Design Thinking: How empathy is essential for innovation

Laura Amarillas
August 20, 2020

Imagine you are given a brand new product, and you now have to make it popular among a select group of people. Now imagine you're in your mid 30's and you have to make this product appealing to teens (shudders).

Monica and Rachel's front door

If you're a F•R•I•E•N•D•S fan, you'll remember the time when Chandler Bing has to promote a ridiculous pair of sneakers with wheels and fire designs on them. So, what does Chandler do? He put on the sneakers and rolled around on them to try to get into the teen mindset. Sure, he fell and hurt his hip. However, he then proceeded to make a successful pitch to his advertising bosses.

What our friend Chandler managed to do effectively was to keep in mind his target audience and what would appeal to them. He quite literally placed himself in their shoes.

When you listen to your consumer and empathize with them, you're better able to identify problems and create more efficient solutions. This is the fundamental essence behind Design Thinking.

Brands like Campbell Soup Co. listen to their consumers and claim that:

"The main tenet of Design Thinking is empathy for the people you're trying to design for." – David M. Kelley

According to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the d.school), Design Thinking involves 5 stages:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test
  • Implement (We could also add this sixth stage)

Each one of these stages is key to understanding what drives our users. We focus on identifying their emotions, needs, and motivations. We explore ideas on how to solve problems and aim to materialize our vision.

Furthermore, using this approach seizes opportunities instead of preventing errors. We can develop creative methods to solve problems.

Apple logo - A brand known for implementing Design Thinking

Think Different

As competition increases and gets more sophisticated, finding creative and effective solutions are a priority.

We use Design Thinking to understand our users and challenge assumptions. Innovation can lead to a clear advantage over the competition.

We can identify alternative strategies and also solve problems that might not be so apparent. As a result, we can create an efficient brand strategy & perception.

Team Effort

Since the design process may involve many different departments, it is essential to put the user in the middle of the research. Doing this makes the developing, organizing, and tracking of ideas more comfortable to manage.

Taking these actions helps to:

  • Understand the needs of your audience (clients, users, students, etc.).
  • Enhance positive results when launching a new campaign or product.
  • Develop ingenious solutions at a faster & reasonable pace.
People reviewing the design thinking process

The adaptability of Design Thinking

It's possible to apply this process in various fields such as engineering, education, business, or architecture. Think of it as a framework that adapts to your audience's needs instead of a step-by-step solution.

Some examples of global enterprises and leading brands that have successfully implemented Design Thinking are Google, Apple, Airbnb, Facebook, GE, and Samsung.

Consequently, this has helped to make it a popular subject taught among various web learning sites such as Udemy and Coursera, and at international universities worldwide, including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

Don't just think it, apply it.

In the famous words of Master Yoda, "Do. Or do not. There is no try." You have to genuinely put yourself in the consumer's shoes. To correctly apply Design Thinking, there are some actions you need to carry out. First, you need to be interested in improving your product or services.

Second, you have to understand how your audience interacts with your product. To achieve this, you have to evaluate with compelling questions.

And finally, the solution-generation process will assist you in achieving ideas on how to approach any particular case.

By understanding a problem & determining its parameters, you can redefine it and create unique opportunities.

The Design Thinking process

6 Guidelines for Design Thinking:

1. Empathize—Research Your Audience's Needs

Research with an empathetic understanding of the problem you're trying to solve. Empathy is massively vital to a human-centered design process.  Find a compelling question that inspires others to search for creative solutions.

2. Define—State Your Audience's Needs and Problems

First, compile the information gathered during the first stage. Afterward, interpret your observations and incorporate them to define the core problems. You can also create user personas before proceeding to the third stage. By inspiring new ways of thinking, you can find what your audience needs.

3. Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas for Innovative Solutions

Begin brainstorming for alternative ways to view the problem & determine innovative solutions to the problem statement you've created. Throw obvious answers aside to get to breakthrough ideas.

4. Prototype— Physically Present Your Solutions

We earn knowledge through experimentation. Build inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product or service), to research the ideas you've generated and then improve them.

5. Test—Try Every Solution

Rigorously test the prototypes to learn. Return to previous stages to make new iterations, alterations, and refinements – to find or rule out alternative solutions.

6. Implement—Put the Vision Into Effect

This is the most crucial part of design thinking: ensure that your solution is materialized and touches your users' lives. A human story is necessary when trying to inspire our audience into action.

Your goal throughout is to gain a deep understanding of the users and what their ideal product would be. Keep in mind that Design Thinking leads to real innovation only if we execute the vision.

Note: Some sources indicate more or less stages. These are not always done linearly and applied in parallel often.

Creating Solutions in a Humanized Way

Understanding Design Thinking is to realize that empathy helps us connect with people. It encourages us to develop products or services with our target users in mind.

It is an essential ability & mindset that drives business success by meeting user needs in an empathetic & creative way.

Reach out to us on Facebook or LinkedIn and let us know how Design Thinking has helped you improve your new projects and strategies. Or follow us on Instagram for a bite-size version of our blog.

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