Design thinking in business its origin methodology steps and Examples

Design Thinking

Design thinking in business is a methodology used to create new products , services, processes or to solve problems.

It is not possible to understand it well without seeing design as something that goes far beyond the form and aesthetics of products.

Before, we translated thinking . But design , what does it mean?

The English language word means to design, plan, draw or sketch a project.

Thus, defining a new format, colors and designs for the packaging of a product is design as much as thinking about a new inventory control process, for example.

What happens is that, in both cases, you are creating something new and, for that, it is necessary to plan before executing .

Because of this, many think that design thinking in business is a redundant term, because all design work involves a lot of thought.

But the idea here is not to talk about the name, but about the approach. What are the differentiators of design thinking, anyway?

The methodology values ​​creativity, experimentation and empathy to find innovative solutions.

One of its strongest characteristics is its multidisciplinary , as the process must bring together all those involved in the development of the product or service.

From there, just follow the steps (we’ll talk about them later) of design thinking to problematize the issue, think of a solution and test it.

But don’t think that it’s a cake recipe , according to which you just mix the right ingredients and follow the method of preparation for the result to be guaranteed.

Design thinking is a tool that guides, but depends on the dedication of all involved and, above all, on the open mind of managers.

What Is The Origin Of The Term Design Thinking?

In the United States, the term design thinking has been used since the 1970s , in areas such as science, engineering, architecture, education and academic research.

Overall, it was used with the same meaning as it is today: a creative approach to problem solving.

The systematization of the ideas behind design thinking in the methodology we know today, focused on business administration, is credited to Tom and David Kelley and Tim Brown .

The Kelley brothers founded IDEO , a world-renowned design consulting firm in 1991.

The British Tim Brown is the current CEO and president of the company. He is also the author of the book Change by Design .

The work that explains the approach was launched in 2009 and became a best seller among entrepreneurs around the world.

Brown is regarded as the leading voice of design thinking in business today .

To get to know a little of what he has to say, check out his TED Talk presentation in 2009.

The Design Thinking Methodology

There are some very important pillars behind the design thinking methodology. One of them is that of inspiration .

The process always begins with a phase that includes understanding the problem or opportunity and studying the possibilities, competition and behavior of the target audience.

In other words, inspiration here is not that divine spark that irrigates the brain with a great idea. We’re talking about gathering materials, objective or otherwise, to inspire.

Another pillar is empathy , which means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding their needs.

You see, design thinking empathy is not just about consumers, but also about the company’s internal audience.

As already highlighted before, it is a multidisciplinary methodology, therefore, collaborators from all areas must be heard.

Empathy comes in to break down common barriers between sectors and hierarchies, so that it is possible to obtain the most complete view possible about the problem and possible alternatives.

Design thinking in business also has the pillar of creativity , which we can define as the ability to make connections.

This is fundamental, because there is no point in collecting data and different opinions on a given subject without making an effort to find a common denominator between them.

See how the design thinking approach requires us to think a lot?

But there’s also the part of putting ideas into action as quickly as possible to get feedback.

After all, IDEO’s own mantra, a company headed by Tim Brown, is “failure sucks but instructs” , which means “failure sucks, but it teaches”.

Design thinking, therefore, also guides learning from mistakes , as they are inevitable.

If all this still seems too abstract to you, don’t worry.

Next, we will talk about the stages of design thinking and it will be easier to understand how the pillars that we have just presented manifest themselves in practice.

Stages Of Design Thinking

The steps that we will present below are a kind of roadmap to be followed to apply design thinking .

But remember what we said before: it’s not a cake recipe.

This is a way of organizing work to maximize the company’s creative possibilities .

Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate what is at hand to define the best tools to be used at each stage to achieve the proposed objective.


It is the understanding phase .

It starts by understanding yourself, with tools such as the SWOT analysis , which studies the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that impact the project.

Before that, the problem faced is discussed in detail and the scope and boundaries of the project are defined.

Immersion is a phase in which a lot of study material is generated.

It considers different points of view and perspectives. There is also a lot of exploratory and reference research.

After this preliminary part, the deep immersion begins, with interviews and fieldwork , which generates insights that will be used later.

All the material produced in this phase serves as input for the later ones. Or rather, not all, as we will see below.

2-Analysis And Synthesis

As we have just pointed out, the immersion phase gives rise to an enormous amount of material. But not everything can be used.

A logical and rational analysis and organization of the insights generated in the previous step is performed, identifying patterns and categorizing ideas.

The very observation of these patterns helps to better see the question and, who knows, find new answers.

The graphical representation of all this material (with diagrams and concept maps) helps to better visualize the problem.

From there, the insights are filtered and the project begins to take shape, with the definition of a target audience and a line of work.

Choosing a path forward is a challenge here, as we are dealing with a multidisciplinary team.

So, of course, there are many different points of view involved.

3-Ideation Or Ideation

This is the stage in which the work team begins to think of a solution to the problem presented.

Here, it is necessary to understand that no solution is ideal .

Numerous ideas will emerge, always based on the needs identified in the previous phases.

Methods should be used to maximize the creativity of employees , which encourage thinking outside the box.

In order for them to feel free to present even the boldest ideas, there can be no value judgments.

The team needs the freedom to experiment and make mistakes . Yes, making mistakes, because the fear of failure or criticism is the main inhibiting agent of creativity and innovation.

It is not about encouraging error, but the generation of possibilities.

In the following steps, you will better understand this way of thinking.


Several surveys around the world have already shown that most companies, products and services that are launched on the market fail.

This does not always happen because of a silly negligence of the entrepreneur.

There are so many variables involved that sometimes it is only possible to check the result of an idea in practice.

Those who adopt design thinking are not afraid to take that risk. On the contrary: use it in favor of your project.

The idea of ​​the prototype is to produce a Minimum Viable Product , known by the acronym MVP .

From the ideas generated in the previous step, a simple version of the product is created, which can be produced quickly, without spending too many resources, in a testing period.

The prototype serves to feel how the solution behaves in practice .

Does it really meet the needs of the end consumer?

We have an opportunity to answer this and other questions.

The secret is to closely monitor how the created product or service behaves, gathering insights into what worked and what needs to be fixed.

5-Final Implementation

The intent of the MVP is to achieve the essence of the solution .

If he didn’t have a good response, here’s a lesson that would cost much more if the product were released in its final form.

But in case the solution is validated, then yes, we go to the final step , implementation.

The necessary adjustments are made to launch the product or service to the final consumer.

In reality, the work does not end there, as a conscious company must always maintain a process of continuous improvement , mapping the weaknesses and opportunities of each project.

How To Implement Design Thinking Practices In My Company?

It is difficult to answer objectively, because each field of activity has its particularities and each company has its organizational culture and idiosyncrasies.

As hard as it was to visualize the previous steps being implemented in your company, believe me, design thinking can be applied in any context .

And it is possible to adapt the phases to the reality of the organization.

Depending on the characteristics of the market , the MVP can be launched directly to the final consumer, for example.

It is up to managers to see the best way to take advantage of the concepts of the methodology.

Whatever the format adopted, the pillars must always be remembered, especially empathy.

Bear in mind that the main objective of design thinking is to solve the public’s problem , whether internal or external, leaving them fully satisfied.

Without forgetting also the multidisciplinary, which allows seeing the situation from different angles , which facilitates innovation.

In the following topic, we will present tools used in design thinking that can help to better understand how to implement the methodology.

Main Tools Used In The Design Thinking Methodology

As we pointed out before, it is the manager’s task to find the best tools to carry out each stage of design thinking in business .

Below are some suggestions that can be used in one or more phases of the methodology .

If you found one of them interesting, seek more information about it to better understand how to apply it.

Desk Search

Used in the immersion phase, desk research consists of creating a tree of themes related to the problem, which unfold as information is obtained from different sources (news portals, newspapers and magazines, for example).

Empathy Map

From customer interviews, the empathy map is the structuring of the knowledge obtained to answer the following questions: what the customer says, what he sees, what he hears and what he feels.


It is a meeting (preferably with a multidisciplinary team) in which the only objective is to think about ideas , present them and discuss them.

The premise is that it is an environment for complete boldness, without any kind of criticism or judgment .

The filtering of ideas will be done at another time.

World Café

It is a method of encouraging dialogue between employees from different sectors and hierarchies, in which a large group is divided into several tables (as in a café) and, from time to time, a member is changed.

The conversation – about a previously determined issue – continues where it left off, with a new member at the table.


It consists of making a playful activity , bringing to its execution the dynamics and pleasure of games .

This feature has excellent results and can be used at any stage of design thinking.

Co-Creation With The Client

Depending on the product or service to be developed, inviting customers to participate in its creation ( in the ideation and prototyping phases ) can be a great idea, as it will generate very accurate insights.

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