What Is Design Thinking and How Can It Help Startups?

What Is Design Thinking and How Can It Help Startups?

Put your consumer first by using design thinking when coming up with products.

One of the most important skills an entrepreneur should possess is the ability to think on their feet and make quick decisions. To do so, entrepreneurs can rely on design thinking—a problem-solving approach that focuses on the needs of users and comes up with creative solutions that are not obvious at first glance. While it is user-centric, it also considers the technological feasibility and business goals.

Traditionally, the scientific method of problem-solving first aims to understand a problem before approaching solutions. However, this usually takes up a great amount of time to identify the problems’ origins, and focusing too much on issues can in turn make you feel hopeless. In contrast, design thinking is a solution-based approach to problem-solving that focuses on continuous experiments until the right one is identified. While it is mostly used by designers, a wide range of companies have now picked up on the approach, including Toyota, Apple, Microsoft and PepsiCo. Here is a look at the design thinking process and how using design thinking helps startups. 

Five stages of design thinking

To find the most well-suited solution to any problem, we have to follow the five stages of the design thinking process:

Stage 1: Empathize 

In this stage, you want to gain a deeper understanding of your user base. For this, you can consult research experts or even conduct observations of the user’s environment. You can also organize personal interviews with some of your users through which you can put aside assumptions and get a detailed description of their problems. 

Stage 2: Define

Next, you study the data you collected to identify the problems in a user-centric manner. For example, instead of defining the problem as “we want to increase in the production of pre-made lunches for the office-going group by 10%”, you should say “office workers want to buy pre-made lunches”.

Stage 3: Ideate

Now that you know the problem, you must try to come up with solutions for it. You can hold ideation meetings with your team to bounce around every possible solution. In your ideation meetings, you can use a wide variety of brainstorming techniques, such as:

  • mind mapping—where the central problem or topic is written in a bubble that branches out to other relevant ideas;
  • brainwriting—where everyone writes down ideas individually on sheets of paper and then passes those papers around the room for others to expand on; and 
  • starbursting—where the central topic or problem is written down inside a six-headed star, with each head labeled as “Who” “What” “When” “Where” “How”  and “Why”.

Once you have collected all the ideas, you can then evaluate them to see whether they would be feasible. 

Stage 4: Prototype

Once you have narrowed down the solutions, you can create a prototype. A prototype is a scaled-down version of the final product you intend to release on the market. This version is meant to test the solution you came up with and find out any limitations and how to rectify them. 

Stage 5: Test

Finally, you can send the prototype to a small segment of the user base to test the product out. The user base will get back to you with recommendations that you can implement and conduct further testing. While this is the end stage of the design thinking process, it usually isn’t the end of the project itself. For the project to reach completion, you will need to test and refine the product further. 

Why do startups need design thinking?

Now that we know how design thinking works, it’s important to learn why this process is important for startups. Startups must use design thinking because it helps them come up with unique solutions. Looking at things from the user’s perspective can help you re-think your products. Just ask AirBnB co-founder Joe Gebbia, who discovered why users weren’t signing up on their platform by using the app as if he was looking for a place to stay. It was then that Gebbia found out that the pictures of the available rentals were turning people off. Learning how low-quality the photos were, Gebbia and his fellow founder Brian Chesky decided to hire a professional to take pictures of the rentals, and within a week, revenues doubled. 

Applying user-centric solutions to the problems your business is facing instead of sticking to your offerings as is can help you save money in the long run. To learn more about their customers, UberEats followed a walkabout program wherein they traveled across a city to learn about the food delivery process, infrastructure and cuisine, among other things. Through this program, UberEats found that delivery partners struggle to find parking in highly populated places. To ease their troubles, UberEats decided to create a driver app that provides the deliverers  with step-by-step guides from restaurants to client locations to facilitate the delivery process.  

Ultimately, design thinking helps you listen to your customers and in turn, get a higher return on investment. Its focus on ideation also helps you unlock the full creative potential of your team and thus keep your team actively engaged in the goals of the company. Next time you are working on a product, give design thinking a shot. 

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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