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How can Design Thinking accelerate your business growth?

By Lauren

If you are a fan of design, I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to London Design Week, which is taking place across the city later in September.  Our capital now seems to be crammed with creative companies and has developed an international reputation as an innovative hub in technology, food and fashion. However, not every business is graced with an in-house team of highly-charged creatives.  When that’s the case, is there something we can take from seasoned design professionals that could invest some of that creative juice and energy into even the most basic product or service?

With this in mind, let me introduce you to the concept of Design Thinking.  This is a process that I’ve learnt from the Design and Technology industries that I believe can benefit every commercial enterprise regardless of its size or sector.

So what do I mean by Design Thinking?  In a nutshell, Design Thinking takes processes that designers and artists typically use to develop and deliver ideas.  These processes tend to be exploratory, collaborative and reflect what will engage real people by soliciting their views from the earliest stages.  As an approach, it runs in an opposite direction to more rationale problem solving methods that rely heavily on generating ideas from existing data and include drawn out planning phases and significant early-stage investment.

The concept of Design Thinking first developed as a business discipline in 1960s.  Herbert Simon originally outlined a prototype Design Thinking process in his seminal work The Sciences of the Artificial.  In it he outlined the stages as define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement and learn.    The Stanford Design School (, now known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, then refined these stages further and developed a simpler 5-stage process the placed even more emphasis on the wants, needs and emotions of the user or customer.  This model is now widely used and covers the following 5 stages.

  1. Empathise – gain valuable insights by exploring what real people want/need
  2. Define – Identify the outcomes you want to achieve
  3. Ideate – Collaborative, cross-discipline teams explore multiple possibilities
  4. Prototype – Rapid modeling helps team to learn by doing before significant investment
  5. Test – Try out the idea early to help identify issues and to see what works

One of my favourite examples of Design Thinking is the What x 4 process developed by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie in their book Designing for Growth.  What I love about it is the way they use really simple questions to help us think in a new and productive way.

The What x 4 stages ask:

What is? Exploring the current reality

What if? Envisioning Alternative Futures

What wows? Getting users to help us make some tough choices

What works? Making it work in-market, and as a business

As an approach, I think it’s especially useful when you want to avoid alienating your team with something that sounds too theoretical.  And of course, it can also integrate other processes and tools such as Prototyping, Customer Journey mapping, Customer Personas etc. etc.

The main advantages of Design Thinking are:

  • Ideas are based on real rather than perceived user needs or wants
  • New ideas and innovations are generated from a more exploratory approach
  • Low cost, early prototyping will help avoid wasting time and resources

As an approach to developing new products and services, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Recently, for example, I conducted a Market Research Day for a design practice who wanted to develop a new customer service.  Equipped with a collection of A3 boards, a 10-minute verbal pitch and a live demonstration, we spent the day with 4 groups of potential customers.  By the close of play, we felt heartened that the core concept was well received.  However, we also collected dozens of points for action on what we could improve or delete.  It felt like time incredibly well spent.  The outcome is that it will save both time and resources spent on unnecessary work during the development and rollout phases.

If you would like support developing a new product or service for your business and you’d like to apply Design Thinking processes to your approach, get in touch with our associate Susanne Currid for a no-obligation chat on 07730061829 or email her at

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