Design thinking: 5 ways to put it to work in 2020

Design thinking helps you deliver more meaningful products to customers, faster - but it’s a big change for many teams. Here’s how to incorporate design thinking principles
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design thinking how to get started 2020

As we move into 2020, new technologies like 5G will drive rapid changes to processes, forcing companies to become more software-driven and more customer-centric. These changes have prompted a mass adoption of agile, DevOps, and now, design thinking practices as a means to adapt to and implement change.

Design thinking practices can help teams adapt to and implement change.

Design thinking helps organizations deliver products that are truly meaningful to their customers. By following key stages driven by creativity, design thinking highlights what problems are worth solving, thus reducing risk and promoting cost efficiency.

[ Want to learn more on this topic? Read also: Design thinking: 5 must-watch TED Talks. ]

Five ways to incorporate design thinking practices 

At Clearbridge Mobile, design thinking has helped us draw on logic, imagination, and intuition to explore the possibilities of our clients’ unmet and unarticulated needs to create desired outcomes that benefit the end-user. I urge other leaders to incorporate design thinking practices into their daily work routine in 2020. 

Here are five ways to do so:

1. Engage with empathy

Empathy is the leading principle in the design thinking methodology. Through empathy, product teams learn to think above and beyond their assumptions and recognize that different people have individual needs and expectations. The goal for anyone incorporating design thinking principles into their work is to develop a thought process that keeps their customer’s motivations at the forefront when trying to uncover why a product is being created in the first place.

Engaging with empathy will help organizations understand what customers want – not what they say they want, or what they think they want. Ultimately, empathizing with customers will allow brands to extrapolate user needs more accurately and deliver products that truly stand out in the market, creating a connection between a brand and the end-user.

Leader-to-leader tip:

Before ever starting a project, I suggest starting an empathy mapping exercise. Empathy mapping enables leaders to better interpret the actions, mindsets, and emotions of the customer. Some key questions to ask:

  1. What are the customer’s worries and aspirations?
  2. What might the customer be saying and/or doing while using the product?
  3. What are the customer’s pain points or fears when using the product?
  4. What will the customer gain from using the product?

[ How are you doing on the empathy front? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: Do your empathy skills need work? ]

2. Don’t let failure discourage you

For design thinking to work, leaders must be open to the idea of failure.

It’s important to remember that getting things wrong will lead to future success. Don’t let failure discourage you. With design thinking and many other iterative methodologies, the goal is to test prototypes as quickly as possible to bring into focus vital features and specifications that will allow the project to succeed. The purpose of this rapid testing is to enable teams to discover details that may have escaped the designers in production while committing minimal resources. For design thinking to work, leaders must be open to the idea of failure and learning from their mistakes.

Leader-to-leader tip:

The idea of failure makes many employees uncomfortable – no one wants to be the cause of that failure. I find the best way to ease this discomfort is to not make it personal. The leaders of an organization have the power to create and reinforce a culture that makes employees feel both comfortable with and responsible for exposing and learning from failures, instead of feeling blamed.

[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]

3. Start small

Design thinking principles cannot be implemented with an all-or-nothing approach. Introduce the principles gradually. It will take time to get buy-in from stakeholders, teach others about the mindset, and then practice executing each of the five stages. Launch pilot projects that allow your team to practice gathering data collaboratively, testing frequently, and iterating quickly. Gradually, these principles will become ingrained in the mindset of staff, promoting team cohesion and enabling the entire company to reap the numerous benefits that present themselves when projects are conducted in this manner.

Leader-to-leader tip:

Implementing design thinking principles for the first time introduces a daunting learning curve for all involved. It will take time for teams to get used to this new way of working; however, by starting small, teams will slowly begin to understand the process. To further support this, I recommend that leaders ensure that core management changes its own processes and provides supporting tools and coaching for teams. Proper guidance will help teams develop a thorough understanding of what design thinking is, and act as a reminder to stick to design thinking principles.

Next up, ensure a diverse set of perspectives on the team:

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, Sanjay Malhotra has built an agile team of mobile experts who have created award-winning solutions for media, telecom, fintech, healthcare, mobile payments, and QSRs.



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I agree with starting small. Pilot the design thinking process, then gradually expand it out. We've done that, and are now working to incorporate the principles in other teams, so that they practice it out of habit and my team becomes a centre of excellence.

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