February 27, 2023

Design thinking as a creative strategy for innovation

The importance of fostering innovation has been embraced by the business development sectors as a whole. However, to successfully implement innovation in a company is still up for debate as the majority of innovation labs, the newest trend in business development on a corporate level, actually have a very high failure rate - up to 90%.

The answer could lie in the concept of design thinking, first mentioned by cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon in his 1969 book, “The Sciences of the Artificial”. Since then, the 5 step process has been used to give structure to the abstract idea of innovation in a variety of fields such as architecture and engineering. It is now being used on a much wider scale with the rise of innovation culture.

So, how can design thinking be used as a creative strategy for innovation?

What is design thinking? 

Design thinking is a research and development process innovation teams can follow to come up with new ideas that meet customer needs. It’s particularly valuable for teams that aim to adapt their service offering to ever-evolving customers, increase satisfaction, reduce risk and maximise success by unveiling unknown problems. It’s been used as a driving force for innovation by household names including Google and Apple.

Design thinking follows 5 easy steps: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. Innovation teams start by researching the needs of their customer base and discovering gaps they can fill. In the second stage, the research is collated into a customer profile to clearly define the needs and problems the business should be addressing. 

By stage three the team can start brainstorming new ideas while challenging assumptions they may hold about what their customers want from them. This means only validated ideas are taken to the fourth stage of coming up with solutions and prototyping them. These prototypes can then be tested in the final stage of the design thinking process. 

Innovations resulting from this process are born out of an in-depth understanding of the target market and trialled to ensure the effectiveness of suggested solutions. It’s a foolproof structure for cost-effective, monitorable and meaningful innovation. There are clear benefits to using design thinking for business development. 

Why use design thinking as a creative strategy for innovation?

With business leaders being encouraged to prioritise innovation, introducing hubs and labs is just one of many creative strategies for fostering innovation. So, what makes design thinking worth the time, effort and resources?

Rigorous development

Financial support doesn’t guarantee that usable developments are garnered from innovation initiatives. Design thinking increases the likelihood of successful outcomes by ensuring desirability (a solution the customer base wants), viability (the technology is available to make it possible) and feasibility (the solution makes financial sense). Without these three elements, any innovation initiative will struggle to produce results. 

Uncover the unknown

As company employees work in the business day in and day out, it’s likely that they will develop blindspots as they have an expert perspective. This means that they are at risk of overlooking the problems beginners face. By establishing customer needs first and being aware of potential assumptions, the innovation team can uncover creative solutions and opportunities for development they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. 

Problem-solving potential

Times of conflict and struggle are the times when creative solutions are needed the most. Design thinking can be applied to find a way around challenges according to what is technologically possible, cost-effective and meets the needs of customers. Considering the turbulent times businesses have already weathered in the past few years and the predictions that economic struggle will continue, design thinking could be exactly what businesses need. 

A customer-centric approach

Customer-centricity is its own competitive advantage for business growth in a period when customer loyalty is lacking. Design thinking is, by nature, a customer-centric strategy. It positions the customer needs and problems as the first priority and innovations are developed from that starting point, encouraging awareness of assumptions so the team isn’t misled. This helps businesses to keep up with changes in consumer behaviour and demands. 

Reduces risk

Change inevitably brings risk. Time, money and resources need to be funnelled into developing and executing change without any guarantee of how customers will react to the new development. Design thinking involves thorough prototyping and testing to trial the idea for effectiveness. The idea itself is sparked from customer research and profiling to ensure it aligns with real customer needs, not assumed problems. While successful innovation is never guaranteed, steps are taken to ensure the best outcome possible. 

Therefore, through design thinking, many of the concerns around innovation on a business level are dealt with. As business leaders work on creating innovative organisations for growth in the current market, they have plenty of choices for how to enact innovative strategies. Design thinking makes it to the top of the list as a tried and tested approach, first defined decades ago. It provides a structure teams can follow to uncover gaps and areas for improvement, known or unknown. Its focus on the customer first makes it an effective way for coming up with meaningful solutions. Would you consider using design thinking as part of your innovation initiative?

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