Why Does Design Thinking Matter to Businesses?

By Michelle Lee

Design ThinkingQuite often, businesses invest a lot of time, money, and energy into developing products and services but they are received by an empty audience. This is often the consequence when their business strategies are not human-centered. When companies belittle the focus on people and view maximizing profitability as their priority, their products and services will hardly satisfy customers, posing challenges for companies to create impact in the long run, resulting in a failure to grow. To address this issue, companies have to change their roots and approach to business strategy. In this case, design thinking can be a valuable tool.

What is Design Thinking?

According to Tim Brown, the Executive Chairman of IDEO, design thinking is defined as the “human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” In short, it encourages companies to be design-driven and think like a designer. Keep in mind that design isn’t always about aesthetics and end products.  The term has instead shifted from emphasizing the aesthetics of the product to the interactive experience between users and products or services; from appearance to the inner needs of the users; from paying attention to “humans” rather than “things”. In recent years,  the demand for innovation has been growing due to the rapid transformation of business models and rising attention to design, making design thinking a popular framework to tackle business and social problems. Before getting started with the core concepts and benefits of design thinking, check out  [How Can Design Problems Solve Questions] to understand the 9 stages in design thinking.

Design Thinking Brings Great Impact and Influence

Design thinking emphasizes people and experiences, creating values that cater to the needs of human beings. Most companies would argue that their business strategies are human-centered, in which they see customers as their priority. However, having that as a mission is never enough. Companies need to do what they have promised: Providing experiences and goods that cater to the needs of their customers. This can only be achieved when companies step into their customers’ shoes throughout the whole research and development journey. You might wonder: isn’t customer research already enough to discover information and data about the target users? The problem is, customer research can be impersonal. Companies may have pre-existing theories and data about customer preferences based on past results from focus groups, surveys, and draw inferences about user needs. The practice can be risky, as the information has already been filtered in biased lenses without revealing what the users truly need. Therefore, design thinking eliminates the risk of assumptions and misconceptions while encouraging companies to discover real insights through observing and immersing themselves in the physical environment.

Qualitative Research Reveals Valuable Insights

Design thinking emphasizes qualitative research rather than quantitative research. Quite often, companies prefer to simplify their findings into numbers and graphs to make information more obtainable and accessible. Yet, simplifying unconsciously removes valuable information, for example, the consumer decision-making process. It can‘t be quantified and can only be understood when the information is viewed holistically. Customer journey mapping, as a qualitative research tool in design thinking, helps companies to make better decisions. It visualizes the processes that customers go through in order to accomplish their goals, allowing companies to explore the causes and effects when inferencing customers’ purchasing decisions. The analysis provides the opportunities to address customers’ pain points, identify and optimize multiple touchpoints, and create better user experiences, ultimately helping to build a long-term relationship between the brand and customers. It should also be noted that quantitative research is just as important as qualitative research. They work hand in hand and companies shouldn’t rely on either side but rather maximize the use of both tools.

Fostering a Creative Environment in Design Thinking

Another point of focus in design thinking is brainstorming. It is meant to help companies come up with novel ideas but some might wonder: why can’t I generate creative ideas while brainstorming? The environment impacts lateral thinking. According to David Rock, the author of Your Brain At Work, “stress increases motor function and decreases perception, cognition, and creativity.” In other words, stress forces you to be productive but stop thinking creatively, broadly, and deeply. So, how to create a creative environment that stimulates free-thinking? 

Aims and goals

Failing For Success

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” – IDEO Design thinking also encourages companies to prototype ideas constantly: test the ideas with the users, learn from them, optimize them, and repeat. Prototypes can be done in various forms, including but not limited to storyboarding,  simple sketches, and paper prototypes, with all forms aiming to bring conceptual ideas to life by making them tangible.  Quite often, companies get too carried away by exciting ideas, brainstorming, and implementation for early release. However, the design might encounter poor sales performance right after launching them and is told to have no traction with their users. The result often suggests that the solution is based on wrong assumptions about their users, ultimately leading to a significant waste of resources and time. It might be argued that companies also conduct product testing and A/B testing, leaving you wondering: Aren’t they also trying to optimize their products through testing their models? The main difference is that testing takes place sooner and frequently in the practice of design thinking. Companies who test their product near the end of their production and development cycle can only make mild changes and incur high development costs.


 “Good design is good business.” -Thomas Watson Jr, a former CEO of IBM It can make a significant difference when companies spend more time understanding human behavior by utilizing design thinking. The quote sums up nicely why the framework matters to businesses: design thinking guides you to good design and good design is the one that fills the gap between business goals and user needs (a sentence I took from https://medium.com/nyc-design/good-design-is-good-business-322001cce523).

Design in Business References:

1.  https://www.useit.com.cn/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=26592

2. https://www.adquan.com/post-7-293391.html

3. https://www.digitaling.com/articles/267259.html Edited by DSIGN Team For cooperation, please contact: info@dsignhk.com