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What Is Design Thinking?

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO

“The methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results.”

Fast Company

Design Thinking is an iterative approach to problem solving or to driving innovation that seeks out people with different perspectives, knowledge, skills, experiences and biasness to work together to create a practical solution for a real-world problem.


Design Thinking uses a process-based approach to solve problems and the five steps in Design Thinking are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

EMPATHIZE – This step involves interviewing stakeholders and people with vested interests by asking open-ended questions to better understand the problem from multiple perspectives.


DEFINE – This step involves synthesizing all the information available and opening up related problems that were not apparent earlier and reaching group consensus on the problem to be solved and the scope of the problem to be tackled.


IDEATE – This step involves brainstorming possible solutions to the problem, including seemingly wild and impractical ideas. The design thinkers should also build on each other’s ideas to ideate a better possible solution.


PROTOTYPE – This step involves creating a mockup that is representative of the proposed solution to the problem. The design team can share their ideas with the stakeholders to help filter out impracticable, unfeasible or unworkable solutions to identify the favoured prototype.


TEST – This step involves presenting the prototype to the stakeholders. In this step, the design team solicits feedback from the stakeholders to see if the prototype will solve the problem or whether more iterations are required of the prototype or if a totally different approach to the solution is needed.

Why is Design Thinking so Powerful?

When the design thinking methodology is applied to strategy, innovation and business challenges, the success rate for creativity and innovation dramatically improves. In today’s customer-centric world, design has become pervasive in its ability to create compelling products and services that build customer loyalty and repeat business for design-led organizations. Design thinking can be used to solve problems in many areas of the business and it is not just limited to Business Planning, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Account Planning.

To illustrate the point, the Design Value Index (DVI), a market capitalization-weighted index comprised of design-driven companies, shows 10-year returns of a remarkable 219% over that of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (“S&P 500”) from 2004-2014.


The Design Management Institute (DMI) and consulting firm Motiv Strategies sponsors this Design Value Index (DVI) study that researches into sixteen U.S. companies that were included in the DVI: Apple, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Stanley Black & Decker, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, The Coca-Cola Company, Walt Disney, and Whirlpool Corporation.

Power of Design Thinking

Design thinking has started to received significant attention in the business world. The design of products and services is a major critical success factor for business competitiveness so that businesses can survive and thrive. Design thinking has become integral to the design, engineering and services areas of the business and it can now help to trigger creativity in generating solutions to problems.

What Makes Great Product Design?

"When a Product Design is Awesome, Revenues Multiply …"

Product design is the process of creating a brand new product for companies to sell to their customers. Now what makes an excellent product design. The utility of the product is most important, followed by how is can solve existing problems and the experience of using the product. Depending on the product type, the product appeal or ergonomics can be very important. Some might call it the “Wow!” factor.


Beyond developing a great product design, we need solid marketing and clever positioning to sell the product.

Why Is Service Design Critical For Businesses?

"Service Design for Customer Focus …"

We are in the midst of the Internet age which is also fast becoming the “age of the customer” when the focus on the customer matters more that anything else for a business to survive and thrive. Competition is more intense than ever before and the barriers to entry for many industries have been lowered by the Internet.

Service design provides a framework and the necessary tools for companies to better understand their customers and engage them in a meaningful way in an environment that is second to none. Better customer service leads to higher customer retention that will ultimately drive profits, enable cost savings to the company and provide for stronger competitive differentiation.

Why Go Beyond Service Design Into Experience Design?

"Great Experience Design for Customer Retention …"

Many businesses including the financial institutions have used experience design to create excellent “frontdesk experience” to entice new customers and retain existing customers. The retail banking experience is now more personal than ever before to create that “engaging” and “inclusive” atmosphere. Starbucks would come to mind as one of the leading examples of what makes good experience design.

Stanford University's Design Thinking Framework

Stanford University’s framework for Design Thinking consists of these five steps:


EMPATHIZE: Work to fully understand the experience of the user for whom you are designing.  Do this through observation, interaction, and immersing yourself in their experiences. You could call this step, “putting yourself in the shoes of the user”.


DEFINE: Process and synthesize the findings from your empathy work in order to form a user point of view that you will address with your design. In this step, you will further define the problem statement or business challenge with a statement like, “How might we …” to capture the user context, user needs and insights into the problem definition.


IDEATE: Explore a wide variety of possible solutions through generating a large quantity of diverse possible solutions, allowing you to step beyond the obvious and explore a range of ideas. Different ideas are generated using brainstorming techniques. Closely following brainstorming rules like defer judgment, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others, one conversation at a time and go for volume can drastically increase the quality of ideas.


PROTOTYPE: Transform your ideas into a physical form so that you can experience and interact with them and, in doing so, develop more empathy. Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing can help accelerate Product Design and Development by failing early, fast and more often.


TEST: Try out high-resolution products and use observations and feedback to refine prototypes, learn more about the user, and refine your original point of view.

Research has shown that companies with “design thinking”-led strategies continue to outperform their competitors. Building your competitive advantage starts with immersive professional workshops that teach methodologies with implementable tools and techniques to help solve business challenges quickly and with impact.

How Do We Use S.C.A.M.P.E.R. in Design Thinking?

SCAMPER is a great yet simple idea generation technique that can be used in the IDEATE step of the Design Thinking Process. It is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other use, Eliminate and Reverse. The S.C.A.M.P.E.R. technique can help a Design Thinker to generate more ideas more quickly with the following framework.

S – Substitute: “Who or what can be substituted without affecting the outcome or product?”

C – Combine: “Can we combine multiple steps, processes, components or technologies to create a better product or solution?”

A – Adapt: “What can we improve, adapt for a better outcome or to make the product more flexible?”

M – Modify: “What can I modify to improve the product or process?”

P – Put to another use: “What are some other ways that we can put it to use?”

E – Eliminate: “What will happen if we eliminate some parts, process or resources?”

R – Reverse: “What if we reverse the product or interchange the process or product sequence?”


How can SCAMPER drive Creative Thinking and Problem Solving?


S.C.A.M.P.E.R. can help trigger creative thinking and problem solving to explore problems from different perspectives and it can help organizations innovate in product design, service design and experience design. We can use S.C.A.M.P.E.R. to solve typical business challenge like, “How can I increase the quarterly sales of my business?” by asking the following specific questions.

  • SUBSTITUTE: “What elements of my product or service portfolio can I substitute with to sell?”

  • COMBINE: “How can we combine existing products and services with other products or services to sell?”

  • ADAPT: “What idea can we adapt from other industries to increase sales in our own industry?”

  • MODIFY: “How can I magnify my sales effort or my solution to create an impact in the marketplace?”

  • PUT TO OTHER USES: “How can I put my product to other uses by selling into adjacent markets?

  • ELIMINATE: “What steps can I simplify or eliminate in my sales process so that I can be more efficient?”

  • REVERSE: “How can I reverse or change the order in which I sell?”

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