How Design Thinking Solves Problems        

How Design Thinking Solves Problems

August 30, 2016


By: Nikhil Mathew, Director of Research & Design Strategy

Design thinking is a worldwide known strategy for solving problems and has exceeded beyond the boundaries of individual design disciplines, yielding results to organizations and experiences to end users.

From a support function to new product development, design has become a strategic tool for companies. Whether it is to gain brand identity, streamline a portfolio or to generate new ideas through product interactions, design thinking has applied its’ process to provide a realm of solutions for business and government sources.

While having a strong impact on the end user, this way of thinking can also influence the manufacturing development and business model. By re-designing an approach, we are re-framing the solutions. It is not always about the final product, but it is about designing a process which can cultivate a culture of innovation within an organization – the process of “designing” design.

With all of these advances within the world of product development, it is interesting to look at design thinking and compare it with the traditional design outlook. In many ways, it can be argued that design thinking is a scaled-up, systemic and collaborative version of the traditional design process that we all are familiar with. Those three words are the key differentiators of design thinking…

Scaled-Up: In a traditional product development scenario, the end goal was always to provide a solution that could be manufactured within a price range. The outlook that designers have has broadened to further specific functions that can re-define the fundamentals of design. Can more value and an alternative to distribution enable a better product to market? Can a road-map help clients achieve that? Design thinking is scaling up to adjacent departments in organizations to effectively implement strategy. Design consultancies are changing from being a vendor to a strategic partner ensuring that teams get ample support to implement a vision and strategy.


Systemic: The success of a solution is not just about the physical articulation of a product. The preliminary enticement that end users have is promoted through their peers and/or online reviews that impact their decision making. Products need to provide novel experiences and refined interactions while solving the core need. Certain expectations are migrated from other products that are used on a daily basis – while new products are immediately bench-marked regardless of their core function. By developing systemic solutions, designers can be able to ensure not just the articulation, but the encompassing solution to guarantee success and a positive return on investment (ROI).

Collaborative: With the diversity of skills required to complete specific tasks, design and creative professions are transforming all the time. New professions such as UX design, UX research, strategic design, etc. emerged. Design schools started teaching business while business schools are teaching design. Within organizations, internal stakeholders are becoming more involved with the collaborative design team. Marketing, engineering, procurement, sales and design all work together to create unique solutions – backing it up with a strong implementation plan can only further validate the user experience and business model to roll out with a successful strategy.


It’s all about the organizational culture and the outlook of the specific design team when they approach a problem and how they achieve to solve it. Over the past six years at Beyond Design, I have worked with innovative clients and have surrounded myself with colleagues that challenge the status quo of design on a daily basis. Following these five steps differentiates design thinking from traditional product development process.


1. Focus on “Influencers”: For a successful project, it is imperative to look at the eco-system in which the product will be created and used. This eco-system traditionally called as the manufacturer, seller, buyer and user consists of a series of influencers. They include end-users, internal stakeholders, buyers, etc. who are both internal and external to the organization. This can also vary between B2B and B2C models.

2. Identify and Define the Problem: Every project starts with identifying the intent and scope. This will help in framing the problem that is being solved through design. Having this contextual understanding is essential – putting yourself in the user’s shoes and attempt to experience it to improve it for the masses. As designers and consumers, we live in a visual world. The more detail that you can present initially will help you deliver those viable and valuable solutions for your client to choose from.


3. Create a Multitude of Options: The theory behind design thinking is that it allows designers to think about things from a multitude of different ways – creating a different solution for each problem. When ideation sessions are conducted as a team, we look at solving the pain points for each of these influencers while providing a unique and novel experience to the end-user. If we solve only for the end user from the time the product is developed, launched and presented on the shelf, it will undergo multiple iterations that can deviate from the original intent. Working side by side with cross-functionality teams can increase the chance of defining the problem and focus on customer-centric ways of communicating together.

4. Pick your Selected Direction: Once there have been a selected number of solutions, discuss them amongst the group. Creating a safe and fun environment without the fear of making a mistake lets new ideas grow from concepts from those around you. Options will need to be combined, refined or even developed into something completely new that no one would have thought of. A pool of thoughts is never unappreciated, but it’s how you decipher those ideas to create a systemic solution that will work for you, your client and the target audience. By iterating, validating and refining those ideas, it will reach a meaningful and powerful solution.


5. Iterate, Adapt and Refine: This is the final portion where course of action needs to be selected and all resources are allocated to achieve the initial goals and objectives that were set. Implementing requires the same initiative that was there at the beginning of the project. Internal teams will have to spearhead this within the organization. Through strategic partnerships, external design firms can be a strong support to the implementation process.

In the world of design, everything is changing at a lightning speed. Nothing stays the same for a long period of time. Whether the process is outlined in a six, three or even one stage step – it all comes from the same place of a proven method that will always deliver a solution for the client. The implied notion of design thinking is an intention to solve a problem through non-conventional source and solutions with an objective analysis on risk and benefits.

The repeatable process of design thinking describes a unique and creative experience which can produce guaranteed results – ones that usually exceed preliminary expectations from a client. When unexpected, yet amazing ideas are created, it establishes credibility on why design thinking is such a striking, energetic and vital methodology for businesses to embrace.


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