Companies in a Digitised Landscape. Can design thinking process contribute to success?

     Without customers, for-profit organisations lose their purpose of existence. The process of digitisation further forces companies to continuously innovate and create a captivating customer experience (Robosoft Technologies, 2019). People, in particular employees, are challenged to use their skills in new, unpredictable ways to create human-centric innovations (Shute & Becker, 2010). However, being faced with seemingly unsolvable problems, triggers the need for an efficient method of creating. Interestingly, according to the 2015 Design Value Index, over a 10-year span, design-driven companies such as Apple or Nike, outperformed the competition by an astonishing 211% (Rae, 2015). This prompts a question whether using design thinking in organisations can be one of factors in achieving success.

Design thinking what is it?

     Design has always constituted a substantial part of engineering and this field’s main concern – finding possible answers to the social needs (Razzou & Shute, 2012). The authors compare it to problem solving, as it is also an instinctive endeavour motivated by the need to act on an issue. Still today, however, many consider design to be only the aesthetic part of the process, while overlooking its importance as a strategic tool with which new dimensions of value can be created (Brown, 2008). This highly iterative process combines customers’ needs, as they are consulted at multiple stages of design, with technological and economical possibilities (Novoseltseva). Early steps of this process encourage creative ideas, which can then be combined into the best solution possible, without picking just one and losing the benefits of the others (Kumar, 2017).

Figure 1. A Portrait of Steve Jobs. By A. Watson, 2006. Retrieved from

Figure 2. Stages of design thinking. From The 5 values of design thinking by M. Lee, 2019. Retrieved from

     Even though there exist many various models of the process, approach to empathy in Kembel’s five-stage method stands out (in Gestwicki & McNely, 2012). As authors explain, in this stage, not only is it necessary to find the needs and wants of a group of people, but also understand them and their environment. Only after having empathised, is it possible to appropriately define the issue, which should encompass users’ needs in a point-of-view statement (Plattner, 2010). This means, it ought to synthesise the information acquired in the previous step and explicitly address the problem from the perspective of the definer. Knowing the issue, group of design thinkers needs to generate ideas in the next stage – ideate. Importantly, it is not about coming up with the perfect solution, but rather a varied range of potential answers. Based on these, as Plattner (2010) further explains, it is then time to prototype something with which users can interact. It can be anything, such as a storyboard or a gadget, as long as the possibility can be tested. At this stage, more important information can be learned about the users and why certain aspects work well or not at all for them. As mentioned, the entire process of design thinking is highly iterative – it is necessary to repeat some steps to make the end product or service well-suited for the people. Even though it has been presented as a linear process, design thinking can take many shapes and forms, depending on the issue addressed and people involved. What is the most important, is its human-centricity.

why would a company use it?

     Because of being human-centric, design thinking minimises the uncertainty of the outcome. Users are asked for feedback during the process and they are the only ones that can provide a company with appropriate information. This can lead to creating a better customer experience with the finished product or service, hence, better company’s performance. Furthermore, encouraging creative thinking in a workplace can prove beneficial in breaking patterns of thinking. This is why design thinking is often considered as a process which should be used for so-called “wicked problems” (Buchanan, 1992). Rittel and Webber (1973) define wicked problems as ill formulated and confusing. While in academia most researchers are accustomed to having definable issues, real life often presents people with highly ambiguous problems without a simple yes or no answer (Buchanan, 1992). Humans and their needs that companies try to address are rarely one-dimensional. Design thinking can help in finding new, out-of-box solutions, leading to innovation, which can transform organisation’s competitive advantage. Moreover, employees constitute the core of every company. Hence, in order to develop the company, it is necessary to provide them with opportunities to learn. As an iterative process performed by groups during which an exchange of information occurs, design thinking contributes to the constant growth and improvement. Even though it might appear to some that the process of design thinking is long and tiresome, it has the potential to bring long-term benefits that cannot be substituted.

What are the challenges?

Figure 3. Challenges in Implementing Customer Experiences Using Design Thinking. From Challenges in adopting a Design Thinking approach for crafting delightful customer experiences and how businesses can overcome them by Robosoft Technologies, 2019. Retrieved from

     While many organisations implement design thinking to work on developing specific products, this approach would be the most beneficial when present in every company’s process (Robosoft Technologies, 2019). To achieve this, it is necessary to adopt a specific mindset. Firstly, interaction channels need to be prioritised, so this change can be progressive. Secondly, stakeholders need to understand that design thinking is an iterative process, which means that the product has to gradually evolve on the basis of users’ feedback at various stages. Furthermore, as agility and efficiency are of high priority in companies, leaders should realise this can be primarily achieved through acquiring a human-centred process, as it is the customers that judge the end product (Spry, 2017). From my own experience, I discovered how iterating through the process and focusing on the users is helpful to generate creative ideas and complete an unconventional group project. Keeping in mind the future user proves beneficial at every step of designing and many issues can only be solved with such an attitude. Interestingly, design thinking might seem complicated on paper, as it is still a rather unusual method, but once applied, the process is very intuitive. However, poor understanding of it can lead to confusion. Therefore, design thinking should be well introduced to employees to achieve the highest efficiency.


     In a competitive digitised landscape, in which companies operate today, it is crucial to remember organisations are not just Business to Client or Business, but Human to Human. Therefore, it is vital to implement processes that consider this and put people at the centre of their operations. Moreover, it rarely happens that an issue can be solved in a single try. Design thinking prompts generation of a broad range of possibilities, combine, test them with users and cycle through the process to reach a well-fitted solution. Furthermore, it can improve problem solving in any company and contribute to better agility, thus, growth.  Unfortunately, design thinking is not a magical process, which can transform any company into the next Apple. However, it can certainly help in solving issues and innovating on the way to success.

Even though a company cannot simply become like Apple just by adopting design thinking, it is worth taking a look at Apple’s success:


Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5-21. The MIT Press.

Gestwicki. P. V., & McNely, B. J. (2012). A case study of a five-step design thinking process in educational museum game design. Paper presented at Meaningful Play Conference. Michigan State University.

Kumar, V. D. (2017). Design Thinking and Wicked Problems. Retrieved from

Lee, M. (2019). The 5 values of design thinking. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Novoseltseva, E. Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation. Retrieved from

Plattner, H. (2010). An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide. Institute of Design at Stanford.

Rae, J. (2015). The Power and Value of Design Continues to Grow Across the S&P 500 dmi:Design Value Index Exemplars Outperform the S&P 500 Index (Again) and a New Crop of Design Leaders Emerge. DMI, 27(4), 4-11.

Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169.

Robosoft Technologies. (2019). Challenges in adopting a Design Thinking approach for crafting delightful customer experiences and how businesses can overcome them. Retrieved from

Spry, M. (2017). What are the challenges for organisations adopting design thinking?. Retrieved from

Watson, A. (2006). A Portrait of Steve Jobs. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

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