Generate Innovative Solutions with Strategic Design Thinking

Several years ago, a truck driver tried to pass under a low bridge.

Underestimating the truck height, the driver became firmly lodged under the bridge, unable to move his vehicle forward or backward. Emergency workers and city engineers gathered onsite, debating whether they should dismantle the truck or chip away parts of the bridge. Each proposed a solution most aligned with their area of expertise.

Just then, a boy walked by, observed the intense debate, and made a casual comment. “Why not just let the air out of the tires?”

When the solution was tested, the truck squeezed forward with ease, suffering only slight damage to his cab. The specialists were amazed at the solution and also by the fact that they were initially blind to an answer a child could easily recognize. 

A Human-Centric Way of Thinking

This story symbolizes the struggles we face when the most obvious solutions are hard to recognize.

That’s just one reason strategic design thinking has become so prevalent in business. Design thinking is a solution-based, human-centric approach to solving problems, one that embodies both a particular way of thinking and a collection of hands-on methods. In business, design thinking allows you to look at things through your customers’ eyes while devising meaningful, profitable solutions. 

Design thinking can be helpful because it pushes you to challenge existing assumptions, redefine problems, and uncover options. It is especially useful for creatively devising alternatives and prototypes with a team. While there can be three to seven phases in this process, many people find five modes to be particularly helpful. These stages do not have to follow any specific order and can occur in parallel or repeat iteratively.

5 Stages to Shaping Nimble, Profitable Ideas

Here’s how to implement the five-stage process of design thinking with your team.

1. Observe with Empathy

The first step in design thinking is to empathize with your clients and partners, investing in conversations, and identifying hidden needs by living the customer experience

During the 2020 pandemic, one design-build storage company noticed a significant uptick in interest for luxury storage sheds (can you say “man cave?”). Before pumping out products, team leaders spent considerable time with prospects, architects, and manufacturers. By looking at things from the customers’ perspective, the storage specialists became intimately acquainted with changing markets and how demand should drive innovation.

2. Define the Problem

Once you genuinely live and understand your customers’ needs, you can redefine the problem and approach it from different angles.

Through conversations with many families, designers from the storage company realized that a post-pandemic need was not for increased storage but for alternate living spaces that were affordable, durable, and even portable.

3. Ideate with Your Team

The next step is to develop solutions by involving all internal and external team members.

The wider your base, the more imaginative you can be. Creative sessions led our Midwest storage specialists to develop prefabricated backyard offices, “granny” pods, and even elegant miniature lake cabins that could be delivered and assembled on site.

4. Prototype Rapidly

After quickly building and releasing designs, it is important to make your ideas as nimble and customizable as possible.

Whether you add a “Most Popular Items” section to your website or you give customers access to “build it yourself” 3D configurator software, speed and wide-ranging accessibility are key.

5. Test and Validate 

Design thinking is an adaptable process.

Results from prototype tests may show that you’ve misinterpreted customer behaviors and needs in steps one and two. That’s ok! From here, you can return to previous steps and tweak solutions so they are best tailored for current needs. View every blueprint as a living document, and keep working to capture the right opportunities in the right way. 

As you test solutions with your team, you will unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve the end product.

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