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Design thinking is the key to successful innovation

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Businesses need to empathise with their customers or else risk failure, says Dr Ileana Stigliani, Assistant Professor of Design and Innovation.

Over the past decade the term “design thinking” has transformed from a trendy buzzword used in the start-up community, to a widely accepted concept in the wider business world. Entrepreneurs have long spoken of the need to “think outside the box” and find creative new ways to develop products and services. But what does “design thinking” actually mean and why should businesses care about it?

In the era of the Internet of Things, the pressure to keep up with the advances in technology has never been greater. Technology now allows us to communicate and collaborate beyond borders. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, combined with the power of the internet, have revolutionized the way companies work. Storing information on a cloud computing system rather than on a PC has made information easily accessible anytime and anywhere.

Companies such as Apple, Uber, Netflix and Nintendo have changed the rules of a whole industry by getting the business model right first and using new technologies to achieve their business goals.

As consumers demand more sophisticated products and services, there’s no doubt that technology plays a vital role in how businesses continue to evolve in their quest for innovation. But with so much technology available at our finger tips, does this spell the end for the traditional human centred interaction between businesses and customers? This is where design thinking plays a crucial role in how companies formulate their business models.

At the heart of design thinking is the ability to empathise with the people you are designing a service or product for. As we progressively move towards a world dominated by technology, preserving products and services which are operated by humans rather than machines has never been more important. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and big data have transformed our lives exponentially, but their success still depends on understanding the root causes of the behaviours of the humans behind the technology.

Big data tells us that something is happening – for instance by revealing someone’s spending habits. However, it fails to tell us why people make certain choices in the first place. In other words, big data is often decontextualised from culture, values, aspirations and motivations, which represent what drives human behaviour. Failing to understand why people behave in a certain way can lead to wrong assumptions and ill-informed decisions.

To successfully innovate, businesses need to combine analytics with qualitative data to provide deeper insight into what influences people’s behaviour. This is the key to developing innovations that resonate with people on an emotional level.

Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the customer is vital for businesses to succeed. This is the essence of…

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