Design Thinking for Business and Innovation

By: Marc Mathies, Director, Consumer Experience & Digital Coupons, Valassis Digital
Published Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Design Thinking for Business and Innovation

Five Things all Designers do That Could Make you Better at Your Job

“Design thinking” is a concept I’ve been practicing my entire life; however, I had no idea it had a name.  You see, I’m trained as a graphic designer and have worked professionally in graphics for over a decade. And, as I think about it, I’ve been drawing and creating since I could hold a crayon. So throughout my life I’ve always been one of those people with a knack for making complex things sound simple, solving problems, fixing things that are broken and making things look appealing.

In college, I quickly realized that most good graphic designers had these same heightened abilities for problem solving. And over the years, I began to realize that I’ve encountered many in my life -- my father included -- that had these skills. These people, to my knowledge, never created a piece of art yet had this same ability to view problems as a designer. It made them better mechanics, engineers, teachers, parents -- better at anything in life where problems and challenges are presented -- something that’s especially true in business.

So, what is design thinking? Simply put, it’s the ability to work through complex business problems as a designer would. And, when done correctly, the success rate for innovation greatly improves .1 It’s important to know that despite its name, design thinking, isn’t just about the aesthetics of what is produced. In fact, in many cases, nothing is produced at all.  This concept can be applied to services, workflows, brainstorming, etc. -- just about any aspect of business and innovation.2 As proof that it works; many design-led companies like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble are consistently outperforming the S&P 500 by over 200 percent.1

There are five things designers do that help them with problem solving. If applied properly, any person seeking innovative solutions, in business and beyond, could use them to ensure success:

1. Empathize

Designers are able to see a problem from a different perspective, ignore the distractions that could be present from other constituents, and solve the problem faster. This is a key reason why design-led companies have products that are well received by consumers.3

2. Fearlessly Engage

When presented with a task that has either too many or too few inputs, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. A designer would simply dig in, undaunted by the complexity of the situation.

3. Find Patterns

A designer will look at a challenge and identify patterns among chaos. This usually means reviewing all the elements involved. They will touch what can be touched; read what can be read; review scenarios; calculate the numbers, etc. The patterns identified help to reduce complexity and shape the end result.

4. Iterate Prototypes

A designer needs to use their hands, whether figuratively or literally, to get an idea into a tangible form quickly. Many results of this process will fail. A designer will continue to iterate until one of the forms reaches a desirable end.

5. Seek Feedback

An important part of the design process is testing and review, during which stakeholders will review prototypes with the intent of collecting direct and immediate feedback. Feedback is never seen as negative by the designer -- it’s considered as just another element of the overall problem that is being solved for. A good designer will seek this feedback, as they know it will strengthen the final design.

According to Evelyn Huang, director of Design Thinking at Capital One Labs, design thinking allows her company to “quickly identify, build, and test our way to success. We spend less time planning, more time doing, and, above all else, challenge ourselves to see the world through the eyes of our customers every step of the way.”3


1 Creativity at Work, Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation

2 Harvard Business Review, Design Thinking Comes of Age, Sept. 2015

3 Forbes, Design Thinking: A Unified Framework for Innovation, March 31, 2014