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Design Thinking: Why More Entrepreneurs Should Learn How to Use this Tool

Design-focused companies are thriving, and the world has taken notice. How can we follow their lead?

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BY Cristina Morales - 16 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Contrary to what most people think, there’s a lot more to design than just making things look nice. “People always think that design is something visual or aesthetic, but it’s actually more of a process or a methodology that you could use to rethink or reframe certain problems to better define them,” says Shawn Lee, founder of Singapore-based design consultancy Monocoque Design.

In 2013, the DMI Design Value Index (DVI) first showed us the impact of a design-centric culture. The market index was created to compare how design-focused companies (e.g. Apple, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Ford) fared relative to the S&P 500. The findings? In the last decade, design-focused companies have outperformed the S&P by a whopping 211%.

Quantifying the value of design has always been a challenge, which is why until very recently, not a lot of companies made design a priority. But more and more companies have been pivoting—or are at least attempting to pivot—to a more design-centric approach.

In this Inc. Southeast Asia article, Courtney Lawrence, co-founder of Bangkok-based professional development company DSIL Global, called design thinking “one of the most powerful ways for entrepreneurs to ensure that they are on track with their product, service, or idea in general.” Design thinking, she said, breaks down the daunting task of creating connection and loyalty with the target market by delving deep into the consumer’s wants and needs to create “a product, service, and user experience that is a result of prototyping and iteration.”

In summary, design helps solve problems; whether it’s a flyer or a website or a business process that needs streamlining, design thinking can go a long way in finding solutions. Monocoque, for example, specializes in service design—an approach that takes into account not only the experience of the consumer, but also whether it’s feasible and viable for the business to run certain experiences.

“We look at it more from a touchpoint perspective, where the business actually interfaces with their consumers,” Lee explains. The scope of service design doesn’t end with the consumer experience, but also goes all the way to the back end operations, like simply reducing the amount of paperwork.

So what exactly is design thinking?

Design thinking is far from a recent trend—it was introduced in 1969 by Herbert A. Simon. “Design thinking, at its most fundamental core, espouses the ideas of deep thought, analytical problem-solving, and human interaction,” writes Kayla Matthews in this Inc. article.

By emphasizing problem-solving, communication, and customer interaction, design thinking promotes the exchange of ideas and information, facilitates flexibility, and equips you to learn from your past failures and move on with your business.

But there’s a catch: design thinking is a tool, and just as with any other tool in your toolbox, you have to actually have the skills to use it to get the results you want. You also have to open yourself up to change to see design thinking’s effect in your company.

“In Singapore, a lot of people say that they want to employ design thinking in their company,” says Lee. “But the problem is they cannot open to change. Sometimes, you can’t just do incremental improvements, and you need a rather radical change. And that can be a bit harsh for some people.”

Lee says that even though design thinking has become a buzzword, there needs to be more education and awareness on what it’s about. “The term’s being thrown around a lot, but people don’t really understand it,” he says. “You can’t be well-versed in design-thinking after a two-day workshop. It’s really a whole practice, you have to do it on a day-to-day basis.”