Design Thinking for innovation

Design Thinking: A Creative Strategy for Innovation

Design Thinking for innovation

Looking for a strategy to maximize problem-solving, creativity, and innovation? Incorporate Design Thinking and see what happens!

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation improves significantly.

Design Thinking is a human-centred, possibility driven, approach. It fundamentally draws upon what humans need – what problem needs addressing – before integrating technology and economics.

The Design Thinking methodology is a mindset. While used for problem-solving, it’s not actually problem-focused. It’s solution focused and action-oriented towards creating a preferred idea, project, product, even future. Design Thinking draws upon imagination, intuition, logic, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be – and to create a desired outcome that benefits the end user (typically the customer).

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
– Tim Brown CEO, IDEO

The inception of Design Thinking

It was computer scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon who first made mention of design as a science or way of thinking in his 1969 book, Sciences of the Artificial.

Through the 1970s, Design Thinking evolved in the design community before entering the mainstream in the 2000s. Seeing the benefits of the methodology and creative strategic process, professionals in sectors we know to be outside the realm of design –education, Information Technology, and business – also began embracing and applying Design Thinking.

The tools and methods of the approach borrow from a variety of disciplines, including ethnography, computer science, psychology, and organizational learning.

Design teams use Design Thinking to tackle ill-defined or unknown problems (referred to as wicked problems) because it reframes these types of problems in human-centric ways, allowing the designer to focus on what’s most important for users/customers. It’s been implemented to tremendous and prosperous effect in organizations such as Apple and Airbnb.

The Framework of Design Thinking

MIDAS design thinking diagram


The first stage of the process requires an empathic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, typically through some form of user research. Empathy is vital as it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into users and their needs. Entering the realm of the users and, as far as possible, “becoming” them so as to begin work on custom-designing a solution.


Collect and consolidate all the information you have gathered during the Empathize stage. Analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems you and your team have identified so far. This is where you ensure that the problem you are addressing is fully exposed and clear, all of its elements and properties identified thoroughly.


Now you’re ready to start generating ideas. With the knowledge you have gathered in the first two phases, you can start to “think outside the box” to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.


Your design team can now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product or specific features found within the product so you can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage.


Rigorously test the completed product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage; however, this can be an iterative process, and you’ll use the results generated during the testing phase to redefine one or more problems.

The steps in this process provide a structure for understanding and pursuing innovation in ways that contribute to organic growth, adding real value to your customers. The cycle leverages observation in order to unearth unmet needs within the context and constraints of a particular situation.

According to Jeanne Liedtka of the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation, value is achieved when there is an understanding of need, particularly that previously unknown, “The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs.”

Design Thinking brings ideas and designs to life on a circuitous journey of exploration, experimentation, and discovery. To move forward, it often involves taking several steps backward, several times… where evolution, refinement, and growth flourish!