In the following article, Uway will provide clear explanations for 5 common misconceptions and questions that startups often face regarding Design Thinking, aiming to help startups better understand and apply Design Thinking effectively in their business processes.
1. What is Design Thinking?
In its simplest form, Design Thinking is a repetitive approach to creatively solving problems. The term “repetitive” means that this process is continuous, not a linear progression from steps 1 to 5 and then it’s done. These problems can be big or small and may arise from all aspects of the business.
Because this is a problem-solving process, Design Thinking can be applied not only to product development but also to many other processes, such as building a culture, internal team communication, developing partnerships, and various business challenges. In a broader sense, Design Thinking is an entrepreneurial philosophy, a way of thinking and acting, not just a rigid 5-step process.
In Design Thinking, we aim to understand the users or customers and anyone involved, from which we make assumptions about the users’ pain points. We prioritize important issues to address and generate ideas. We continually test solutions to select the optimal one.
The Design Thinking process typically consists of 5 main steps: Empathize, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test. It’s important to note that this is not a linear process. During the application of Design Thinking, you can revisit previous steps. For example, during the Ideation phase, you might go back to Empathize to reinforce your understanding of the users and generate new ideas based on that understanding. Or during the Testing phase, if you discover that your team’s solution doesn’t solve the user’s problem, you can return to Ideate or even Empathize to ensure a deeper understanding of the user’s issues.
The key principles underpinning Design Thinking are Empathy and Experimentation. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of the user or customer to understand their feelings, thoughts, and the challenges they face. Experimentation means that based on your understanding of the user or customer, you continually experiment with your ideas and improve your solution based on their feedback until you achieve the optimal solution.
2. The Difference Between Design Thinking and Lean Startup?
Both methods share some similarities, such as rapid testing and learning through hands-on experiences. However, Lean Startup, as its name suggests, is primarily a methodology applied to startups. In contrast, Design Thinking can be used in various contexts and within different types of organizations. Even large corporations can apply the Lean Startup philosophy to their operations, but it can be more challenging due to differences in organizational scale, the number of stakeholders involved, and even internal political issues.
-> Lean Startup is process-oriented, while Design Thinking emphasizes mindset and approach.
The “heart” of Lean Startup is the Build-Measure-Learn loop, focusing on creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), measuring key metrics, and learning from the results. In contrast, Design Thinking places less emphasis on measurement and more on understanding, listening, and empathizing with users.
Lean Startup and Design Thinking intersect in the areas of creating prototypes and testing. This can be visualized more clearly with the following diagram:
3. Do Startups with Existing Products and Scaling Plans Need Design Thinking?
When founders first explore Design Thinking, they may believe it’s best suited for those with new ideas or just starting to develop products. However, Design Thinking is not exclusive to early-stage companies; it can be used at various stages and within different types of organizations.
The term “Design Thinking” itself includes “thinking.” This implies that Design Thinking is a mindset—an approach to addressing challenges within an organization.
Many people mistakenly believe that Design Thinking is a linear process that always starts from step 1. However, as mentioned earlier, Design Thinking is a non-linear, iterative process aimed at involving users and other stakeholders in the product development process to ensure the final solution provides them with the most value and aligns with their needs.
To illustrate the diversity of Design Thinking applications, consider two scenarios:
Scenario 1: A Startup Ready to Scale
Imagine you’re a startup that has been operating for three years and has achieved product-market fit with good traction. Your goal for the next six months is to scale up.
To expand, you need recurring revenue. This means you must increase revenue from your existing customers or find new customers in the same segment. All of these options present significant challenges and uncertainties. Let’s say you choose to increase revenue from your current customers. This is where Design Thinking comes into play.
Scenario 2: A Large Corporation Considering New Software
Suppose you’re a large corporation with over 1,000 employees, and you’ve received a proposal to use new software to manage your operations, including accounting, finance, and information management.
You can make this decision based on a cost-benefit analysis, but here’s the issue: your employees will be the ones adapting to and using the new software. So why not take some time to understand their thoughts about the new software?
You can conduct a company-wide survey to understand how they use the current software, their preferences, what needs improvement in their daily operations, and what they are willing to pay extra for. This approach provides you with more insights into whether purchasing the new software is a wise choice.
4. Can Design Thinking Be Applied to B2B Startups?
Many startup founders believe that Design Thinking is mainly for consumer-focused startups and may think, “I have a B2B model, so I don’t think this methodology applies to my business.”
This notion is peculiar because having a B2B model doesn’t mean you’re only interacting with businesses in a dry, mechanical manner. Behind every business are people—CEOs, salespeople, marketers, and more. Understanding their needs, goals, and empathizing with them—the people who make decisions about using your product—is essential.
Ultimately, in B2B interactions, understanding and identifying opportunities can sometimes be easier than in B2C because you deal with fewer customers, build longer-term relationships, and have more direct conversations to understand what needs improvement.
5. Do You Need a Design Thinking Specialist in Your Company?
As mentioned earlier, Design Thinking emphasizes mindset and approach to product development, so you don’t need to hire a dedicated specialist for this role. Uway encourages all team members to embrace this mindset and apply it to their daily work. To achieve this, you can consider conducting internal Design Thinking training for your employees or encourage them to self-study and apply it in their roles.
Do you have any other questions about Design Thinking that we haven’t covered in this article? Or are you interested in having a Design Thinking training session for your team? Feel free to contact Uway!