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Design Thinking Process


Design thinking is an approach that considers people at its centre to derive innovative solutions to business processes, products, services, and problems (Tokuhisa, 2020). These solutions need to be realistic, technologically viable, and financially possible. Today’s business world is much different from the early economies of the post-industrialized world. Globalization, ever-changing technology, and complex economic variables have played a considerable role in developing the need for this approach (Gonen, 2019). Design thinking involves creative problem-solving techniques applied to corporate processes and development. It considers breaking down problems into small parts to analyze them (Reckhenrich, 2017). Design thinking helps to chart out methods to crack open-ended, complex problems. These methods are employed to improve business strategies (Dorst, 2011). With the holistic approach, design thinking finds the balance between customers, technology, and business. Customers are at the heart design thinking and it is an empathetic method that considers customer needs, motivation, and behaviors to find the best fit. As a powerful analysis tool, nothing is assumption-based. (Young, 2000).

To consider the design, thinking is confined to a particular business operation is a long-considered debate. As design thinking is a human-centred approach, it requires research to get human insight; similarly, it may require prototyping to find the best feasible model both of which are considered expensive processes (Reckhenrich, 2017). However, this essay will consider how design thinking is not just confined to a particular business type but is the modern approach for all businesses and even governments.

Design Thinking and Value

Design thinking uses five-step for solving complex problems of business and society. These five steps are- empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Using a series of steps, design thinking focuses on the outcome of creating value for the customers. Simon Sinek defined value as the base, the “why” of any entrepreneurial undertaking, whether innovative or inventive. The idea is to create a better future where value is considered in design thinking (Hacker, 2018). It aims to develop a deeper understanding of the context from which all stakeholders operate. Teams and interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to work out the innovative pathway to fulfill the needs of the consumer. The exploration that is done in the initial stages can prove vital in the prototyping and testing stage as alternate solutions may already have been thought through. Also, this exploration leads to redefining and reframing problems. Moreover, the participation of stakeholders in exploration also builds emotional engagement that can improve processes of management (Liedtka, 2017).

Design Thinking is Beyond Products

For design thinking, the outcome is never the tangible, physical product but value. It is that intangible and complex idea that is the actual starting point of the process. Considering that the value is the only known thing, a backward approach is considered to move towards the problem logically and inductively (Dorst, 2011).

Design thinking is not just about an end product but it starts with reinventing the internal processes of a business. It is not just about tangible goods but also multifaceted ideas such as customer experience and intangible services that greatly derive benefit from this approach (Kolko, 2015). Businesses may be operating in hindsight where the procedures are not developed considering their customers (Bason and Austin, 2019). The processes through which a client interacts with a business are the touch-points that aid in the creation of an impression about the business. A complex and tedious process can lead to an annoyed customer. A simplified and refined process can be a game-changer for a business. As the CEO of IBM stated that design thinking and business strategy are no longer two separate ideas. Design thinking is not an extra expense but the core competency of the business as customer experience helps construct it. This in return builds a positive customer experience for the company (Kolko, 2015).

Using Singapore as an example that considers good design equivalent to good government; we can see how they have improvised every sector of their country. Ranging from healthcare to housing to even the law and order, they have used the design thinking model for saving costs, innovation, and developing social welfare (Chin, 2016). As a part of the Ministry of Information and the Executive Director of the DesignSingapore Council Jeffrey Ho, considers design thinking as a radical approach taken by Singapore in transforming the public sector and policymaking. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong termed design thinking the core of their nation. He also mentioned that every aspect of the country’s processes and systems are well thought and designed and nothing is random or by chance. (Ganesan et al., 2019).

One of the core aspects of design thinking is to achieve value therefore, rather than looking at a particular outcome as a goal of design thinking, the way of reasoning to address the complex problems to create value is the goal (Fischer, 2015).

Research and Design Thinking

The argument that research to gain insight into consumer preference is expensive seems to be given a lot of weightage however, there are two points to consider. The first one is that approaching customers to gather insight and feedback can be a disruption in the experience of the service and can be a cause of annoyance. The second is that there are several opportunities to observe and record customer likes and dislikes (Kolko, 2015). Another concern is bias or stress in giving feedback when directly engaged in data collection. The government of Singapore also found that large-scale surveys fail to gather in-depth insight and are also limited in probing the context of the responses. Research methods with ambiguous results do prove expensive but if the research process has been deliberated using design thinking it will be cost-effective. To gather in-depth knowledge the Singaporian government worked with smaller groups. For example to find out the challenges that disabled people faced in meeting their full potential they interviewed 25 people. Once the problems were identified 140 people from sectors ranging from healthcare, members of social and public service, caregivers, people with disabilities were all brought together to design processes (Ganesan et al., 2019). The process itself is an outcome of design thinking as simplified concepts to reduce cost and streamlined processes add value and create something new. To consider a nation’s population and cost spend on bringing 140 people once the process had been designed shows that the cost-to-value addition is not a valid argument to dismiss design thinking (Volkova and Jakobsone, 2016). Companies already depend on research for staying ahead of their business competitors, enhancing market share, and for business growth and performance. Design thinking helps to achieve these goals as shown in the case study conducted in Lativa, where 26% of business executives had significant growth when they employed design thinking as a strategic tool (Volkova and Jakobsone, 2016).

There are many methods of research available that are cost-effective. Taking inspiration from observational techniques employed in anthropological studies can be a starter. These techniques help in observing complex elements of people and culture. Furthermore, research techniques that put the researcher in the subject’s environment may influence participants’ thinking process. Contextual inquiry is vital for design thinking and mobile technologies such as mobile dairies and social media provide insight into people’s everyday rhythm and thoughts. Traditional research approaches only explore the explicit knowledge and behavior of participants however contextual inquiry uncovers tacit knowledge and underlying assumptions (Young, 2000).

Design Thinking and Sustainability

To consider that a business can survive without design thinking is a flawed approach, for only design thinking can lead way to the sustainability. Sustainability means that current needs should be met without compromising on the opportunity and ability of future generations. This requires a consideration of factors regarding social, economic, political, and environmental factors in consideration (Fischer, 2015). Nations that understand the dynamic international world understand that design thinking is the only sustainable approach. Businesses today are operating under social pressure to do what is environmentally responsible. For design thinking, sustainability is a broad paradigm. Companies like IDEO believe that design thinking is the innovative approach to address future environmental challenges. Reducing costs and wastes is one way of achieving sustainability (Young, 2000). Companies can revolutionize if they can identify ways to address issues of complex cultural and social context (Járfás, 2018). Design thinking aspires to create value by using a systematic, abductive approach to find solutions to actual problems. Given problem situations are analyzed in detail, the associated systems, people, and objects are considered from the point of view of sustainability and work values (Fischer, 2015)

Collaboration to Achieve Design Thinking

Collaboration is the key to making design thinking possible for societies, businesses, and cultures. The collaboration will help them achieve their potential and be sustainable towards the environment. Business stakeholders can collaborate using design thinking and co-create or add value to the process, product, or service (Leavy, 2012). The essential component of design thinking is that it is human-centered. This means that the approach taken requires systems that are interactive enough to bring knowledge, experience, techniques, and ideas of people together. This collaboration can benefit much from fields of artificial intelligence, software solutions, and ergonomics (Giacomin, 2014). The interdisciplinary outlook of design thinking is one of the reasons that unexpected solutions can be identified which are less conventional and more innovative (Young, 2000).

Tim Brown the CEO of IDEO suggests that collaboration is essential in design thinking. He stated that design thinking brings a shift from passive association to the active participation of stakeholders to create value and meaningful experience (Leavy, 2012). When customers are engaged in the design process the relevant outcome is more easily and readily adopted by them and they will also act as advocates benefitting companies. Co-creation through collaboration addresses people’s need to showcase their creativity and to be heard and considered in the process (Young, 2000). While working with Kaiser Permanente, an American health care giant IDEO trained existing nursing staff to use design thinking principles. It was later the same group that found a solution to existing problems by coming up with a new shift system, which reduced change-over time to half and also ensured the dissemination of vital information for both nurses and patients (Leavy, 2012).

The case study related to Japanese hospitals discusses that government hospitals in Japan were run by doctors who lacked management and marketing skills. Therefore, hospitals were operating from doctors’ perspectives and not the patients’. A marketing consulting firm K.K. Daishinsh used a two-step approach of interview and observation of inside and outside hospital settings to address areas of customer satisfaction, return on investment, management, and monitoring. They interviewed people who frequently came to hospitals and people who did not. Factors such as stress associated with hospital visits helped in designing the “friendly guide” to help the patients who feel lost after talking to receptionists or are shy to ask questions regarding hospital procedures. The friendly guide was a result of observing patient behaviors in the hospital lobby. Poor signage in hospitals was another problem identified in the research and led to the installation of signages, interfaces to find the way, and even elements of seasonal design to periodically refresh the hospital environment. It is vital to see that design thinking not only used the functional aspect of the hospital but also the non-medical functions that it served to collaborate across various sections of its operations (Uehira and Kay, 2009).


Design thinking is the way forward for the future of business and countries. It employs multiple thinking techniques, brings together people from multiple aspects of life, gives a platform for creative expression and solution, and leads to long-term ownership and value for consumers. Data about consumer preferences are ever available through social media and business touchpoints. Research and data when accompanied with observation becomes a potent combination to gather insight into consumer behaviors. When companies want to create value for their customers no matter the size of the organization; design thinking will help in simple improvement in processes and systems to achieve it. Understanding the value of design thinking will assist companies to innovate sustainably by reducing waste and cost. Considering that design thinking costs and is only for big product-based businesses should not be the reason to dismiss it. Design thinking is not just about the product. We can see from the example set by Singapore where the government has improved public sector services, city planning, and systems to better fit the needs of their citizens. Mere changes in procedures that are better for consumer experience should be incorporated for value and positive experience.


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