How Design Thinking Can Fuel Your Brand’s Innovation Strategy



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Read on to learn the benefits of using a design thinking framework, including how it can drive ROI, improve UX, accelerate innovation, and more.

Design thinking is one of the best ways to fuel your brand’s innovation strategy and create a memorable customer experience. Steve Jobs once said that most people “make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like…That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Innovating and ideating to make a product design or service work better for customers is the core of design thinking. Companies with successful innovation strategies all start with a deep understanding of their customers’ pain points. Design thinking helps identify what customers want, like, and are willing to pay for. It’s not about just solving problems, but about solving the right problems. This highly participatory type of brainstorming can result in game changing new customer experiences, better products, high quality services and brand interactions, and a more powerful brand identity.

What are the Benefits of Human-Centered Design?

Apple’s innovation strategies are fueled by design thinking. Uber, AirBnB, Tesla, and Warby Parker also use the design thinking process to create a great user experience for their customers. Government agencies use the approach as well. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Innovation, for example, relied on customer journey maps to understand how veterans interacted with the Dept. and the emotions they experienced, in order to improve service for those veterans. A team in the UK used the design methodology to help an autism nonprofit create living spaces and activities that not only kept residents safe but enabled them to live fuller lives.

Jon Kolko, founder of the Austin Center for Design, described the implications of design thinking in an article in the Harvard Business Review: “When done well, human-centered design enhances the user experience at every touch point and fuels the creation of products and services that deeply resonate with customers. Design is empathic, and thus implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business.”

The Design Thinking Framework

So what does a design thinking framework actually look like? It uses both a collaborative and iterative approach, first examining all possibilities (divergent thinking). It then narrows and focuses to arrive at a solution (convergent thinking). The process generates ideas that could ultimately become physical or digital products, services or processes, rather than committing to a solution from the start. Solutions are also road tested before large investments are made in new products or services.

How Does Design Thinking Differ From Other Innovation Frameworks?

  • Design thinking comprises a customer-centric framework. The first phase of the design thinking framework uses generative research, which can include interviews, user groups, surveys and contextual inquiries. This helps define a problem and identify areas of innovation and opportunity during the problem solving process. The ultimate goal is to truly understand your customer’s needs and desires.
  • Design thinking minimizes risk associated with innovation. Prototyping—whether a coded digital prototype, message, sketch, or even just post-its on the wall—allows innovation to take shape and reduces risk. Testing these prototypes with customers results in insights that inform the next round of prototype development. The product moves closer to a viable solution that meets the customers’ wants and needs.

How Do We Use Design Thinking Methodology at Material?

At Material, we use design thinking to address complex problems with a collaborative human-centered approach that matches people’s needs to solutions, not vice versa. This helps us understand, reframe, and develop solutions to problems.

For example, we helped Pfizer improve the user experience for both patients and physicians by understanding the needs and priorities of both groups. We helped revitalize one of their vitamin brands, Centrum, with product innovation ideas that would appeal to a new generation of consumers and stand out in a crowded market.

How did we accomplish this? To gather the most useful customer feedback, Material brought the lab right to consumers, allowing them to imagine the ideal products to meet their needs. Our product co-creation included concepts, ingredients, product forms, and patient benefits, enabling our team to capture the resonant ideas and the unmet needs they serve.

How Does Design Thinking Impact ROI?

Design thinking enhances the user experience—which is ultimately good for your bottom line. Companies using design thinking see significant time and cost savings, an increase in portfolio profitability, and improved ROI. A study by Forrester showed that design thinking at scale delivers an average ROI of 85%. And according to Forrester, “design thinking practices can generate substantial measurable returns and a broad range of auxiliary benefits.”

Design Thinking Offers a Path Forward

To conclude: taking a human-centered approach to design thinking and involving stakeholders in product development can reap substantial rewards for your customers and your business. Design thinking focuses on future-oriented solutions instead of past problems, resulting in accelerated product delivery, increased rates of adoption, improved ROI, and many happy customers.

Curious how to incorporate design thinking in your business? We’d love to show you how.

When you’re ready to partner, contact Material by filling out this form.