Forgot your password?

How design-thinking will help startups

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The very concept of design-thinking has originated from the design itself, however, this concept takes a much wider view and includes design, business, or managing any household/personal tasks.

Startup Jedi

We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

In this article, we will explore in detail what this concept is about and see who and how has succeeded due to this approach.


What is design-thinking

Design-thinking is a user-oriented approach to product development that involves non-standard problem-solving.

The user request in this approach comes first, while the ways of its technical implementation and economic conditions come secondary. Design-thinking assumes a deep dive into consumer experience, third-party approach to problems’ identification, and focus on personal behavioral scenarios and actions. The approach includes a creative yet very realistic rethinking of the problem.

The idea of design-thinking was firstly formulated by Herbert Simon in 1969 in the book “The Science of Artificial”. Later the concept continued to be further developed at the Stanford Institute of Design, founded within Stanford University, which continues to promote the idea of design thinking.

Design-thinking is the sum of benefits for a person, technological opportunities and business interests. The simplest and most precise definition of design-thinking is — common sense. It helps entrepreneurs to see the user’s problem and to come up with a solution for it, and then to implement the idea, using the synthesis of creativity and rationalism. Guided by design-thinking, we focus on the person himself, on his obvious and hidden needs and pains, we distinguish the problem and think up dozens of ways to solve it (from the banalest ones to the most fantastic). We choose those ideas that are beneficial both for our business and the client and that can be realistically turned into a final product. We create and test prototypes and in the result of several iterations come to a final product, that can solve the customer’s problem and consequently will be in demand on the market.

At the heart of design-thinking there are:

1. errors because they help to find the best solution to the problem;

2. the idea’s implementation, at least as a prototype;

3. communication with the user;

4. teamwork, ideas generation (brainstorming).



How can design-thinking be useful for startups?

It’s simple: at the very early stage of project development this approach will help to study the clients’ needs and then to prevent the situation when the product enters the market and turns out to be not in demand.

Design-thinking helps to avoid three classic mistakes that most startups make.

1. The project is launched because founders believe it is “cool”. The founders together with relatives and friends like the project, but the target user can be absolutely indifferent to it. For example, it may turn out that the problem declared is not actual or that the target user has already found a more convenient solution.

The first stage of design-thinking involves studying the client’s demand. The prototype will be designed to become a solution to a certain customer problem.

2. The value proposition of the project is not well developed. Very often, the product simply duplicates an existing model optimizing it on the principle “faster/cheaper/more beautiful, etc.”

Design thinking will make your product the key to solving a user problem. All the obstacles that a customer encounters will be resolved and the product will become something essential for the clients for the value it brings.

3. Startups often lack a clear model of monetization. Design-thinking immediately reveals how much and for what the client is willing to pay, so you can immediately imagine how much and in which ways you can earn from the project.

The IDEO case

A number of companies apply this approach to the production of some products, while other companies use design thinking as their official doctrine. One of these is IDEO. It was founded in the 90s of the last century by David Kelly, one of the followers of design-thinking.

Initially, the company developed digital services, then it began to engage in branding, engineering, and consulting on design-thinking. 700 Hundred employees are working in the company’s branch offices throughout the world: in Shanghai, New York, London, and Tokyo.

One of their products is a prototype of the tomography scanner Adventure Series. The problem was that children and some adults were afraid of tomography procedure. The IDEO specialists have found the solution. They decided to turn this medical procedure into an adventure, a kind of a journey to a fairy tale: the tomography room and the apparatus itself began to look like an unusual location, something curious to visit.




Steps of design thinking

This approach is divided into 6 major steps.

Step 1. Empathize

Empathy is a primary study. At this stage, we are figuring out what people do to solve a particular problem. It’s important to understand why people want to find the solution to the problem, what moral values, emotional and physical needs people have. Our main aim is to find answers to the following questions: what is the key problem of our customer/product. What kind of information do we need to deal with in order to make the product perfect?

While answering these questions we use such methods as observation, search in public sources of information, interviewing, and experiment.

At this stage, it is important to see the difference between the user’s desire and his need. For example, he/she wants a car that is able to reach 300 km per hour. It sounds weird, especially given the fact that there are not so many roads in the world where you can travel at such a speed. If we analyze carefully, we’ll see simply the person’s need for rapid movement, that can be satisfied by purchasing a ticket for an airplane or a high-speed train.

Step 2. Focus

At this stage, we are working on the information received and are drawing an overall picture. The aim is to define the customer’s question to which we need to find the answer.

We are dealing with the so-called “person-models”, or typical users of the product. We are studying their lifestyle, behavior and needs in order to find an optimal solution to the problem.

Step 3. Generate new ideas

We are thinking over different ways and means of solving the problem. We conduct brainstorming, where each of the team members expresses as many ideas as they can come up with. It is perfect if the team is staffed by specialists from different fields. The goal is to get the maximum of ideas and approaches.

When brainstorming, it is important to follow the rules:

• no criticism;

• help colleagues to develop their ideas;

• consider even the most incredible and fantastic ideas;

• visualize;

• don’t change the subject;

• try to ensure that each participant offers 10–15 ideas during the brainstorming session.

Step 4. Choose the main idea

Now it’s time to define viable ideas. Remember that the product should appeal both to the customers and to your business.

A Venn diagram will help to sort the working ideas. It represents three intersecting circles: business value, benefits for a person, and technical possibilities. Your service is at the center of this intersection of all three spheres. Accordingly, we choose the ideas that are valuable for business, useful to consumers and technically feasible.



Step 5. Prototype

A prototype is one of the design-thinking foundations. It is necessary for solving the problem, and if the solution fails to be found the first time, it will help to generate further ideas.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, time and effort to create a prototype. The prototype can be made:

• by hand (you can draw/glue it);

• with the help of special services such as, There are special programs that prototype mobile applications and allow you to add interactivity to static layouts;

• with the help of vector prototypes — using Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Sketch3, figma;

• it is also possible to create a prototype script by describing each user’s action step in order to solve the present task;

• with the help of the Lego construction set.

Step 6. Test

At this point, you are checking how your potential user will be interacting with the prototype. Is the solution offered obvious to him? What difficulties arise when the user is working with the prototype? Watch his actions and set him tasks of interacting with the prototype. Ask people what makes them unsatisfied in the model, what inconveniences they are experiencing.

As soon as you get feedback, you refine the prototype and test it again. You repeat until everyone, who has interacted with the model, says that it’s perfect.




Design thinking and Custdev

Custdev is a tool for communicating with the customer. It implies hypotheses testing through in-depth interviews. Custdev stands for customer development and considers generation of hypotheses about solving customers’ problems based on the clients’ experience.

Both Custdev and design-thinking assume transformation of an idea into a product. Communication with a client lies at the heart of these approaches, and the difference is in speed. In most cases Custdev is designed when the product or some version of it already exists, so the current goal is to capture the market. This method helps to find product/market fit and to achieve recognition among customers.

Design-thinking may be also applied in conditions of an urgent need when a consumer problem should be solved fast, but urgency is not a key feature of this approach. Design-thinking involves a methodical study of the customers’ needs, constant work on the product from the initial idea to the final version.

Thus Custdev is more suitable for the commercialization of existing technology, while design-thinking is suitable for the creation of new products based on the needs of the client.

The case ‘My Documents’ in Moscow

In Moscow, in the park MUSEON in 2016 was installed the first virtual service cabin “My Documents”. The creators of the service studied the need of their audience and found out at what time and how it would be convenient for them to get a virtual consultation service.

The essence of the project is to provide citizens with advice or services (such as filing an application for registration of marriage, inquire about traffic fines, etc) while they are walking in the city.


Where design thinking can be useful

The use of design-thinking allows to create both an unusual and understandable, attractive and memorable product. Design thinking is at the core of many corporations, for example, successful marketing Apple techniques are the result of a different perspective, as demonstrated in the company’s slogan: “Think different”.

Design-thinking is now implemented in IBM, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Philips Electronics, Airbnb. In Russia design sessions are held in Sberbank and Raiffeisenbank, the results of work with the use of design-thinking are introduced on the Moscow Government portals, in the Moscow Metro services, in Rosatom, and in the company “TELE2”.

Although we can apply this method almost everywhere, from business to personal life, most frequently it is used:

• in the development of products and services (during design research, or for rapid prototyping, or in the development of MVP);

• to activate the work of the team: brainstorming, working on errors, providing feedback; engagement;

• to develop creative thinking (in solving complex / non-standard tasks, to fight the fear of failures, to develop entrepreneurial spirit).

Korea’s S-Oil filling company followed the latter route.

The S-Oil case

The company had to earn the loyalty of new clients and to strengthen its authority in the eyes of the current clients. The conditions were not the best at all: a small budget, little time for implementation, and high competition. However, the fact that design-thinking was part of the toolkit, played a decisive role. As a result, S-Oil Corporation became the second largest oil company in South Korea. The problem, which the company had decided with the help of design-thinking, was the loss of time and the waste of fuel by people who were looking for free space in a parking lot. The solution that it proposed was to install yellow balloons in the form of arrows pointing to free parking spaces. As a result, the company not only inspired customer loyalty but also improved its image by becoming an environmentalist.



You can create a product in different ways, and design-thinking is one of them. In this case, you thoroughly study the customer’s problem: through interviews, observations, experiments, you examine the very issue. Then you generate ideas: the more ideas, the better; and select those ones that are valuable both for business and a customer and are technically feasible at the same time. The next step includes creation of a prototype of the future product and testing it. The latter helps to identify product weaknesses and to distinguish the needs that were not initially addressed. You are finalizing your product and testing it again. These iterations will be repeated until the potential user has no longer any difficulties while working with the product and is completely satisfied with its properties.

Design thinking can be useful both for business and personal tasks: organizing the working place, planning the vacation. Design thinking is a great instrument for a business not only because it allows to thoroughly analyze and create an in-demand product, but also to make the teamwork more effective — with the help of the practice of brainstorming and working on the mistakes.


Stay tuned and don’t forget to follow us:





More From Startup Jedi

Talking about the most preferred countries for startups
About the formula of trust, typology of personalities and effective communications.
Talking about working with your target audience