For Best Results in Business, Think Like a Designer

by Michelle Eichner

Most business leaders don’t need to be professional designers to effectively think like one. Thinking like a designer, otherwise known as design thinking, is a process that should be leveraged by all business professionals due to its effectiveness for big-picture planning. Design thinking is a ubiquitous process that allows companies to put themselves in a frame of mind that’s in sync with customer expectations. It’s about creating the experience customers would expect, then setting the company up to meet those expectations. 

Design Thinking Basics 

The No. 1 rule of design thinking is to always keep the customer in mind. It’s not about what a business thinks the customer wants. Instead, it’s about empathizing for the customer’s needs and wants to best serve the actual customer’s experience. For example, say an agency is hired to improve the overall customer experience at a grocery store. Among the first things the agency should consider are the factors that drive customers to the grocery store, what happens once they get there, how customers navigate the grocery store and what can be done to make their experience even more fluid. 

The primary benefit of design thinking is, it allows business professionals to step outside their box and think purely from the angle of the customer. During the process, it’s important to learn everything possible about the broader customer experience to not only better understand the customer, but also to accomplish company goals. Design thinking can stand on its own, or it can serve as a single piece in an even broader puzzle. 

Big-Picture Strategy 

Taking a holistic view of any customer experience is at the heart of design thinking, and granular details should never get in the way of this process. If design thinking is reduced to product or service features or any other sub-details, professionals can easily get trapped in the process without actually executing anything. Rather than spending time detailing features, it should provide a basis that makes the introduction of features second nature. While design thinking can be highly effective, it’s recommended that business professionals take a little extra time to learn how to go through the process most effectively. When done right, it should enable business professionals to feel significantly more connected to their target audience and provide them with insights to best serve their demographic. 

Although the design thinking approach centers on big-picture thinking, it also focuses heavily on having empathy for the customer. Professionals who engage in design thinking always need to consider the entirety of what the customer experiences when interacting with a company, both good and bad. At the end of the thinking phase, it’s important to consider whether the customer had an experience that was satisfactory, or if drastic improvements need to be made. This is a highly effective process for illuminating such gaps in the customer experience, and this reflection is key for maximizing results. 

Real-Life Application

A real-world case of design thinking can be seen at IBM. IBM brought clients into its office for three days, and had the clients discuss their day-to-day tasks with the IBM employees. IBM’s goal in doing so was to help their employees better understand the needs of the clients by putting them in the clients’ shoes. At the end of the experience, IBM staff gained a more well-rounded perspective, learned to work backward and understood how to better serve their clients. During the three days, IBM documented dependencies, pain points, short-term and long-term goals. 

This new perspective aided the company’s success at repackaging and rebranding client products. Because it approached this task with design thinking, IBM was able to better understand how customers go about buying the products, how they approach the buying process, how they consider comparisons, and what they would expect when purchasing a product from IBM. Design thinking also helped IBM update its packaging by imagining what the products would look like to customers. This allowed IBM to discover the products in the marketplace, justify the products internally and decide how to position the products online. 

Design thinking has shown to be an innovative and advantageous approach to creating or improving a product or project. By approaching a business situation from a design perspective, businesses can feel confident in creating a more seamless experience that’s better tailored to the customers’ unique needs. 

Michelle Eichner is the founder and CEO of Digitile. She works with businesses to reduce the challenges employees have finding files. Eichner is a seasoned marketer and SaaS software veteran with a deep understanding of the marketplace. Her more than 25 years of in-depth B2B experience driving product marketing and strategy helps identify market challenges, gaps and solutions.

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