

For those business problems where design thinking doesn’t fit, a Business Mentor can offer an alternative way to get a new perspective and way forward. The insights born of experience are at the heart of both design thinking and Business Mentoring. And after more than 30 years, the proof it works is vast. Find out more, or look for your mentor match here.