Design thinking is one of the most useful mental models to create new products or services. It gets to the core of what our customers want and substantially increases the odds that our new products and services create significant value in our customers’ lives. So why is design thinking imperative to innovation?

Whether you are just hearing about design thinking or have heard about it before, it is critical to understand why design thinking is so imperative to innovation. With this baseline knowledge, you and your colleagues are more likely to not only implement design thinking in your organization, but to see positive results from adopting design thinking.

Design Thinking and Innovation: Connected at the Hip

So why is design thinking so critical to innovation within any organization? There are several reasons, but one of the most significant is that design thinking takes a customer-centric view of the world. Instead of relying on our untested assumptions of the market and our customers’ needs, we step into our customers’ shoes. By doing this, we get closer to the solution and are more likely to develop products or services that solve real problems in their lives.

The simple fact of the matter is that empathy is often absent in the product or service design process. While many organizations claim to understand their customers’ wants and needs, the simple fact is that they could do a much better job at understanding what their customers truly want. They rely on market share studies and customer surveys rather than getting out of the building and actually experiencing what their customers experience.

Ultimately, through design thinking, we can step into our customers’ shoes through several ways. In the end, we are trying to find their jobs-to-be-done – even if they do not articulate them out loud. We do this by immersing ourselves in our customers’ lives and determining which functional, social, and emotional jobs can solve their underlying jobs. While this is a more time-intensive strategy than sending out a survey or gathering a focus group, it is an extremely critical part of the design thinking process.

Immersion and a laser-focus on our customers’ jobs-to-be-done produce high-quality data. This data, once properly analyzed according to design thinking principles, is then translated into insights, which we use to brainstorm solutions and develop prototypes. Throughout this entire process, design thinking places a significant emphasis on little bets. Failing fast may be anathema to many organizations, but it is critical to design thinking. Launching simple, cheap experiments not only mitigates your risk, but lets you and your organization get to what your customers really want. This approach leads to consistent innovation and is substantially more effective than reviewing historical data or conducting basic market research.  

The ultimate benefit of design thinking is that it is solutions-focused. Innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t inherently useful. Instead, innovations must solve a pressing problem in the customer’s life. Therefore, compared to other problem-solving or innovation approaches, design thinking is a direct approach to making your customers’ lives better. It doesn’t spend time on academic tangents. Instead, the practical is prioritized over the theoretical, which leads to repeated positive outcomes for your customers.

Finally, one of the most effective parts of design thinking is that it is a process with clear steps and principles. While most (if not all) organizations are focused on digital transformations, innovation or and developing new products or services for their customers, they often do so in an ad hoc way. They gather some of their key team members, discuss potential products or services that they can offer to customers, and then develop a plan to make it happen. While this process may work for some companies, the simple fact is that design thinking offers a clear and concise process. Stanford University’s design thinking process, for instance, only involves five steps. It is easy to follow and nothing is stopping you from using it again and again.

Consistent Innovation

By leveraging the power of design thinking, you and your team can significantly increase your chances of creating significant value in your customers’ lives. The design thinking process isn’t automatic. It requires hard work and a commitment to the process. But if you and your organization are willing to invest the time and resources, you will undoubtedly see positive results.