How to implement design thinking in your workplace

Combine goals and a team to implement design thinking in your workplace

Set of messy clew symbols, line of symbols with scribbled round element and arrow, concept of transition from complicated to simple.

It is important to implement design thinking in your work environment because it helps to simplify complex problems. By thinking like a designer, teams can learn to create human-centered solutions instead of solving problems based on assumptions. It helps to break down key issues, improves understanding, and minimizes risk. Think of design thinking as a methodology for creative problem-solving. As the image illustrates above, at the beginning of the process, the problem is a complicated mess. The design thinking methodology helps clarify the root issue, so the appropriate solution can be implemented.

What is design thinking?


If you put a group of 10 designers in a room and ask each of them to define design thinking, you will get 10 different answers. In my opinion, design thinking is a method to help solve complex problems with human-centered solutions that are innovative, resilient, and sustainable.

Why design thinking isn’t just for designers

Anyone can practice designing thinking if they have the right mindset and environment — you don’t need to be a designer to do design thinking. You just need the right tools. While design thinking can be done alone, it takes more time and is more effective through collaboration. Collaborative problem solving allows for more insights, points of view, and ideas —  ultimately leading to a stronger solution. Design thinking is best done when everyone on the team is invested and participating.

How to bring design thinking to your company

It is important to define goals

Goal, plan, action text on light box on desk table in home office.Business motivation or inspiration,performance of human concepts ideas

Before you begin any process, it is helpful to know what your goals are. A good solution has a purpose, is useful, is understandable, and fits the context. It is also good to identify potential issues. You need to identify an overarching discovery statement to start collaborative thinking by asking questions like…

  1. How might we identify a new strategic direction for our company that suits the current global situation?
  2. How are global problems affecting our business?
  3. What are these problems?
  4. Which business goals should we consider?
  5. Can we define our most important goal?
  6. Why is the current way no longer appropriate?
  7. What would happen if we did nothing?
  8. What currently works and is worth keeping?
  9. Has anything not worked in the past that should be avoided?

The point of asking these questions is to facilitate the creative thinking process. You should revisit these questions throughout the process, sometimes your initial response will change based on findings.

Get the right team together

  1. The teams that practice design thinking are more powerful when members have a diverse set of perspectives and areas of expertise.
  2. Consider your frontline employees, sometimes they could have an innovative idea that can solve your problem.
  3. People generate ideas from their unique backgrounds, therefore at least one person from each area of the company should be represented.
  4. Everyone will have a unique solution to the problem — bringing more innovative solutions to the surface.

Be in the right mindset

Facilitators, it is important to:

  1. Be a good listener and collaborator. Ensure everyone is heard. Value inclusivity.
  2. Guide rather than influence the work of the group.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude and purposeful atmosphere.
  4. Seek to link ideas, explore an idea’s details, and otherwise increase understanding of the ideas.
  5. Record the sessions so you can reflect back if needed.
  6. Have someone taking notes to document key takeaways that may guide further discussion.

Starting the process

Innovation in Business Concept

Once you have a team, a direction, and goals organized, you can start moving through the process.

The five steps of design thinking

There are five main steps to design thinking. This process is not linear and it is common to revisit the phases as more insights are generated. The five steps are listed below and will be explained in detail, with methods for implementation.

  1. Research and develop empathy
  2. Define the problem
  3. Generate ideas
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Research and developing empathy

Start off by doing some research and deep thinking.

  1. Do you have any data and/or statistics related to your company that may be applicable? If so, bring that to the table.
  2. Research what your competitors are doing. Do a SWOT analysis of your top competitors to figure out if they are facing the same problem, if they are doing something better, or if they are not doing something well enough. This technique can help to identify gaps in the marketplace. If a competitor is facing a similar problem, how are they solving it? Are their solutions working? Could their solutions help you?
  3. Research your customers with the goal of discovering their changing habits and obvious needs. Identify with their emotions by using empathy — how are they feeling? What do they need? You need to learn more about their experience. Call a few of them for a short interview or send a survey to identify needs and frustrations. To learn more about the importance of empathy, check out the link in the resources section below.

Once you have gathered this information, bring it all together. What have you learned? Are there any trends?

Problem Definition

Using what you learned in the research stage, you can start defining and exploring the problem by piecing out the key trends discovered. Typically, a few clear problems will arise from the research. Based on what you learned, aim to answer these questions:

  1. Will solving the problem require different skills or resources?
  2. What are the costs?
  3. Are there any deadlines?
  4. Do we have constraints, such as limitations of time, money, and materials?

Ideating solutions

Creative business people planning with adhesive note

Now that you know what the problem is, use visualization techniques to ideate solutions. Ideation helps make abstract ideas more tangible. Examples of visualizations are mind mapping or concept sketching. Use quick methods to bring your ideas to the table.

Remember,  to use visualization effectively, everyone needs to be involved. Avoid having one dedicated person in charge. This is why brainstorming can be ineffective, oftentimes the more outspoken person will dominate the session.

Consider everyone’s comprehension styles

Consider the different styles — some people like to think on their own, then contribute while others like to think out loud with a group — account for everyone’s personal style.

Personally, I think individual, silent mind mapping is a great way to brainstorm. Have your team spend 25 minutes putting their thoughts on paper, then spend 25 minutes discussing what everyone came up with. This allows people who need to think alone the time they need to produce quality ideas. This method also reduces groupthink or having people agree because they didn’t get the time they needed to think something through.

Similarly, spend time writing ideas on post-it notes, then silently group the post-its into categories by their patterns and dot vote to discover the most popular ideas. Each person can get three votes to use how they wish. Once the votes are cast, select the most popular ideas to prototype.

Rapid prototyping

Brainstorming about ux design

For this phase, you need to get into an iterative mindset. You need to fail fast and fail often. Be willing to kill an idea if it doesn’t work. It is okay to go back to the drawing board or do a little research to refocus the group.

You might be thinking, “but how do I prototype a service — I thought prototyping was for products?” Well, that is a great question. The reality is that prototyping can be used as a tool to solve any problem. Think about the end to end experience your customer takes.

How this could apply to a real-world situation

For example, say you own a restaurant and your discovered problem was that your customers couldn’t order food from your restaurant because you currently don’t offer a delivery service. Maybe they were scared about getting the virus and didn’t want to be in public? Maybe they are a single parent with children at home and can’t leave the house? Use prototyping to create a new hypothetical experience for them.

You could create a customer journey map to help visualize what the user is going through. What are the most important touch-points? How can you better deliver the service? What are the nice touches you can add?

Going back to the example…
  • Would it be an option to use your team of wait staff to deliver food?
  • Is offering a drop off at the front door service an option?
  • How about adding on little niceties, like hand sanitizer or toilet paper to the delivery.
  • What about if your team wore plastic gloves for the service?
  • Would it be appropriate to wear a mask?
  • Think through all the details that would make the service suit current customer needs.

The goal here is to think through the entire journey and all of the touch-points. Flush those ideas out on paper, then ask your customers what they think.

Testing your prototype with your customers

Now, you need to see if your solution solves the problem. You can call a few of your loyal customers and ask them what they think – leaning on the people you interviewed. If you don’t have access to customers, you can bring together a different group of your team to test with. It’s important to gather the right insights from individuals of the target market. Therefore, try to test people who would be using your product or service.

  • What is the feedback?
  • How can you improve?

If it was positive – great! You can bring your idea to market. If the feedback wasn’t the best, then it is better to iterate to minimize the business risk.

This won’t be easy

It takes time, grit, and determination — but the end goal of solving your problems with strong solutions is worth the effort. Especially in a time of need, we need these innovative solutions to stay resilient. We can either be worried about what will happen, or we can take the steps to build out a solid solution to work in the now.

More information on design thinking

Standard Beagle Creative Director Cindy Brummer speaks on this topic and consults with companies on how they can bring design thinking to their unique situations. You can listen to her general presentation to members of NAWBO here:


Interaction Design Foundation



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