SPRINGBOX / Insights

Design Thinking: More Than Post-it Notes

by Maria Seaver, May 16, 2017

Whiteboards and Post-it Notes are ubiquitous within design culture and innovation. Office layouts have spaces carved out specifically for collaboration, and remnants of scratchy marker handwriting scrawled across whiteboards, glass or almost any surface abound at the end of each work day. The desire for speed of innovation and disruptive creativity has permeated business culture and has created demand for a way of working that can generate predictable results and return on investment. Design thinking seems to be pervasive in business culture, but are businesses taking the right steps?

Design and the methods that construct it have become formalized over the last 70 years from fields such as industrial design, engineering and software design. The culture of applying design thinking to the development of business solutions can be attributed to David Kelley, designer and founder of IDEO, who was responsible for coining the term as well as formalizing its processes.

The intersection of three things — (1) Human Factors, (2) Technology Feasibility, and (3) Business Viability — creates the output of design innovation. Design thinking is a framework by which design problems in business can be solved. In digital, these methods are imperative to create and innovate, especially for product and software development. There are no definitive answers in design thinking — rather, a high degree of confidence.

For business leaders, design thinking may seem like a novelty, but the reality is that the viability, desirability and profitability of your product and business depend on it. Companies providing better user experiences will have more customers who not only purchase again, but who will gain a higher visit-to-order conversion and will be value and brand ambassadors (source: Forrester, Best Practices In User Experience (UX) Design). Additionally, the cost savings of correcting problems during design rather than production is 100-fold (source: Tom Gilb, Principles of Software Engineering Management.) The benefits of design thinking are abundant to businesses. A 2015 DMI report showed that over the previous 10 years, design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211% (source: http://www.dmi.org/?DesignValue).  

Design Thinking Steps

The basics of design thinking lay out in a somewhat linear order, but they are constantly being considered and revisited over the lifetime of a product or solution.

Knowing your user

In any interpretation of design thinking, empathy for the user is at the center of the process. Understanding the user’s needs and desires is key to interpreting the design of the system for them. The key components of user research are defining the user, understanding the context of the user to the system and understanding the need the user has.

There are a variety of both quantitative and qualitative methods that can be used to gather this information. Observing, interviewing and surveying actual users can provide some of the best data for creating a cumulative view of your representative user. Oftentimes, business stakeholders are convinced that they know and can predict the actions of the end user. No matter the length of time or familiarity with the user, there is no replacement for direct communication with them.

Problem Definition

Framing and analyzing your problem are key to the design thinking process. Two main actions in defining your problem through research are divergent and convergent thinking. Through divergent thinking, all possible parts of a problem should be included. In many cases, overlooked issues or revisiting a once-thought-solved problem can become central to a problem statement.

Convergent thinking will help to refine and prioritize the actual relationship of the audience to the need. The result needs to be a strong relationship of a user need to a defined audience. Additionally, you must have a strong point of view that represents, argues or ignites the backing for the problem.

Idea creation

Oftentimes referred to as brainstorming, ideation is key to design thinking. While a variety of methods are used to help ideate, creative solutioning is hard. It comes in many forms, such as word associations, whiteboard sessions, written concepts or mixing of existing ideas. In ideation, the goal is to help step away from the obvious and push to see different points of view, ideally breaking through to a solution that is unique and targeted.


Prototypes are representative step-throughs of a system. They are not created to be exact build-outs of the end product or system. They should be made with the least amount of effort needed to gain usable feedback from an end-user. That said, if the user needs to see a prototype that is very representational, then the prototype may be more complex.


Usability assessments are incredibly important. Through prototype testing, ideas and designs are validated. Users will provide feedback that causes design changes; they will notice things you never did. They also reveal perspectives they didn’t know they had during initial interviews. Additionally, as feedback is collected, changes to your designs pose minimal costs compared to post-development cycles or even post releases in market.

The value of design thinking has been proven by companies like Apple, IDEO and IBM. It’s a framework that is used by designers but should be represented in every c-suite. It’s a process that gives a business confidence in the customer experience it provides. Designers, business leaders and technology experts who value design thinking reap the benefits of confidently producing business outcomes that better serve and connect to business and consumer needs.

Want to learn more about how Design Thinking can help shape your business? 


Topics: Strategy, Workshops, Design Thinking