Design thinking – and what it can do for startups…

Design thinking – and what it can do for startups…

by Mark Selby, 3 February 2019

Design thinking is not just something that designers do. It’s a way of solving complex problems that can help businesses grow and get products to market. In this blog, we look at some of the ways that it can benefit startups.

Design thinking allows people to apply principles from the design world to innovation and business. It is based on the understanding that design is not just about what something looks like, but about how it works.

Perhaps the most crucial characteristic of design thinking is that it’s ‘human-centred.’ It treats users as the human beings they are and creates only solutions that they desire. A design mindset is solution focused and action-orientated.

It ensures you solve the right problem

A common scenario cited by investors is the startup that offers a solution no one actually wants, solving a problem that only exists in its founders’ heads. The human-centred approach of design thinking guards against this. Techniques like observation and user-diaries bring creators close-up to their users, allowing them to experience first hand the issues people face in their daily lives. It validates the solution.

Design Council have come up with a useful model to illustrate this called ‘Double-Diamond’. The eye opening thing about this method is that the process of concept-generation happens twice. First, to define the problem, and second to create the solution. Leaving out the first phase is how many products miss the mark, attempting to solve the wrong problem.

It encourages true innovation

Recent research in the marketing arena has changed our understanding of how innovation affects brands. The research publication ‘Effectiveness in Context’, revealed that significant innovations benefit brands and lead to growth. Surprisingly though, small incremental changes have an adverse effect and are worse than no innovation at all.

This has incredible relevance in the realm of tech-led startups. Creating something that simply tweaks an existing solution will make the brand, and therefore the business, much more challenging to grow.

Design thinking encourages true innovation because it addresses real needs. It brings together the desires of users with both what is technologically feasible and a commercial opportunity. Using a design-led approach will ensure all those three building blocks of successful innovation are there.

It reduces the cost of bringing an idea to market

The risks associated with creating a product are incrementally expensive. The further down the road you are, the more expensive a mistake or failure becomes. A design thinking approach reduces risk. Costly mistakes are avoided because the discovery and development processes emphasise active, people-centred research.

An example of this is a technique called ‘Drivers and Hurdles’. Stakeholders from across a project are gathered together in a workshop designed to establish what the project can and can’t address. In the context of a tech startup, this could prevent the wastage of expensive developer time on unnecessary functionality.

For more information on design thinking and a more detailed description of some of the methods involved, Design Council have a great selection of articles. IDEO is one of the most famous design companies in the world and has a lot of information and tutorials on the website. Their CEO, Tim Cook, also gave a very popular TED talk on the subject, which helped to bring design thinking into the mainstream.