Design Thinking – The only way to Think: A Breakthrough Innovation Process

Working at Grainger this past summer, I had the opportunity to operate and work in an agile methodology for innovation-development. And through my academic experiences and classes at the College of Business, I have been exposed to the innovation funnel and waterfall methodologies. However even with these different innovation methodologies, Design Thinking is not only a fascinating innovation methodology but also truly an innovation process that solidifies ideas and formulates on a daily basis!


So what is the Design Thinking Methodology? Well according, to Harvard Business Review in Tim Brown’s Design Thinking, Design Thinking is “a discipline [or methodology] that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match the people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” Tradition innovation processes typically recognized design as a downstream activity that take place after an idea, product, or service had been created. Designers would add value to a product or service through “aesthetically attractive” designs and evocative or memorable advertising: embedding these designs into a consumers mind and driving point of sales transactions. However, the Design Thinking Methodology disrupts the conventional process of innovation. Instead of involving Designers at the tail-end of the innovation process, Designers effectively collaborate and provide solution ideation with marketers, engineers, and behavioral scientist from the dawn of the innovation process. Design Thinking allows businesses, enterprises, and organizations to “explore more ideas more quickly than they could otherwise” by providing generation of a highly diverse set of ideas and preventing problems such as Groupthink from occurring.


However, Design Thinking also requires the following crucial elements: Taking a human-centered approach, rapid experimentation and prototyping, and consistently seeking outside help.


Brown utilizes two excellent examples to illustrate the Design Thinking Process: Kasier Permanente and Shimano Bicycles. In both situations, Kasier Permanente and Shimano hired IDEO consultants to provide a unique and outside design perspective in their business solution-ing process, balanced technological feasibilities with consumer needs (to provide the highest value proposition), and performed numerous iterations of quick prototyping to reach their successful business solutions. In doing so, Kaiser was able to effectively streamline their nurse debriefing processes. By placing nurse shift-knowledge transfer in front of the patient and incorporating new software systems that accurately tracked data in a user-friendly way, prep time was reduced astronomically allowing patient care to exponentially rise with more nurse time spent on patients. Similarly, Shimano collaborated with IDEO to discover an untapped market of consumers that loved riding bikes in adolescent days but stopped riding bikes due to intimidation, high-complexity, and high cost. Shimano then introduced their “coasting bike” into this market driving revenues to highs never seen before.


Lastly, Brown argues that Design Thinking is not meant to undermine conventional downstream design processes. Designing to appeal to a consumer emotionally and functionally is still imperative in the deployment of a successful product or service. Because of this, aesthetics are still important. Aesthetics fuel consumers’ emotional appeal and allowed for the success of Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” savings account service. Additionally, I saw the importance of aesthetics design at my internship at Grainger this past summer. Working in an agile methodology, there were always User Interface and User Experience Analysts on all sprint teams to ensure user friendliness. For instance, on my agile team we were developing customer insights within a CRM platform so that our sales reps could better reach customers and drive revenue. User interface/experience analyst consistently redesigned the interface of the application to ensure that the sales team could easily access and utilize their custom reports.


Design Thinking has truly disrupted the traditional processes of innovation. With that being said, I end with this: I will be working at IBM after graduation and am really excited that they are an avid supporter for Design Thinking Methodology. IBM’s Design Thinking methodology centers around “focusing on user, relentless reinvention through rapid prototyping, and diverse empowered teams” that certainly contain designers.

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About Ben Chin

Hi! My name is Ben Chin and I am currently a senior studying Information Systems and Marketing at the University of Illinois. I have a huge passion for business analytics, business intelligence, AI, and will be doing technology consulting (like Veronika) full-time after graduation. Outside of that, I love sports especially basketball and I love working out and staying fit!

2 thoughts on “Design Thinking – The only way to Think: A Breakthrough Innovation Process

  1. Hey Ben,

    IBM’s Design Thinking methodology is very similar to IDEO’s method. Both companies have on main focus point: human behavior. I’m glad you shared IBM’s Design Thinking website. To be honest, I never knew IBM had this. Because of this, I did a quick Google search to see what other companies use Design Thinking and the list is amazing. Some of the companies I came across are Capital One, Philips, Lowes Hardware, GE, and much more. I would have never guessed that these companies use Design Thinking because they aren’t a graphic design company, but clearly, design thinking goes a long way.

  2. Your explanation of design thinking is very in-depth and poses some great arguments. I especially enjoy how you gave real-life examples from companies and your own experiences to give some perspective. Design thinking really has allowed people and companies alike to prosper, and will continue to grow for a very long time. For anyone who is unaware or mystified by it, this article will be great for explanations.

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