• Claudio Afonso

How Design Thinking can unlock the innovation your business needs.

The world's business leaders have become enamoured with this simple yet effective process, and so should you.

2020 has dished out a series of surprises and looking into past trends to inform and guide the future won’t provide any meaningful direction because too much has changed. Business leaders looking to innovate their way out of the current situation may be conflicted with the risk vs the (uncertain) reward — especially during uncertain times like these.

Even more concerning is that many businesses appear to be headed for a rude awakening as they try to continue with business as usual. This time, it’s not just their competitors challenging and disrupting their operation. Mother Nature has gotten involved too.

In recent years, Design Thinking has gained much hype in the business world for its contribution to innovation. If you find yourself rolling your eyes at the self-indulgent term, let me address the elephant in the room right here. The design community doesn't exclusively own the term Design Thinking. It emerged from exploring theory and practice in various disciplines and sciences to address our time's human, technological, and strategic innovation needs. Its origins date back to the 1960s.

Fast forward to today, and this process has undergone six-decades of refinement and is now a highly-proven process that allows teams to test new concepts without over-investing in the unproven idea. The Design Thinking process strongly advocates sourcing ideas from varied teams/skillsets/perspectives to ensure well-rounded solutions to complex issues. It guides businesses to create human-centric solutions, which improve Customer Experience (CX) and long-term customer satisfaction.

Defining Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It's instrumental in tackling ill-defined or unknown complex issues. It does this by understanding the human needs involved, re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.

There are a few versions of the Design Thinking Process; however, the one most widely lauded is the process according to the d.school (The Institute of Design at Stanford) - the leading university in teaching Design Thinking. The process involves five key stages: Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Empathize - Research your audience’s needs and desires

In this phase, your goal is to gain an empathetic understanding of the problem that needs solving, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial because it allows you to set aside your assumptions about the situation and gain real insight into your customers' context and needs.

Define (the problem)

In this phase, you will accumulate the information you obtained in the Empathize stage. Next, you need to analyze your observations and synthesize them to identify the core problems. These definitions are called problem statements. It sometimes helps to create personas to keep your efforts human-centered before proceeding to ideation.


Here you begin to generate solutions. The knowledge obtained from the previous two phases offers you a solid foundation to start thinking laterally. By looking for alternative ways to view the problem, you can identify innovative solutions to your created problem statement. Brainstorming with diverse people with varying skills and roles, and backgrounds are particularly useful here.


In this investigative and experimental phase, your goal is to identify each problem statement's best possible solution. Aim to produce an inexpensive, scaled-down version of the solution to scrutinize the ideas you’ve generated. Your experiment could be as simple as paper prototyping to get you the answers you need to proceed or pivot.


Design Thinking promotes iteration, so it's crucial to test your prototypes rigorously. The results may redefine one or more further problems or underscore possible solutions. You are encouraged to return to previous stages if other iterations, alterations, and refinements are necessary to find the best possible solution.

It’s important to understand that these stages are less like sequential steps and more like different modes contributing to the entire project. Your goal is to gain the most in-depth understanding of your customers and understand their ideal solution/product/service.

Design Thinking is foundational in designing Customer Experience.

In a rapidly changing world like the one we find ourselves in right now, Design Thinking is crucial to developing and refining the skills to understand and address rapid changes in users’ environments and behaviors. This process is exceptionally well suited to improving interactions at any given customer touchpoint and therefore adds incremental value to the overall Customer Experience.

Design is biased toward action, meaning if you engage in actions that involve getting to know your customers better, you should dedicate more time to building prototypes and testing than you do on coming up with ideas. You just need one idea to spawn a series of prototypes and tests, and it's precisely that small start that can transform your customers' experience with your brand, your products, and your services.

Avalon CX are experts and focus on helping product teams improve their CX. If you need help adapting to your new reality, or finding your next big thing, or even just refining your products or services, talk to us.


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