• Business Essentials
  • Leadership & Management
  • Credential of Leadership, Impact, and Management in Business (CLIMB)
  • Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • *New* Digital Transformation
  • Finance & Accounting
  • Business in Society
  • For Organizations
  • Support Portal
  • Media Coverage
  • Founding Donors
  • Leadership Team

design thinking of company

  • Harvard Business School →
  • HBS Online →
  • Business Insights →

Business Insights

Harvard Business School Online's Business Insights Blog provides the career insights you need to achieve your goals and gain confidence in your business skills.

  • Career Development
  • Communication
  • Decision-Making
  • Earning Your MBA
  • Negotiation
  • News & Events
  • Productivity
  • Staff Spotlight
  • Student Profiles
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Alternative Investments
  • Business Analytics
  • Business Strategy
  • Business and Climate Change
  • Design Thinking and Innovation
  • Digital Marketing Strategy
  • Disruptive Strategy
  • Economics for Managers
  • Entrepreneurship Essentials
  • Financial Accounting
  • Global Business
  • Launching Tech Ventures
  • Leadership Principles
  • Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability
  • Leading with Finance
  • Management Essentials
  • Negotiation Mastery
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Power and Influence for Positive Impact
  • Strategy Execution
  • Sustainable Business Strategy
  • Sustainable Investing
  • Winning with Digital Platforms

What Is Design Thinking & Why Is It Important?

Business team using the design thinking process

  • 18 Jan 2022

In an age when innovation is key to business success and growth, you’ve likely come across the term “design thinking.” Perhaps you’ve heard it mentioned by a senior leader as something that needs to be utilized more, or maybe you’ve seen it on a prospective employee's resume.

While design thinking is an ideology based on designers’ workflows for mapping out stages of design, its purpose is to provide all professionals with a standardized innovation process to develop creative solutions to problems—design-related or not.

Why is design thinking needed? Innovation is defined as a product, process, service, or business model featuring two critical characteristics: novel and useful. Yet, there’s no use in creating something new and novel if people won’t use it. Design thinking offers innovation the upgrade it needs to inspire meaningful and impactful solutions.

But what is design thinking, and how does it benefit working professionals?

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a mindset and approach to problem-solving and innovation anchored around human-centered design . While it can be traced back centuries—and perhaps even longer—it gained traction in the modern business world after Tim Brown, CEO and president of design company IDEO, published an article about it in the Harvard Business Review .

Design thinking is different from other innovation and ideation processes in that it’s solution-based and user-centric rather than problem-based. This means it focuses on the solution to a problem instead of the problem itself.

For example, if a team is struggling with transitioning to remote work, the design thinking methodology encourages them to consider how to increase employee engagement rather than focus on the problem (decreasing productivity).

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

The essence of design thinking is human-centric and user-specific. It’s about the person behind the problem and solution, and requires asking questions such as “Who will be using this product?” and “How will this solution impact the user?”

The first, and arguably most important, step of design thinking is building empathy with users. By understanding the person affected by a problem, you can find a more impactful solution. On top of empathy, design thinking is centered on observing product interaction, drawing conclusions based on research, and ensuring the user remains the focus of the final implementation.

The Four Phases of Innovation

So, what does design thinking entail? There are many models of design thinking that range from three to seven steps.

In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase innovation framework. The phases venture from concrete to abstract thinking and back again as the process loops, reverses, and repeats. This is an important balance because abstract thinking increases the likelihood that an idea will be novel. It’s essential, however, to anchor abstract ideas in concrete thinking to ensure the solution is valid and useful.

Here are the four phases for effective innovation and, by extension, design thinking.

four phases of the design thinking process

The first phase is about narrowing down the focus of the design thinking process. It involves identifying the problem statement to come up with the best outcome. This is done through observation and taking the time to determine the problem and the roadblocks that prevented a solution in the past.

Various tools and frameworks are available—and often needed—to make concrete observations about users and facts gathered through research. Regardless of which tools are implemented, the key is to observe without assumptions or biased expectations.

Once findings from your observations are collected, the next step is to shape insights by framing those observations. This is where you can venture into the abstract by reframing the problem in the form of a statement or question.

Once the problem statement or question has been solidified—not finalized—the next step is ideation. You can use a tool such as systematic inventive thinking (SIT) in this stage, which is useful for creating an innovative process that can be replicated in the future.

The goal is to ultimately overcome cognitive fixedness and devise new and innovative ideas that solve the problems you identified. Continue to actively avoid assumptions and keep the user at the forefront of your mind during ideation sessions.

The third phase involves developing concepts by critiquing a range of possible solutions. This includes multiple rounds of prototyping, testing, and experimenting to answer critical questions about a concept’s viability.

Remember: This step isn’t about perfection, but rather, experimenting with different ideas and seeing which parts work and which don’t.

4. Implement

The fourth and final phase, implementation, is when the entire process comes together. As an extension of the develop phase, implementation starts with testing, reflecting on results, reiterating, and testing again. This may require going back to a prior phase to iterate and refine until you find a successful solution. Such an approach is recommended because design thinking is often a nonlinear, iterative process.

In this phase, don’t forget to share results with stakeholders and reflect on the innovation management strategies implemented during the design thinking process. Learning from experience is an innovation process and design thinking project all its own.

Why Design Thinking Skills Matter

The main value of design thinking is that it offers a defined process for innovation. While trial and error is a good way to test and experiment what works and what doesn’t, it’s often time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately ineffective. On the other hand, following the concrete steps of design thinking is an efficient way to develop new, innovative solutions.

On top of a clear, defined process that enables strategic innovation, design thinking can have immensely positive outcomes for your career—in terms of both advancement and salary.

Graph showing jobs requiring design thinking skills

As of December 2021, the most common occupations requiring design thinking skills were:

  • Marketing managers
  • Industrial engineers
  • Graphic designers
  • Software developers
  • General and operations managers
  • Management analysts
  • Personal service managers
  • Architectural and engineering managers
  • Computer and information systems managers

In addition, jobs that require design thinking statistically have higher salaries. Take a marketing manager position, for example. The median annual salary is $107,900. Marketing manager job postings that require design thinking skills, however, have a median annual salary of $133,900—a 24 percent increase.

Median salaries for marketing managers with and without design thinking skills

Overall, businesses are looking for talent with design thinking skills. As of November 2021, there were 29,648 job postings in the United States advertising design thinking as a necessary skill—a 153 percent increase from November 2020, and a 637 percent increase from November 2017.

As businesses continue to recognize the need for design thinking and innovation, they’ll likely create more demand for employees with those skills.

Learning Design Thinking

Design thinking is an extension of innovation that allows you to design solutions for end users with a single problem statement in mind. It not only imparts valuable skills but can help advance your career.

It’s also a collaborative endeavor that can only be mastered through practice with peers. As Datar says in the introduction to Design Thinking and Innovation : “Just as with learning how to swim, the best way to practice is to jump in and try.”

If you want to learn design thinking, take an active role in your education. Start polls, problem-solving exercises, and debates with peers to get a taste of the process. It’s also important to seek out diverse viewpoints to prepare yourself for the business world.

In addition, if you’re considering adding design thinking to your skill set, think about your goals and why you want to learn about it. What else might you need to be successful?

You might consider developing your communication, innovation, leadership, research, and management skills, as those are often listed alongside design thinking in job postings and professional profiles.

Graph showing common skills required alongside design thinking across industries

You may also notice skills like agile methodology, user experience, and prototyping in job postings, along with non-design skills, such as product management, strategic planning, and new product development.

Graph showing hard skills required alongside design thinking across industries

Is Design Thinking Right for You?

There are many ways to approach problem-solving and innovation. Design thinking is just one of them. While it’s beneficial to learn how others have approached problems and evaluate if you have the same tools at your disposal, it can be more important to chart your own course to deliver what users and customers truly need.

You can also pursue an online course or workshop that dives deeper into design thinking methodology. This can be a practical path if you want to improve your design thinking skills or require a more collaborative environment.

Are you ready to develop your design thinking skills? Explore our online course Design Thinking and Innovation to discover how to leverage fundamental design thinking principles and innovative problem-solving tools to address business challenges.

design thinking of company

About the Author

Smart. Open. Grounded. Inventive. Read our Ideas Made to Matter.

Which program is right for you?

MIT Sloan Campus life

Through intellectual rigor and experiential learning, this full-time, two-year MBA program develops leaders who make a difference in the world.

A rigorous, hands-on program that prepares adaptive problem solvers for premier finance careers.

A 12-month program focused on applying the tools of modern data science, optimization and machine learning to solve real-world business problems.

Earn your MBA and SM in engineering with this transformative two-year program.

Combine an international MBA with a deep dive into management science. A special opportunity for partner and affiliate schools only.

A doctoral program that produces outstanding scholars who are leading in their fields of research.

Bring a business perspective to your technical and quantitative expertise with a bachelor’s degree in management, business analytics, or finance.

A joint program for mid-career professionals that integrates engineering and systems thinking. Earn your master’s degree in engineering and management.

An interdisciplinary program that combines engineering, management, and design, leading to a master’s degree in engineering and management.

Executive Programs

A full-time MBA program for mid-career leaders eager to dedicate one year of discovery for a lifetime of impact.

This 20-month MBA program equips experienced executives to enhance their impact on their organizations and the world.

Non-degree programs for senior executives and high-potential managers.

A non-degree, customizable program for mid-career professionals.

LinkedIn’s chief economist: Gen AI will impact ‘solidly middle-class’ workers

A generative AI tool to inspire creative workers

Which US counties are most vulnerable in the energy transition?

Credit: Mimi Phan

Ideas Made to Matter

Design thinking, explained

Rebecca Linke

Sep 14, 2017

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an innovative problem-solving process rooted in a set of skills.The approach has been around for decades, but it only started gaining traction outside of the design community after the 2008 Harvard Business Review article [subscription required] titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, CEO and president of design company IDEO.

Since then, the design thinking process has been applied to developing new products and services, and to a whole range of problems, from creating a business model for selling solar panels in Africa to the operation of Airbnb .

At a high level, the steps involved in the design thinking process are simple: first, fully understand the problem; second, explore a wide range of possible solutions; third, iterate extensively through prototyping and testing; and finally, implement through the customary deployment mechanisms. 

The skills associated with these steps help people apply creativity to effectively solve real-world problems better than they otherwise would. They can be readily learned, but take effort. For instance, when trying to understand a problem, setting aside your own preconceptions is vital, but it’s hard.

Creative brainstorming is necessary for developing possible solutions, but many people don’t do it particularly well. And throughout the process it is critical to engage in modeling, analysis, prototyping, and testing, and to really learn from these many iterations.

Once you master the skills central to the design thinking approach, they can be applied to solve problems in daily life and any industry.

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Infographic of the design thinking process

Understand the problem 

The first step in design thinking is to understand the problem you are trying to solve before searching for solutions. Sometimes, the problem you need to address is not the one you originally set out to tackle.

“Most people don’t make much of an effort to explore the problem space before exploring the solution space,” said MIT Sloan professor Steve Eppinger. The mistake they make is to try and empathize, connecting the stated problem only to their own experiences. This falsely leads to the belief that you completely understand the situation. But the actual problem is always broader, more nuanced, or different than people originally assume.

Take the example of a meal delivery service in Holstebro, Denmark. When a team first began looking at the problem of poor nutrition and malnourishment among the elderly in the city, many of whom received meals from the service, it thought that simply updating the menu options would be a sufficient solution. But after closer observation, the team realized the scope of the problem was much larger , and that they would need to redesign the entire experience, not only for those receiving the meals, but for those preparing the meals as well. While the company changed almost everything about itself, including rebranding as The Good Kitchen, the most important change the company made when rethinking its business model was shifting how employees viewed themselves and their work. That, in turn, helped them create better meals (which were also drastically changed), yielding happier, better nourished customers.

Involve users

Imagine you are designing a new walker for rehabilitation patients and the elderly, but you have never used one. Could you fully understand what customers need? Certainly not, if you haven’t extensively observed and spoken with real customers. There is a reason that design thinking is often referred to as human-centered design.

“You have to immerse yourself in the problem,” Eppinger said.

How do you start to understand how to build a better walker? When a team from MIT’s Integrated Design and Management program together with the design firm Altitude took on that task, they met with walker users to interview them, observe them, and understand their experiences.  

“We center the design process on human beings by understanding their needs at the beginning, and then include them throughout the development and testing process,” Eppinger said.

Central to the design thinking process is prototyping and testing (more on that later) which allows designers to try, to fail, and to learn what works. Testing also involves customers, and that continued involvement provides essential user feedback on potential designs and use cases. If the MIT-Altitude team studying walkers had ended user involvement after its initial interviews, it would likely have ended up with a walker that didn’t work very well for customers. 

It is also important to interview and understand other stakeholders, like people selling the product, or those who are supporting the users throughout the product life cycle.

The second phase of design thinking is developing solutions to the problem (which you now fully understand). This begins with what most people know as brainstorming.

Hold nothing back during brainstorming sessions — except criticism. Infeasible ideas can generate useful solutions, but you’d never get there if you shoot down every impractical idea from the start.

“One of the key principles of brainstorming is to suspend judgment,” Eppinger said. “When we're exploring the solution space, we first broaden the search and generate lots of possibilities, including the wild and crazy ideas. Of course, the only way we're going to build on the wild and crazy ideas is if we consider them in the first place.”

That doesn’t mean you never judge the ideas, Eppinger said. That part comes later, in downselection. “But if we want 100 ideas to choose from, we can’t be very critical.”

In the case of The Good Kitchen, the kitchen employees were given new uniforms. Why? Uniforms don’t directly affect the competence of the cooks or the taste of the food.

But during interviews conducted with kitchen employees, designers realized that morale was low, in part because employees were bored preparing the same dishes over and over again, in part because they felt that others had a poor perception of them. The new, chef-style uniforms gave the cooks a greater sense of pride. It was only part of the solution, but if the idea had been rejected outright, or perhaps not even suggested, the company would have missed an important aspect of the solution.

Prototype and test. Repeat.

You’ve defined the problem. You’ve spoken to customers. You’ve brainstormed, come up with all sorts of ideas, and worked with your team to boil those ideas down to the ones you think may actually solve the problem you’ve defined.

“We don’t develop a good solution just by thinking about a list of ideas, bullet points and rough sketches,” Eppinger said. “We explore potential solutions through modeling and prototyping. We design, we build, we test, and repeat — this design iteration process is absolutely critical to effective design thinking.”

Repeating this loop of prototyping, testing, and gathering user feedback is crucial for making sure the design is right — that is, it works for customers, you can build it, and you can support it.

“After several iterations, we might get something that works, we validate it with real customers, and we often find that what we thought was a great solution is actually only just OK. But then we can make it a lot better through even just a few more iterations,” Eppinger said.


The goal of all the steps that come before this is to have the best possible solution before you move into implementing the design. Your team will spend most of its time, its money, and its energy on this stage.

“Implementation involves detailed design, training, tooling, and ramping up. It is a huge amount of effort, so get it right before you expend that effort,” said Eppinger.

Design thinking isn’t just for “things.” If you are only applying the approach to physical products, you aren’t getting the most out of it. Design thinking can be applied to any problem that needs a creative solution. When Eppinger ran into a primary school educator who told him design thinking was big in his school, Eppinger thought he meant that they were teaching students the tenets of design thinking.

“It turns out they meant they were using design thinking in running their operations and improving the school programs. It’s being applied everywhere these days,” Eppinger said.

In another example from the education field, Peruvian entrepreneur Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor hired design consulting firm IDEO to redesign every aspect of the learning experience in a network of schools in Peru. The ultimate goal? To elevate Peru’s middle class.

As you’d expect, many large corporations have also adopted design thinking. IBM has adopted it at a company-wide level, training many of its nearly 400,000 employees in design thinking principles .

What can design thinking do for your business?

The impact of all the buzz around design thinking today is that people are realizing that “anybody who has a challenge that needs creative problem solving could benefit from this approach,” Eppinger said. That means that managers can use it, not only to design a new product or service, “but anytime they’ve got a challenge, a problem to solve.”

Applying design thinking techniques to business problems can help executives across industries rethink their product offerings, grow their markets, offer greater value to customers, or innovate and stay relevant. “I don’t know industries that can’t use design thinking,” said Eppinger.

Ready to go deeper?

Read “ The Designful Company ” by Marty Neumeier, a book that focuses on how businesses can benefit from design thinking, and “ Product Design and Development ,” co-authored by Eppinger, to better understand the detailed methods.

Register for an MIT Sloan Executive Education course:

Systematic Innovation of Products, Processes, and Services , a five-day course taught by Eppinger and other MIT professors.

  • Leadership by Design: Innovation Process and Culture , a two-day course taught by MIT Integrated Design and Management director Matthew Kressy.
  • Managing Complex Technical Projects , a two-day course taught by Eppinger.
  • Apply for M astering Design Thinking , a 3-month online certificate course taught by Eppinger and MIT Sloan senior lecturers Renée Richardson Gosline and David Robertson.

Steve Eppinger is a professor of management science and innovation at MIT Sloan. He holds the General Motors Leaders for Global Operations Chair and has a PhD from MIT in engineering. He is the faculty co-director of MIT's System Design and Management program and Integrated Design and Management program, both master’s degrees joint between the MIT Sloan and Engineering schools. His research focuses on product development and technical project management, and has been applied to improving complex engineering processes in many industries.

Read next: 10 agile ideas worth sharing

Related Articles

A robot hand holds a brush on top of a collage of illustrated motor vehicles

New : flexible, templated dashboards for more control.  Meet Dashboards

Learn / Guides / Design thinking guide

Back to guides

4 inspiring design thinking examples and the valuable lessons they teach

Design thinking is a powerful tool for product teams, but what does it look like in practice? How have successful companies applied it—and why does it work?

Last updated

Reading time.

From tech products, healthcare, travel, and even non-profit community programs, design thinking has proven to be a useful problem-solving tool for innovators and entrepreneurs alike.

We’ve rounded up four design thinking examples that show the incredible effects this methodology can have on a company’s success. In these examples, we examine how each organization used the design thinking process to improve their product—and what you can learn from their experience.

The tools you need to design a product customers love

Use Hotjar to understand how real users experience your product—so you can improve it for them and keep them coming back for more.

Why design thinking works

Design thinking has made its way into various industries in the past decade. As a creative approach to innovation and problem-solving that focuses on users , the practice of design thinking covers everything from physical consumer products like smartphones and laptops, to digital systems built by SaaS brands, and even community-oriented projects in wellness, banking, and self-improvement.

Today, probably every tech company you can think of is using design thinking in one way or another. Some of the world’s leading brands—think Apple, Google, IBM, and Samsung—have adopted the design thinking approach, and the methodology is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. 

Why does it work for every one of them? The answer is pretty straightforward: design thinking helps product teams understand not only what will make a great product, but also how and if they should do it. It can (and has) transformed the way businesses across industries solve problems and meet customer needs.

The power of this methodology is to quickly test whether an idea, solution, or enhancement can bring real results to customers. This creative and experimental approach helps teams better understand how to create products that are not only usable, but above all, useful.

☝️ Fact: design-led companies consistently outperform their competitors

This user-first approach, coupled with early and frequent testing, helps minimize risk, drive customer engagement, and ultimately boost the bottom line. In fact, design thinking offers a proven competitive advantage .

According to a recent five-year study by McKinsey & Company, companies that consistently followed design thinking practices generated roughly 32% more revenue and 56% higher returns for shareholders than those that did not. This higher success rate was true across banking, consumer goods, and med tech industries. 

4 examples of design thinking to inspire you

Right now, you may think: “This is great, but how will it help bring my product to life faster?” To make your vision more tangible, let’s look at four exceptional examples of design thinking done right. 

Remember: at one point, these companies were standing exactly where you are. The more you know about successful design processes, the more you can take some of their best aspects and use them to enhance your own products.

design thinking of company

Airbnb knows a thing or two about design—as they should, considering two of the company’s founders are designers. In 2008, they teamed up with an engineer to solve one essential travel problem: where to stay.

How Airbnb uses design thinking

To do that, they knew they had to get into the heads of the people who were going to use Airbnb and see what they were actually looking for. Their solution involved traveling to New York, renting a camera, and spending time with customers in their homes to take good pictures of the houses. It wasn’t scalable or very technical, and they did it with no preliminary study—they were only guided by intuition.

The team took a chance, skipped what they had learned at school about how a business should work, and followed the steps of the design thinking methodology: empathize, define, design, prototype, and test. Then, they doubled their income overnight.

Today, design thinking is still part of Airbnb’s DNA and is embedded in everything they do: it’s how they foster creative culture, iterate on their product, and make meaningful connections with a global community of travelers— all by putting the human experience at the center . Here are a few design-led projects that have happened over the years at Airbnb:

The “Snow White” project : a user journey visualization that illustrates the critical moments of truth within the host, guest, and hiring processes in three stories.

Empathy travel : a program that immerses team members into the customer experience. Every new employee has to take a trip in their first or second week at Airbnb and document it.

Design Language System : design teams often struggle to reach a cadence that balances the creative process and cycles of continuous innovation. This process led to the development of Airbnb’s new Design Language System, a collection of components defined by shared principles and patterns, as well as a suite of internal and third-party tools that allow their teams to work smarter and with more alignment.

Design is fundamentally about making decisions through the lens of what will be useful and engaging to people.

What Airbnb has achieved through design thinking 

Their unusual and more creative approach paid off. By implementing design thinking principles, Airbnb has singlehandedly defined the experience economy and set themselves apart as an industry leader. 

From a program that listens and responds to hosts' feedback, to encouraging gestures that create customer delight at moments where the product experience might break, Airbnb has used design thinking to solve incredibly complex and interesting challenges , including:

Dealing with a unique global inventory of homes and experiences

Understanding how people get inspired and plan travel

Creating tremendous freedom for bold, creative thinking and making for employees

As for revenue, the company has gone from $200 a week to revolutionizing tourism and achieving a valuation of $110 billion . Guests have booked over 1 billion stays, and there are 5.6 million global listings in 100,000 cities and over 200,000 regions.

#Snow White storyboards at Airbnb

 What you can learn from Airbnb  

Put the human experience at the center: product teams at Airbnb know that their work is about building a software-enabled trust system, so people can safely share their homes, their passions, and their time with travelers. Trust is what brings together what is desirable from a human point of view, with what is technologically feasible and economically viable . Alex Schleifer, Chief Design Officer at Airbnb, shared that their teams always ground themselves in real human behaviors and needs through research, whether they’re dealing with machine learning or a new emerging interface.

Never stop experimenting and iterating : while Airbnb is data-driven, they don’t let data push them around. Instead of developing reactively to metrics, the team works proactively, often starting with a creative hypothesis, implementing a change, reviewing how it impacts the business, and then repeating that process.

Take measured, productive risks : individual team members at Airbnb make small bets on new features, and then measure if there’s a meaningful return on the bet. If there’s a payoff, they send more resources in that direction. If not, there’s a lot to learn from failure .

💡Pro tip: combine quantitative metrics with qualitative feedback to inform designs and keep users at the center of your work. 

Airbnb doesn’t rely on (big) data analytics and A/B testing alone. Instead, they combine quantitative insights with people’s ability to synthesize and make sense of data from all sources .

Sasha Lubomirsky, former Head of User Research at Airbnb, said that “a lot of design thinking is about being creative [but it is also] about looking at what we know, triangulating information that we have, and having that inspire creativity.”

You don’t have to collect, analyze, and distribute UX research data manually. Use Hotjar ’s product experience insights tools to collect and analyze different kinds of information, then use what you learn to enhance the user experience.

Hotjar’s tools combine behavioral and attitudinal research methods through a blend of quantitative and qualitative data. Use Hotjar Surveys and Feedback widgets to collect voice-of-customer (VoC) feedback, and Heatmaps and Session Recordings to round out the picture with behavioral insights.

 2. UberEats

design thinking of company

UberEats’ use of design thinking is nothing short of inspiring. Their evolution shows that creating the future of an industry takes empathy, innovation, and an appetite for complex logistical challenges —elements that make design thinking a successful problem-solving approach.

How UberEats uses design thinking

The design team at UberEats constantly uses design thinking principles to fuse modern, state-of-the-art technology with the fundamental act of enjoying a meal. And it’s safe to say they've had a successful implementation.

Immersion, iteration, and innovation power the UberEats design team on their mission to make eating effortless. Their approach allows them to solve complex logistical challenges with new technology that complements people’s deep connection to food. Let’s take a closer look at some actionable design thinking projects:

→ Immersion 

The Walkabout Program : UberEats designers are routinely sent to a city to learn about its transportation infrastructure, delivery and restaurant industry, and overall food culture.

Fireside Chats : they invite delivery partners, restaurant workers, and customers to gain feedback on the app.

Order Shadowing : they test their prototypes by watching their customers’ real world experiences while using it.

To understand all our different markets and how our products fit into the physical conditions of each city, we constantly immerse ourselves in the places where our customers live, work, and eat.

→ Iteration 

Swift iteration : UberEats product teams know they need to rapidly build products so their customer base can grow quickly. Swift iteration allows them to move fast and ensure they get the design just right.

Rapid field testing : researchers and designers take mock-ups and prototypes into restaurants, inside delivery vehicles, and into people’s homes to test products in the places they’ll be used.

Multivariate testing : the team simultaneously tests multiple versions of a feature to quickly determine which performs the best. Shipping multiple options at once, rather than sequentially iterating on one version, helps them find the best-performing design faster.

Operations team experiments : they test concepts and designs in a single city to quickly gauge opportunity. For example, the first version of the “Most Popular Items” category in UberEats menus started as an operations team experiment in Toronto before later iterations were released to all users in all cities.

→ Innovation

Innovating on experiences: the UberEats product team always takes the opportunity to innovate on user experience and evolve from the traditional model of food delivery. This includes providing drivers with the option to do both rides and deliveries so they can stay busier and earn more money while online with Uber, designing a restaurant sales dashboard to let chefs monitor the demand of individual dishes and tweak recipes to improve their menus, and creating the “Under 30 Minutes” menu for people who want to leverage the speed of Uber to get food fast.

Workshops, conferences, meetups, and talks: they routinely gather representatives and use the design thinking methodology to look at challenges in new ways. They share experiences from similar services to generate insights and inspiration, then run creative exercises to generate a wide range of ideas. These same designers also attend numerous out-of-office conferences, meetups, and talks related to the restaurant industry, cuisine trends, and food technology.

Insights from other food innovators: the team stays inspired by observing how other companies are shaping the future of food. Seeing how others innovate in similar problem spaces helps their product teams think differently and generate new ideas about their products and services.

What UberEats has achieved through design thinking

Today, UberEats is the fastest growing delivery service, with a $2.8 trillion addressable market, making up 22% of the company’s total bookings in 2019. They’ve already:

Expanded to over 80 cities worldwide 

Provided restaurants with new ways to reach customers and build their businesses

Created another, often easier option for delivery partners to earn money with Uber

Invented new ways for hungry people to find and enjoy the food they love

Now focused on growth into new markets and growing from 3% to nearly 25% of Uber's revenue, the UberEats design team hasn't had time to slow down. 

What you can learn from UberEats 

The UberEats design thinking experience is a valuable lesson for a brand’s ability to move quickly, build empathy with customers, and make complex services run smoothly . Here’s how you can apply these lessons to your own product:

Empathize with the user experience: UberEats designers are constantly interviewing and prototyping with the people who will be using the product the most: restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and meal recipients. Once you find your target, you can observe, create design thinking problem statement examples, and iterate as soon as you identify opportunities to reduce assumptions and improve your design. 

Observe the design in use: UberEats takes every opportunity to hear from users directly. They follow partners on deliveries, visit restaurants during the rush, and sit in people’s homes while they order dinner. Watching how your product is used in the wild helps you better understand the needs of your customers, how well your designs address those needs, and what challenges exist in the real world that you can’t replicate in the office.

Iterate quickly and innovate constantly: the UberEats team uses design thinking to stimulate novel solutions to the problems and opportunities their product addresses. If you’re in your own ideation phase, take note of the UberEats innovation workshops, where team members from many disciplines gather to brainstorm possible improvements. These structured brainstorms shake up the mindset of the team, push their creativity, and spawn innovative ideas.

💡Pro tip: you don’t need to travel to your customers’ homes to get their feedback. Use Hotjar to talk directly to them or watch them interact with your product. 

Heatmaps help you identify click and scroll patterns, and Session Recordings let you track the entire user journey within your product. Deploy Feedback widgets to learn what users think while browsing, and understand blocks in navigation. 

These tools help your design team see what your customers see, which is crucial at the testing stage, when you’re often too close to the design to understand the experience from the outside.

design thinking of company

An example of a Hotjar Session Recording


Design thinking can do (and has done) wonders for tech products and their users. But that’s not all it can do. For Citrix, a cloud company that enables mobile work styles, the change was felt more on an internal level, by building a culture of design thinking.

How Citrix uses design thinking 

Reweaving the Citrix corporate DNA meant harnessing the creative capability of their employees by developing design thinking leaders . 

It began when several senior executives attended the design thinking boot camp at Stanford’s d.school . They returned from the boot camp with a new vision for product development processes. One complete overhaul of internal processes later—and rethinking how the company innovated and built products—and Citrix had become a leader of design-driven excellence and innovation.

Since then, Citrix has developed an internal team that works to empower all divisions of the company—from executives to individual contributors—to make innovation and customer focus central to their thinking. Often referred to as a ‘center of excellence’ for design-driven innovation, this new organization brings design thinking and doing to the highest levels of executive leadership.

Through several programs, the customer became the center of our focus, from how we set the product roadmap to how we tuned the existing product set. We challenged ourselves to push beyond the status quo. 

The new Business Design team started to infuse design thinking into the organization from multiple directions: 

Top-down : by continuing to enlist VPs and key employees in the Stanford programs, which helps key stakeholders understand the language and tools of design thinking, gain an external perspective on their work, and be motivated to support design thinking initiatives.

Sideways : by holding design thinking workshops for mid-level managers and individual contributors, empowering them with a means of tackling key challenges.

Bottom-up : by leveraging various employee touch-points—such as global meetings, the company intranet, and new-hire training—to disseminate key messages about what it means to have a design thinking approach.

#A design collaboration room at Citrix

What Citrix has achieved through design thinking

Citrix teams have already run more than 50 projects using the design thinking methodology, focusing both on the employee experience and the customer experience. The customer has become the center of their focus, from how they set the product roadmap to how they tune the existing product set. 

At a company level, this has meant almost 4000 employees who have participated in a form of hands-on design training, an improved learning experience for customers, better use of product data to improve customers' support experience, and a successful legal compliance training workshop redesign.

Across the industry, results include:

Return on investment: on the compliance training project alone, Citrix calculated a conservative estimate of $3 million savings over the first four years. By streamlining the course rollout process, reminders, and curricula, they estimated savings of 3,600 hours of employee time in 2013, and over 9,000 hours in 2014.

Respect and recognition: Citrix products have won more than 20 awards since they adopted a design-focused approach. The organization has been recognized as one of Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies. Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute has also selected Citrix as a partner in cutting edge research on evaluation tools for innovation.

#Design leader Catherine Courage speaking about igniting creativity to transform corporate culture at TEDxKyoto 2012

What you can learn from Citrix 

Design thinking beyond buzzwords : while Citrix teams practice design thinking every day, those outside of this methodology might see it as some form of magical thinking. To make others care about the practice behind the buzzword, relate it back to the business and highlight relevant examples of design thinking’s business impact. Then, make the connection between examples from other companies and the challenges facing your organization.

Highlighting the value of design thinking to your team: often, as companies scale, many employees have limited or no contact with the user, especially for people in non-design or leadership roles. Luckily, through structured activities, you can teach people to focus on the problems that matter to customers and improve the bottom line. As employees evaluate and explore ideas earlier, you’ll waste less money on the wrong issues.

Pitching to (and getting buy-in from) leadership : leaders need to know two things—what design thinking is and how it meets business goals. At Citrix, the strategy for obtaining executive buy-in was to get a few senior leaders on board, first. Once they bought in, other leaders started showing up, wanting to learn more and engage their teams. Following this example, draw up a list of the key leaders and influencers in your organization. Ask yourself: where do you see seeds of innovation popping up? Who is looking to engage more with your customers?

design thinking of company

No list of exceptional design thinking examples would be complete without mentioning Apple's approach to innovation, management, and design. 

Today, the company may be most known for its physical products—like the iconic iPhone, iPad, and MacBook—but it was their iOS platform strategy that started their journey as an industry innovator .

They designed the initial product as a platform, with an architecture that could accommodate the development and production of the derivative products. Decades later, this decision allowed for innovations that put the user’s needs at the center —like facial recognition software, an intuitive user experience, a transformed music-listening experience, and more.

How Apple uses design thinking

From its product designs to Apple stores, everything is founded on design thinking principles. 

After Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he started to apply the design thinking characteristics that reflected his vision for Apple products:

Focusing on real people’s needs and desires, rather than only the needs of the business

Building empathy by helping people learn to love Apple products

Prioritizing the design, rather than the engineering work, by having designers consider both the form and function of the product

Building simple yet user-friendly products, rather than complex hard-to-use ones

Apple makes no secret of what drives everything that happens inside its massive compound in Cupertino, California: its users. From the smallest detail of Apple packaging to what the company calls its ''largest product'' (Apple stores), the user experience is never far from Apple employees' minds .

Their operating system was built by focusing on what consumers wanted, and then figuring out how to achieve it on the technical side. Apple’s products start with design, based on what people need and want, and are not limited by technology. The engineers are then pushed to use the same kind of creativity and innovation to make it happen.

The company puts a premium on design thinking in all its products, from digital to physical. That starts with figuring out what customers really want , developing products based on identified needs , and then creating prototypes and testing them to see how successful they are.

Our products are all about the people who use them. What drives us is making products that give people the ability to do things they couldn't do before.

What Apple has achieved through design thinking

Apple’s entire product development process may be one of the most successful design thinking examples ever implemented. With a valuation exceeding $2 trillion , there’s a lot that designers can learn from Apple and introduce into their own design environments.

Their dedication to continuous discovery and innovation has produced a series of user-centered technological hardware, operating systems, software, and services that set an industry standard. Examples include tools you (probably) use everyday—like the Apple TV, iMac, iPad, iPhone, MacBook, Apple Watch, AirPods, Bridge OS, iOS, App Store, FaceTime, iTunes, and iCloud.

#Suite of Apple products

What you can learn from Apple 

Apple’s history with innovation provides a clear lesson about how design and innovation can turn company failure into market success and a leading position in a competitive market. Here are a few actions you can apply to your own design thinking strategy:

Integrating customer experience into the product: customer experience has always been integrated into Apple’s product design and development. A lot of it empirically drives with iterative customer involvement into the design and development stages, through a constant testing and feedback process. Usability testing and improvement through user feedback should become an important step in your product development process.

Constant iteration of the product: the defining trait of an Apple product is that it continually evolves. Apple understands and promotes the importance of design as a motivation for continued innovation, rather than a static approach that assumes a single conclusion.

💡Pro tip: stay on the continuous discovery track by integrating Hotjar into your routine.

Continuous discovery allows your product team to question assumptions, learn how users really think, and constantly improve the products you deliver.  

Using tools like Hotjar gives you a constant stream of information on what your customers are feeling, how they're experiencing your product, and what their specific needs are.

Integrating Hotjar product experience tools into your routine can help you:

Discover opportunities to optimize by watching recordings of users during the sign up flow or after a feature launch

Spot unforeseen problems by creating a routine where you check feedback regularly

Gather new product ideas on an ongoing basis by using surveys

3 key takeaways to implement design thinking into your workflow

There’s a lot more that can be said about design thinking, but it’s actually a very straightforward concept. Implementing this methodology into your workflow becomes easier when you follow these core tenets:

1. Focus on customer problems first

It can be tempting to focus on creating a flashy, high-tech product. Instead, focus on what your users are asking for . Run user interviews and use Hotjar Surveys and Feedback widgets to send out a mix of full-scale surveys and quick questions on the fly. Watch Recordings to see what your users see and identify their pain points.

Whether it’s a new app, a community service, or a physical product, the best thing you can do to innovate successfully is keep your user in mind at every step in the design process. 

2. Generate and iterate on ideas 

When you understand the problem, the ideas will follow, and the way to a solution is more straightforward. It’s your job to refine these ideas through rapid prototypes and iterations that can lead to breakthrough outcomes.

As you interact closely with your customers and start to have great ideas for products, don’t be afraid to put together a round of product experimentation to prove the value. Run usability , A/B , and split testing with dedicated focus groups of target users. Use surveys and carefully-placed widgets to gather opinions on design elements and the overall product experience (PX).

Remember that design thinking is not a formal step-by-step process, but a framework and mindset. It’s focused on a bias towards action, a human-centered viewpoint, and continual experimentation. The core idea is that by deeply understanding customer needs, opportunities for innovation will emerge.  

3. Use feedback to focus and refine ideas

Listening to and working with customers can help you move quickly from ideas to useful solutions.

As a designer, it’s easy to disconnect from your users. Don’t be afraid to take risks and immerse yourself in the experience of those who will actually interact with your product . Then, implement their feedback and test your results. Eventually, you’ll land on that final iteration with the potential to change the world around you.

For a full picture of the product experience, collect voice-of-customer (VoC) insights to learn what users think in their own words. Complement this qualitative data with neutral observations of user behavior.

Start by using tools like Hotjar’s Heatmaps to observe users' scroll and click patterns. Then, watch Session Recordings to follow the entire user journey across your site or product, and use Feedback tools to ask users what’s behind their decisions.

FAQs about design thinking examples

What can you learn from design thinking examples.

The value of examples lies in the ways they show how design thinking can transform products and services. Analyzing stories of success will help you understand:

How design thinking impacts businesses in various industries, and

How to craft your change strategy from idea to results.

As a product designer, highlighting relatable examples of design thinking’s business impact can also help you get peer and executive buy-in. Then, make the connection between examples from other companies and the challenges facing your organization, and demonstrate how similar companies or industries used design thinking to solve that problem (include numbers to prove results).

How can you start with design thinking?

To successfully implement design thinking across your own organization, start by aligning with or creating a design thinking process for execution and collection of results. Then, quantify those results. These key questions help guide the discussion towards actionable insights:

Why do you think this challenge is worth tackling? Why now?

Who are your target users? Who might benefit inside the company?

What constraints (technology, timing, budget) will the team face? 

How will you measure success?

How does design thinking work for product teams?

By focusing on user insights, product teams gain invaluable feedback to proactively improve their products—feedback that can be cultivated during every stage of the design thinking process.

The core tenets of design thinking are simple: focus on customer problems, iterate on ideas, ask for feedback to refine those ideas, and re-start the process all over again, from the beginning.

By leveraging the design thinking framework, product teams can more quickly and efficiently:

Discover the truly unmet needs of customers

Reduce risk associated with launching new products

Generate solutions that are disruptive, rather than incremental

Align teams across the organization

Design thinking methodology

Previous chapter

Design thinking problem statements

Next chapter

Our Insights

Twisted Color Paper Stripes - stock photo

Designing out of difficult times

Redesigning the design department

Redesigning the design department

Stone and sand

Japan’s design imperative

A design-led approach to embracing an ecosystem strategy

A design-led approach to embracing an ecosystem strategy

Five Fifty: Leading by design

Five Fifty: Leading by design

McKinsey Design blog


Impact on human lives, the new possible: human stories shaping a post-covid-19 world.

Introducing the New Possible

Design thinking

Using empathy to put customers, clients, and end users at the center of the problem-solving equation is the foundation of design thinking. From the article: Building a design-driven culture

Customer-Experience Design

The future of the high-rise: Creating people-centric spaces

The Next Normal – The future of the high-rise: Creating people-centric spaces

Would you like to learn more about business value of design.

Elevating customer experience excellence in the next normal

Elevating customer experience excellence in the next normal

Emerging from COVID-19: Australians embrace their values

Emerging from COVID-19: Australians embrace their values

The ever-changing store: Taking an agile, customer-centric approach to format redesign

The ever-changing store: Taking an agile, customer-centric approach to format redesign

Winning in automation requires a focus on humans

Winning in automation requires a focus on humans

The power of digital.

Digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. From the article: What digital really means

Product Design

Beyond COVID-19: The next normal for packaging design

Beyond COVID-19: The next normal for packaging design

How to drive winning battery-electric-vehicle design: Lessons from benchmarking ten Chinese models

How to drive winning battery-electric-vehicle design: Lessons from benchmarking ten Chinese models

How generative design could reshape the future of product development

How generative design could reshape the future of product development

Making cost engineering count

Making cost engineering count

Fusing data and design to supercharge innovation--in products and processes

Fusing data and design to supercharge innovation—in products and processes

Accelerating product development: The tools you need now

Accelerating product development: The tools you need now

Industry perspectives.

Why shared mobility is poised to make a comeback after the crisis

Why shared mobility is poised to make a comeback after the crisis

Make it better, not just safer: The opportunity to reinvent travel

Make it better, not just safer: The opportunity to reinvent travel

The value of design in global public health

The value of design in global public health

How inclusive design can reconnect people with government

How inclusive design can reconnect people with government

Would you like to learn more about mckinsey design.

Tapping into the business value of design

Tapping into the business value of design

Creating high-performance innovation teams at scale

Creating high-performance innovation teams at scale


The power of design thinking

Connect with mckinsey design, find your ideal job.

  • Book a free demo

How to Use Design Thinking to Guide Your Company’s Innovation

We’ll take a deep dive into the design thinking process, and show you what it means in practice to focus on the user experience above all else.

design thinking of company

All great innovations start with a key question: How can you make life easier for your users or customers?

No matter what industry you’re in, one of the best ways to approach problem solving is to start the innovation process by looking at what the user needs to have a great experience with the product or service. If you make that the top priority, it’s hard to go wrong. 

A great way to guide this process? Use design thinking. 

By focusing on human experience above all else, design thinking can help companies of all kinds to develop world-changing innovations. The iPhone, the home printer, even the humble revolving door - each of these great innovations started with a clear focus on design thinking. 

With our help, you’ll soon be able to use this creative problem solving approach to discover and develop new ideas for your users. 

Let’s jump in! 

What is design thinking? 

At its core, design thinking is an ideation process with a human-centered focus. 

Design thinking encourages organizations and businesses to focus on the human point of view above all else, and to build this focus into each step of the product development cycle. This means designing products and services with people’s needs and preferences firmly in mind.

Let’s think for a second about a company designing ATM interface software. In this example, the priority should be to design functional, dependable, and secure software that allows users to complete their transactions in a clear, simple, and intuitive way.

Atms Img7568

By using design thinking to guide this software development, the company would start by putting themselves in the shoes of the user and imagining a perfect interaction with an ATM. Then, they could work backward from there to design software to ensure this seamless experience.

This is the value of design thinking in action. Using design thinking allows innovators to empathize, and to focus intensely on what is likely to have the greatest positive impact for users and customers. 

As innovation theorist Jeane Liedtka says in her Harvard Business Review article ‘ Why Design Thinking Works ’, design thinking has the potential to “unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes.”

So far, so good. But what does design thinking look like in practice? What are the necessary steps companies need to complete to guide their innovation process with design thinking? And how can companies translate design thinking into their business models? 

It all comes down to five key steps. 

Design thinking in five steps

As an approach to innovation, design thinking offers companies of all shapes and sizes a way to place user experience at the forefront of the innovation process. If you’re starting with an idea in its very earliest stages, then design thinking is a great way to get things off the ground. 

In practice, design thinking involves five key steps guiding companies and businesses: 

Design Thinking Process

Now, let’s take a look at these one by one, with examples of the specific practices and milestones to expect at each stage. Follow these five steps, and you can unlock amazing new solutions to benefit your users and customers.

Step #1: Empathize

When using a design thinking innovation process, your first step is to develop an empathetic understanding of the problem at hand. 

This involves collecting as much information as possible about the day-to-day user experience, and doing whatever you can to understand what your customers go through when interacting with your products and services. 

Often, this means physically placing yourself in your customers’ shoes. You need to do what you can to understand the motivations and experiences of your users in order to develop a personal understanding of what it means to use your products. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do your users and customers go through when interacting with your products?
  • What are the most difficult aspects of this process? What are the smoothest? 
  • How would you describe the ideal experience for your customers? And how does the status quo differ from this?

Let’s stick with the example of ATM software. In this case, you and your team would oversee user testing to determine how easy your interface is to use, and where the pain points are.

This should be a collaborative process, with representatives from different business units. Often, the best insights can come from those who don’t deal with the product every day. Don’t be afraid to get your finance team involved, either! 

As a result of the empathize step, you can then draft a customer experience report detailing the practical demands of the product, and how the status quo can be improved to fit these demands. Now, you’re in a position to define the problem at hand.

Step #2: Define

Once you’ve completed the empathize step, you can pull together the information you have to define the core problems and identify potential solutions. 

In practice, this means moving from a customer experience report to a problem definition. For the ATM software company, this means turning a lengthy report on the shortfalls of status quo ATM software into an aspirational problem definition. 

In the ATM software example, this could be something like: “Bank clients need a quick, dependable, and secure way to access bank services via ATMs. The status quo product is slow, confusing, and demands too much from the user.” 

The define step is crucial to help your design team select great ideas for the functions, features, and interactive elements that will enable your business to solve the problem facing your customers. By addressing each of these issues, you can generate a better user experience. 

As a milestone for the define stage, you should work towards having a detailed problem definition to guide the ideation step. 

You may also wish to call this an opportunity definition - it’s up to you! 

Step #3: Ideate

Next up, it’s time to take your in-depth knowledge of the customer experience and the problem definition and start generating ideas.

Thanks to your hard work during the empathize step, you now have an in-depth understanding of where your existing products and services are falling short. You now know the problem at hand, including the exact limitations of the status quo.

Now, the fun part can begin! 

During the ideation stage, you can search for creative new ways to plug the gaps you’ve identified, and can throw around outside-the-box ideas for new products and services. It’s crucial to get as many ideas or potential solutions on the table as possible, so don’t be too picky. 

As a result of the ideation process, you should have a range of detailed innovation proposals ready to be assessed for potential prototyping. Once you have these proposals on hand, you can sift through them and determine which of them you want to develop. 

When developing innovation proposals, be sure to focus on the following questions:

  • What are some of the ways you could solve this problem and provide an even greater customer experience? 
  • What are the limitations and constraints for these ideas? 
  • What does conventional wisdom say about these products or services? 
  • How can you challenge and subvert this conventional wisdom
  • What are some of the unmet needs that your product could address?

Once again, let’s return to the ATM software example. As a result of the ideation step, the company would have a suite of high-level design concepts to test for potential prototyping. 

Step #4: Prototype

Now you’ve completed the ideation process and assessed the suite of high-level design concepts, you and your design team can now turn the frontrunners into a series of prototypes: inexpensive, bare-bones versions of the product or service.


The prototyping stage is all about experimentation. Your aim is to identify the most suitable solution to match the problems, opportunities, and pain points identified in the first three steps. You need to take the time to explore a range of different options to determine which is best. 

The details of how you do this will depend on the nature of your business and the outcomes of your earlier exploratory work. For example, the ATM software company would turn a range of design concepts into bare-bones software schemes to show how they would work in practice. 

The prototyping step is where you can turn ideas into practice, focusing on product design, practical demands, and the capabilities and limitations of existing technology.  

As a result of completing the prototyping step, the company should have a range of functional prototypes on hand ready to test. 

Step #5: Test

With a range of prototypes developed in accordance with the empathize, define, and ideation steps, you’re now ready to rigorously test the potential solutions. 

Once again, how exactly you wish to test these prototypes will depend on the nature of your business model. In the case of the ATM software company, the testing stage would involve customer focus groups, followed by alterations and refinements as needed.

This step is all about harnessing the power of customer insights and market research, and seeing how your potential products are likely to work in practice out in the market. 

As a result of the testing stage, you can expect to have a validated solution report highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of specific proposals. 

Once you’ve completed the testing phase, you’ll be in a position to get started with turning one or more of the prototypes into functional products. 

Or, if you’re not quite happy with your solutions yet, you can always go back a step or two and take another look at your ideation results, then work ahead to come to a different prototype.

Pros and cons of design thinking

There’s a simple reason why market leaders like IBM , Google , and Tesla all use design thinking as an innovation methodology to guide their product development: it helps them see the world through the eyes of their customers. 

However, that’s not the only advantage when it comes to design thinking:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Design thinking is a great way to test ideas without committing resources. Companies can establish how helpful a new product or service is likely to be, without having to go through the entire process of product development.
  • Non-linear problem solving: The design thinking process is non-linear, meaning companies can jump from step to step as needed. For example, if the prototyping step didn’t yield a working solution, the company could re-start at the ideation process.
  • Managing complexity: Above all else, design thinking gives companies a great way to solve complex problems by focusing on user needs and the limitations of existing products and services.
  • Market discovery: Design thinking can help companies discover entirely new markets, for example, the iPhone. This world-changing innovation started with the simple question of how to avoid customers juggling multiple devices. By drilling deep into how to make things easier for people, Apple basically invented the smartphone market.
  • Tailored solutions: Design thinking ensures a focus on user experiences by capturing the mindsets of the customers you have in mind during the design process. This results in highly tailored customer-centric solutions.

Despite these advantages, the design thinking process isn’t suitable for every product development project.  

For example, innovations that aren’t customer-facing (e.g. background software coding) wouldn’t require the level of customer empathy and responsiveness built into the design thinking methodology. In these cases, starting with a customer experience report would be overkill.

Given how involved the design thinking process is, it isn’t as suitable for solution refinement, either. Instead, it should be used from the early stages, when a company needs to gather customer experience information and use this information to identify potential solutions.

As with other ideation processes, design thinking can’t completely address the risk of innovation, either. This means no matter how rigorously you focus on your users’ needs, you could still emerge from the process with a less than perfect solution. 

Now, let’s take a look at a modern example of design thinking in action: AirBNB. 

Design thinking in action: Airbnb

It may come as a surprise, but accommodation platform Airbnb is one of the best examples of design thinking methodology out there today.

Set aside some of the gimmicky aspects of the app (we’re looking at you, Idaho Giant Potato Tour), and you can see the basics of design thinking at work: a relentless focus on user-centric solutions grounded in a deep understanding of the pain points when it comes to travel.

Airbnb's world-changing innovation is driven by a thorough understanding of the travel and accommodation experience at the user level. Early in its development, the company realized how fed up travelers were with expensive hotels, impersonal services, and bland, underwhelming cookie-cutter travel experiences.

Airbnb Image

To overcome these limitations, Airbnb used design thinking skills. As a result, it built a platform to allow anyone to enter the travel and accommodation industry, and to offer users personalized, memorable experiences - no matter where in the world they wanted to go.

This deliberate business design shows how design thinking works in practice. By putting themselves in the traveler’s shoes, AirBNB found a way to solve a number of pain points at once. This way, they could reframe business opportunities and change the market.

The nature of Airbnb’s solution, and the unbelievable popularity of the app, reflects user dissatisfaction with the status quo. This is a great example of design thinking in action, and a great example of a great innovation focusing on the customer journey above all else.

By focusing on the pain points and difficulties faced by users around the world, design thinkers can unlock significant competitive advantages for their businesses. Like Airbnb, they can even generate entirely new business models.

Conclusion: Put the user first with design thinking

Using a design thinking approach is a great way to find world-changing innovations, and to focus on satisfying the needs of end-users and customers.

After all, there’s one common thread running through every single successful innovation in history: a smart understanding of the real-world needs of customers, users, and fans. 

In practice, it’s not all that complicated to put a design thinking methodology to work. Companies just need to follow the simple five-step design thinking process:

  • Empathize: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What can you offer to make their lives easier? 
  • Define: Now that you know what your customers are dealing with on the ground, how can you define the business opportunity at hand? 
  • Ideate: Get whiteboarding! What are some potential solutions to the pain points faced by your customers? How can you subvert conventional wisdom in unexpected ways?
  • Prototype: Now, select a handful of those innovative proposals and turn them into bare-bones prototypes. Don’t worry about making them perfect just yet. 
  • Test: Finally, take the most promising prototypes and submit them to intensive customer testing, including focus groups and expert review. Fingers crossed, you’ve got a winner.

By focusing on real-world usefulness, design thinking allows businesses of all stripes to put the user first, and reap the rewards of customer-centric innovation. 

So, get cracking with these five steps, and see what design thinking can do for you!

design thinking of company

Jonathan Livescault

Former Strategy Consultant turned Entrepreneur. Excited to help every day corporate innovation teams get results and build their company's future.


Want to fix your innovation engine and deliver results now?

Latest articles.

Everything You Need to Build a Culture of Innovation

Everything You Need to Build a Culture of Innovation

In this post, we will have a look at what you need to create and foster a lasting innovation culture in your company.

The Ultimate Guide to Innovation Management

The Ultimate Guide to Innovation Management

This guide sets out the what, why, and how of innovation management. You’ll find key terms, common management strategies, and excellent examples of innovation in action.

How to Develop an Efficient Innovation Strategy

How to Develop an Efficient Innovation Strategy

We cover everything you need to develop an efficient innovation strategy. Read-on!

About this site

Design thinking in context, design thinking today.

  • Designer's Mindset
  • Adoption and Integration
  • Teaching and Learning
  • New Applications
  • Privacy Policy

Design Thinking Defined

—tim brown, executive chair of ideo.

Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which is known as design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren't trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

IDEO did not invent design thinking, but we have become known for practicing it and applying it to solving problems small and large. It’s fair to say that we were in the right place at the right time. When we looked back over our shoulder, we discovered that there was a revolutionary movement behind us.

This design thinking site is just one small part of the IDEO network. There’s much more, including full online courses we've developed on many topics related to design thinking and its applications. We fundamentally believe in the power of design thinking as a methodology for creating positive impact in the world—and we bring that belief into our client engagements as well as into creating open resources such as this.

At IDEO, we’re often asked to share what we know about design thinking. We’ve developed this website in response to that request. Here, we introduce design thinking, how it came to be, how it is being used, and steps and tools for mastering it. You’ll find our particular take on design thinking, as well as the perspectives of others. Everything on this site is free for you to use and share with proper attribution .

(From 2008-2018, designthinking.ideo.com was the home of IDEO's design thinking blog, written by our CEO, Tim Brown . You can find that blog here .)

We live and work in a world of interlocking systems, where many of the problems we face are dynamic, multifaceted, and inherently human. Think of some of the big questions being asked by businesses, government, educational and social organizations: How will we navigate the disruptive forces of the day, including technology and globalism? How will we grow and improve in response to rapid change? How can we effectively support individuals while simultaneously changing big systems? For us, design thinking offers an approach for addressing these and other big questions.

There’s no single definition for design thinking. It’s an idea, a strategy, a method, and a way of seeing the world. It’s grown beyond the confines of any individual person, organization or website. And as it matures, its history deepens and its impact evolves. For IDEO, design thinking is a way to solve problems through creativity. Certainly, it isn’t a fail-safe approach; nor is it the only approach. But based on the impact we are seeing in our work, the relevance of design thinking has never been greater.

Design thinking is maturing. It’s moving from a nascent practice to an established one, and with that comes interest and critique. People are debating its definition, pedigree, and value. As a leading and committed practitioner of design thinking, IDEO has a stake in this conversation—and a responsibility to contextualize its value in the present moment and, importantly, in the future.

We’ve learned a lot over the years, and we’d like to share our insights. We’ve seen design thinking transform lives and organizations, and on occasion we’ve seen it fall short when approached superficially, or without a solid foundation of study. Design thinking takes practice; and as a community of designers, entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers, researchers, and more, we’ve followed the journey to mastery, and developed maps that can guide others.

Designer's mindset

At IDEO, we are a community of designers who naturally share a mindset due to our profession. Our teams include people who've trained in applied fields such as industrial design, environmental architecture, graphic design, and engineering; as well as people from law, psychology, anthropology, and many other areas. Together, we have rallied around design thinking as a way of explaining design's applications and utility so that others can practice it, too. Design thinking uses creative activities to foster collaboration and solve problems in human-centered ways. We adopt a “beginner’s mind,” with the intent to remain open and curious, to assume nothing, and to see ambiguity as an opportunity.

To think like a designer requires dreaming up wild ideas, taking time to tinker and test, and being willing to fail early and often. The designer's mindset embraces empathy, optimism, iteration, creativity, and ambiguity. And most critically, design thinking keeps people at the center of every process. A human-centered designer knows that as long as you stay focused on the people you're designing for—and listen to them directly—you can arrive at optimal solutions that meet their needs.

Anyone can approach the world like a designer. But to unlock greater potential and to learn how to work as a dynamic problem solver, creative confidence is key. For IDEO founder David Kelley, creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn’t the ability to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of understanding the world.

The Value of Design Thinking in Business

Product innovation happens at the intersection of desirability, business viability, and technological feasibility. Design thinking—with a proven ROI—integrates all three and delivers business value.

The Value of Design Thinking in Business

By James Pikover

James has written about consumer tech and video games for over 6 years including VentureBeat, IGN, and Gizmodo.

Successful businesses are making billions by recognizing the value of integrating “design thinking” into their process.

Great design is simple, beautiful, and easy to use. It creates a sense of purpose and place. It responds to user needs, and it just works. Aside from these characteristics, how can we know whether a design is “good”? Moreover, how can a business know whether the investment of time and money into a design was worth it?

The proof is in the numbers. Businesses have slowly come around to recognize that design can be used as a differentiator to respond to changing trends and consumer behaviors. Time and time again, Fortune 500 names such as Apple, Microsoft, Disney, and IBM have demonstrated the intrinsic value of “design thinking” as a competitive advantage that impacts the bottom line and drives business growth.

They’ve come to recognize that design innovation happens at the intersection of desirability for customers, viability at the business level, and feasibility for technology. Design thinking —a product design approach that has been slowly evolving since the 1950’s—integrates all three.

business thinking vs design thinking

Design thinking , often brushed aside by business owners in previous decades, has now become a considerable driving force in the business world through mentions in the Harvard Business Review and Forbes .

Made into a buzzword and popularized by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO , a global design firm), design thinking is “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Today, this growing trend is changing fundamental business practices. It’s shifting the way the C-suite is thinking and how design and product teams operate. Some have even bought into the value of user experience and, by extension, investing in improving customer experience.

That is pretty incredible, since just ten years ago most firms didn’t even know what user experience meant.

What Exactly Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an approach to creative problem solving that is widely recognized as a valuable course to human-centered product innovation. It has been called a methodology, a culture, and a philosophy. Design thinking, fundamentally, recognizes that design should achieve purpose and business goals, not just beauty.

Design thinking was born out of big corporations’ lack of ability to be creative and create new products and services that serve the unmet needs of their customers. At its core, the methodology arises from and revolves around the customer. The design thinking process considers people’s ethnographic background, behavior, thinking, motivations, habits, and needs. Think of a person in their everyday life and all of their interactions with a variety of products and services throughout their day.

user-centered design thinking drives business value

Design thinking shifts the focus from a business-centric engineering solution (we invent a product based on a bunch of assumptions and cross our fingers that it will work for customers), to a customer-centric solution (we explore cultural phenomena, observe how people behave and think, gain insights into what they need, and design a product around that).

Design thinking puts understanding context and continuous engagement with people at the heart of the practice for determining what problem to solve, what metrics drive success, and what business will emerge from solving the problem.

Designers have hundreds of tools and ways to ascertain problems, conduct research, ideate solutions, and explore use cases to find the best path forward. While designers study and train to create value for the product and for customers, the design thinking methodology can be used anywhere, from product development and finance to customer service.

According to Charlie Cannon , Chief Design Officer at Epic Decade, design thinking is “the application of design techniques, design methods, and design frames of mind, not for the production of new artifacts or objects, but to the application of developing new models of business value, potentially new business themselves […] from the design of things to the design of ideas.”

the business value of design thinking - business metrics

For example, Intuit, known best for TurboTax and QuickBooks, has spent over a decade refining its own design process. According to Fast Company , “the company’s key discovery is that design thinking is not about the roles that people occupy; it’s about people, and their interest to collaborate, be creative, participate, seek to understand, have empathy, and create solutions […] and the unexpected results that come with it.”

However, it’s not an end-all solution. Just following the same processes without context will waste time and resources. Pentagram partner Natasha Jen succinctly reminds us that designers do great work not because of genius or process but because of critical reviews of their work and common sense when confronted with challenges in the workplace.

Design thinking is still a good tool, but it is no master key.

US-based full-time freelance UX designers wanted

What Is the Business Value of Design Thinking?

All businesses have a never-ending list of goals, from constantly releasing new products that increase sales by resonating with customers to providing better customer support.

When a business decides on a new product, a massive, expensive machine shifts into high gear, especially at large corporations. The costs are enormous. Applying design thinking can help save vast amounts of money right away because it directs attention to the specific solutions people need—immediate cost savings are realized as part of the ROI of design thinking.

IEEE , the world’s largest technical professional organization, in their article, “Why Software Fails,” estimates that the amount spent on IT projects worldwide is approximately $1 trillion a year.

According to their report, of the top twelve reasons why projects fail, three are related to user-centered design failure:

  • Badly defined requirements
  • Poor communications among customers and developers
  • Stakeholder politics
Fixing an error after development is up to 100 times as expensive as it would have been before development. – Susan Weinschenk, in the animated video, ROI of User Experience

Design thinking provides a simple way to hone in on exactly what the problems are—often discovering a different way of thinking about them—while also providing insights and data that are critical to building appropriate solutions that make a business money.

According to Catherine Courage, SVP of Customer Experience at Citrix, “we’re releasing products that are of better quality, and we’re releasing them faster and receiving more customer and industry awards than before. We’re also seeing improvements in our customer feedback—customers are noticing and acknowledging our end-user focus.”

Government agencies also realize huge cost savings as a result of design thinking. The US Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation began using customer journey maps to better understand how veterans were interacting with the VA. This simple exercise led to a better understanding of the difficulty veterans experienced when working with the VA and provided insight into how VA employees could better empathize, connect with veterans, and work more efficiently.

Substantial cost savings were realized by this new, streamlined, more efficient system, by improving the VA’s user experience as an outgrowth of design thinking. Waste was reduced because fewer interactions were needed by VA employees in order to efficiently serve veterans.

design thinking of company

While every business is different, the first step to understanding how design thinking can help a business is to consider the challenges it’s currently facing.

What are they, and are there solutions already available that match a business’s needs and budget? If not, why? What are the things prohibiting those solutions, and where do those blockers stem from?

Design thinking breaks down complex issues into tangible ones that can be analyzed and solved. Making that change in your organization is no cakewalk, according to Citrix SVP of Customer Experience, Catherine Courage:

You need to make [design thinking] part of all processes and not just something you do on select projects. Starting by looking through the customer lens has to be ingrained in everything you do. Developing that foundation and creating that cultural change across all projects and initiatives is what it takes.

That is no small feat, but organizations have found success following this strategy.

Reasons to Invest in Design Thinking

Whether you’re a CEO, a marketer, or a designer, here are three no-nonsense reasons why your company should invest in design thinking:

  • A little up-front UX research can save you hundreds of engineering hours and thousands of dollars
  • Decreases the cost of customer support
  • Increases conversion rates
  • Improves customer retention and loyalty
  • Insisting on great UX drives competitive advantage and affects the bottom line. Just look at Dyson, Uber, Mint, Apple, IBM, and Intuit.

Proven ROI Gains from Design Thinking

Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of design thinking can be a challenge in any organization. More challenging still, the changes to your business’s operations may not directly reflect the product’s overall change in performance compared to the previous workflow.

However, many cases show very clear signs that a design thinking methodology provides significant, positive change throughout the organization.

When Intuit established a new policy where employees could spend 10% of their time working on side projects, some of these employees questioned the purchasing policy for TurboTax back in 2007. They found that the company focused on selling five seats for the software, but most users only ever purchased one.

Changing that focus resulted in a $10 million boost in sales of TurboTax in the first year.

S&P 500 vs design-centric companies

Design thinking doesn’t guarantee better products or solutions. Instead, it drives experimentation, data gathering, and analysis, and empowers designers to view their daily challenges in new ways. The results are promising. Moving from the “standard” model to one following user-centered design processes is a smart way to invigorate any organization to be faster, more organized, and more creative—all of which in turn drives a greater return on investment.

Startup companies that adopt the design thinking methodology tend to do better than their peers when it comes to fundraising and profits. Uber, Airbnb, Warby Parker, and Etsy have achieved great success and have a history of design thinking in their methodologies. Over time, these brands outperformed their peers and their investors realized a greater return on their investment.

The value of user experience as a result of design thinking is especially compelling when comparing a user experience project to another investment with similar business goals. There were countless smartphones before Apple’s iPhone burst onto the scene. There were taxis before Uber and social networks before Facebook. There were plenty of vacuum cleaners before Dyson, retailers before Bonobos and Warby-Parker, and electric cars before Tesla.

All of these companies share one thing. It is their relentless focus on the customer and delivering the best user experience possible—which is deeply rooted in their design thinking methodology.

Further Reading on the Toptal Blog:

  • Breaking Down the Design Thinking Process
  • Exploring the Reasons for Design Thinking Criticism
  • Anticipatory Design: How to Create Magical User Experiences
  • Design Strategy – A Guide to Tactical Thinking in Design
  • Empty States: The Most Overlooked Aspect of UX
  • How to Increase Output and Innovation by Hiring Freelance Designers
  • How Thinking Like a Designer Can Help Solve Complex Business Problems
  • UserExperience

World-class articles, delivered weekly.

Subscription implies consent to our privacy policy

Toptal Designers

  • Adobe Creative Suite Experts
  • Agile Designers
  • AI Designers
  • Art Direction Experts
  • Augmented Reality Designers
  • Axure Experts
  • Brand Designers
  • Creative Directors
  • Dashboard Designers
  • Digital Product Designers
  • E-commerce Website Designers
  • Front-end Designers
  • Full-Stack Designers
  • Information Architecture Experts
  • Interactive Designers
  • Mobile App Designers
  • Mockup Designers
  • Presentation Designers
  • Prototype Designers
  • Prototyping Experts
  • SaaS Designers
  • Sketch Experts
  • Squarespace Designers
  • User Flow Designers
  • User Research Designers
  • Virtual Reality Designers
  • Visual Designers
  • Wireframing Experts
  • View More Freelance Designers

Join the Toptal ® community.

design thinking of company

Fill in the form below so we can explore ways to reach your goals or call us at 1800 577 346 .

Leave your details below and we'll be in touch.

6 Companies that Have Successfully Applied Design Thinking

6 Companies that Have Successfully Applied Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an approach that has been applied by organisations all over the world. In fact, 75% of organisations self-report that they are engaged in design thinking . 

Companies may be applying the approach but are any of them actually seeing results? 

Success stories are generally the easiest way to demonstrate the value of an approach. Here are six companies that have successfully applied design thinking. 

design thinking of company

1. Nordstrom

Nordstrom is known to be one of the most customer-centric companies in the world. This was evident when they were creating their new in-store sunglass app. Rather than take the standard approach used by many large organisations before them (pick a solution and spend lots of money), Nordstrom applied Design Thinking . A small team from Nordstrom spent a full week in their flagship store and leveraged real customers to help build the app. 

They started off by building a paper version of the app in-store and received immediate feedback from customers passing through. Based on the feedback, they iterated and then showed that new prototype to customers, and so on. At the end of the week, they had produced a fully functioning app that customers actually wanted. 

Here are some of the insights they gathered:

  • Customers wanted a way to compare photos of themselves with different sunglasses on (in real-time)
  • Customers wanted to have the option to zoom in on pictures
  • Customers wanted to tag each image and also link them to the sunglass model number

All these insights were key in driving the development of the product. 

design thinking of company

2. Bank of America

Bank of America was looking for a way to increase the use of their savings accounts by customers. They applied the design thinking methodology and started engaging with customers and uncovered that people liked the act of saving more than the actual amount they save. For example, customers would get the same good feeling if they deposited $50 a month compared to $600 at the end of the year. 

From this insight Bank of America developed the round-up concept , a product that allows customers to save with every transaction that they make. Customers, as a result, are able to get that same good feeling after every transaction. The results were staggering with Bank of America gaining over 10 million new customers and $1.8 billion in savings for them. 

design thinking of company


3. Starbucks

The food and beverage industry was experiencing a drop in sales and poor margins. Starbucks decided to interview hundreds of customers to better understand what they expected from their coffee shops. The predominant insight gained from these interactions was that customers actually wanted an atmosphere that provided a sense of belonging and relaxation.

Building on these insights, Starbucks positioned round tables strategically to make solo coffee drinkers more comfortable and less self-conscious. 

design thinking of company

Nike was finding it difficult to become a prominent brand amongst the skateboarding community. They struggled to gain the same level of support given to brands like DC and Globe.

Nike decided to engage skateboarders in the design process . During conversations with skateboarders they examined what the community was looking for in a skateboard company and also attitudes towards Nike. As a result of this approach, the team gained a better overall understanding of the needs and wants of the skateboarding community.

Nike released the Nike Dunk SB after applying learnings from their customer engagement along with skateboard insiders in their design team. Since releasing its Nike SB line of shoes, Nike has experienced tremendous success within the skateboarding culture. 

design thinking of company

Observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives you clues about what they think, feel and need. By watching people, you can uncover learnings and insights that would not be possible through general conversations. 

A famous example of this is a project run by IDEO for Oral B . They took the observation approach and uncovered a game-changing insight. The assumption with toothbrushes for children is that they should be like adult toothbrushes but smaller and skinnier, due to the fact that adults have big hands and kids have small hands. Makes sense right?

However, through observations they found that when kids were brushing their teeth they were using their fist and holding their toothbrushes too far up resulting in them hitting their own faces as they brushed. From this insight, a solution was identified that kids require fat squishy toothbrushes. As a consequence of this discovery, Oral B had the best selling kids toothbrush in the world for 18 months.

design thinking of company

6. GE Healthcare

Having an MRI Scan is generally not a pleasant experience for adults, let alone children. Children often struggle to stay still during the process (often crying) given the frightening experience. The Chief Designer at GE Imaging Machines was shocked by this and felt as though something had to change. By applying Design Thinking, he decided to observe children going through the scanner while also having conversations with not just children but doctors and educators. Through the conversations and observations he found that rather than being seen as an elegant piece of technology, the MRI Scanner was seen as a scary machine by young children. 

As a result, CT Pirate Island Adventure was created . The MRI scanner was made to look like a pirate ship and it transformed the traumatic experience into a kid’s adventure story where the patient had the starring role. Prior to the transformation, approximately 80% of children needed to be sedated prior to getting their scan and after the change this dropped to 10%. The MRI scanner transformed from a terrifying experience to a creative journey for children.

design thinking of company

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

design thinking of company

Design Thinking for Large Organisations

Design thinking is a buzz phrase that has been thrown around companies for many years now. It is not a new concept but there are still many large companies that are yet to embrace this modern-day mindset and methodology. This ebook focuses on how organisations can apply design thinking and start to move the needle. 


To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

What to read next

design thinking of company

View all >>


Unlock new opportunities and markets by taking your brand into the brave new world., shay namdarian.

Shay is the General Manager of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. He has over 10 years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience, design thinking, innovation and digital transformation. He has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture.

design thinking of company


design thinking of company

Design Thinking Playbook

design thinking of company

The Future of Open Innovation

6 resources to help you learn design thinking.

design thinking of company

The Difference Between Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile

design thinking of company

Why Design Thinking is Failing at your Company (+ The Right Framework)

design thinking of company

3 Techniques to Help you Really Understand your Customers

design thinking of company

How to Implement Design Thinking

Get the latest content first.

Receive thought leadership in the form of blogs, ebooks, innovation resources, videos, invitations to exclusive events as well as the latest episodes of Future², our iTunes chart-topping podcast all about corporate innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Join our team
  • Become an affiliate
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Design process
  • SaaS business
  • Product design
  • Design team

Design Thinking Examples: Five Real Stories

mins to read

design thinking of company

No other area of design requires such deep immersion in the client's world as UI/UX design. To create a user-friendly and practical product, it is necessary to understand the customers’ pains, needs, and expectations. This is what design thinking is all about.

Design thinking is a unique client-centered approach that helps businesses create innovative ideas using a human point of view instead of raw historical data. For example, our recent client, HandPrinter, based their project on a goal that is very important - to encourage people to protect the environment - which helped them become a company with an inimitable vision and no analogs around the globe. Interested in how they did it? Please, read further in our case study .

With the help of design thinking, you can help your clients solve their problems and create benefits for your business. Of course, in theory, using this approach seems just a piece of cake. But what about real life? I guess you are wondering if it is possible to efficiently apply design thinking in your business.

In this article, we will discuss five design thinking examples of real companies that actively use this approach as a part of their corporate strategy. So, get ready for your dose of inspiration!

Examples of companies that use design thinking

To show how resulting the design thinking can be we won't have to dig through the whole internet. What's more, I bet that you have not only heard about companies we're going to talk about but even use their products regularly!

Anyways, without further ado, let's analyze some cases when companies revolutionized the market using design thinking.

Design thinking in Airbnb

The first design thinking case study is Airbnb, cloud software for vacation rentals. The creators of Airbnb, designers Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia met at the university, moved together to San Francisco, and rented a nice spacious apartment there for two. In 2007, there was a design conference in the city and that’s why the prices for rooms in hotels went up a lot. That’s the time when two friends came up with a simple business idea: they bought several air mattresses and hosted colleagues in their flat. To find guests, they created airbedandbreakfast.com.

The idea was good and Brian and Joe wanted to continue developing it. They used the empathy method they studied at design school and asked themselves:

  • What do people do when they travel?
  • How can they quickly and easily learn the way from the airport to their home?
  • How can you recommend your favorite place on the next street to have dinner?

Answering these questions gave Chesky and Gebbia useful ideas on how to update the website. From that point with the help of the app, the user could rent apartments, order breakfast, and also communicate with the host like with a friend (ask them for advice or recommendation).

With design thinking, they solved the problem of distrust between the host and the guest: the ability to leave the feedback from both sides broke that barrier.

How to apply design thinking? Airbnb example

Now every design team at Airbnb has a leader whose first priority is to represent the customer and their needs.

Sasha Lubomirsky, head of User Research at Airbnb says: “ When you understand the problem, the solution is way more straightforward. If you understand the problem, the ideas follow!”

These words prove the importance of design thinking for Airbnb.

Netflix design thinking

According to Forbes , back in 2001, Netflix founder Reed Hastings spent $10 million a year on streaming technology research. This fact alone shows how customer-centric Netflix has been from its very beginning.

In the same article, the author points out that Netflix's design thinking can be boiled down to four rules:

1. Think Big - Netflix was not afraid to destroy its existing successful DVD delivery business and follow the technological advance.

2. Start small - the company did not rush headlong into the implementation of a new product, but waited for the right moment.

3. Fail quickly - Early streaming attempts were abandoned.

4. Scale Fast - Netflix has been able to grow rapidly by moving to the original content.

Many of us are familiar with all the advantages of the Netflix platform and its human-centered UX design :

  • Card design (you can interact with each card: pick it, bring closer, flip over, etc.)

Human-centered design of Netflix

  • AI-powered recommendations (based on your view history Netflix personalize the experience for you)

Using design thinking to create a successful SaaS product

But Netflix's design thinking goes beyond digital design. It covers the entire process of user interaction with the system.

design thinking of company

Making the customer a top priority and continually thinking about what would be better for them helped Netflix to not only reshape the video rental industry but also let Netflix become an essential part of how to relax correctly. Because let's be real, there's "Chill" and there's "Netflix and Chill".

design thinking of company

More than 75 million people in 600 cities in 65 countries around the world use Uber, and for many, it has become the most familiar mode of transportation. The main reason for the success of this online ride-hailing taxi app is its unique business model that Uber managed to develop using a design thinking approach.

Putting themselves into their customers’ shoes allowed Uber’s team to define that the most critical issue that influences the client’s final impression is the need to wait. That is why Uber has given a lot of attention to this issue.

Let’s take a look at how with the help of a design thinking approach Uber managed to develop the user experience that helps to cope with the problem of waiting and makes this application impossible to give up.

  • Eliminate inaction . The first thing that Uber’s design team did great is coping with inaction with the help of interactive elements. In the example below, you may see how Uber uses animations that entertain and inform the passenger while they are waiting for the car.
  • Make all operations clear and transparent. Uber deliberately demonstrates some aspects of the work of the service. It helps users see that the company makes a lot of effort to improve the experience of their customers. Thanks to this, people value the product more and feel more satisfied.

The screenshot from Uberpool shows how the app calculates arrival time. This information gives the user an understanding of what is going on without overloading the reader with technical details.

  • Show the goal. Most of all people want to know how much time is left before they reach the goal. The closer the reward, the faster the user wants to get it. That’s why Uber explains each step when the customer is waiting for the car, making people feel like they are getting closer and closer to their goal.

Uber: engaging UX design

There is no doubt that Uber's success is largely due to the fact that the company uses design thinking to improve user experience. With the help of this customer-centric approach the idea to replace cabby blokes with ordinary and trustworthy people owning their own cars resulted in a usable and convenient app we all love so much.

IBM design thinking

Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, recently told : “There’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience” and these words make a big difference.

IBM design has gone through many stages in its development (" good design is good business "), and now the company provides design services and invests $100 million in implementing principles of design thinking in their organization.

In 2014, IBM used design thinking when creating Bluemix (now IBM Cloud), a cloud platform for application development. IBM’s main goal was to help developers in big companies create cloud applications much faster.

Researching their target audience allowed IBM to create an easy-to-use and functional platform that attracted more than 1 000 000 developers.

Here are three main points why all these developers fall in love with Bluemix:

  • Choice. Bluemix allows to build a consistent application that can run both on and off premise. It helps to reduce the cost and time developers spend on setting up infrastructure
  • Extensive catalog with tools. Bluemix offers almost 150 tools and services that propels you months ahead in development (e.g. Internet of Things for secure data collection, Watson for cognitive computing services, etc.)

the use of design thinking for IBM's Bluemix

‍ Methodology. Using the DevOps tool chain allows to easily scale your projects.

That’s how identifying pains and needs of the target audience allowed IBM create a platform that helps developers quickly build applications.

Intuit: design thinking example

Intuit is a global platform that helps its customers cope with financial issues (accounting, tax preparation, etc.).

Back in 2006, Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit decided that his accounting software company has to be more innovative. Inspired by an article about design thinking written by Roger Martin, Cook started thinking about how this approach can help to develop and improve his product.

First of all , Intuit’s team identified the problem. Most people hate spreadsheet-based personal finance tracking solutions, and they stop using them as soon as they start. The research of competitors helped to realize that existing solutions are suitable for professional accountants but difficult to use for an average person. Although there is a need for financial planning for individuals or small businesses as well.

The solution was to create an easy-to-use and consistent UX. When Intuit introduced its software to help people control their finances, there were 46 similar products on the market. At the beginning of the journey, they joked that at that moment they had the " 47th mover advantage . "

The basic version of Intuit offered only a third of all available features, but with a great design. Instead of spreadsheets, the program displays familiar images with check receipts on them.

design thinking of company

Because of its extremely intuitive design, Intuit immediately became the market leader in personal finance software.

the use of design thinking by Intuit

As a result, Intuit has shown software companies that good design is something every industry should care about. You can use empathy to create well-designed software that can both solve business problems and serve people.

Think of people and they will think about you

To make a successful product you need to put user needs at the center of your efforts focusing on designing usable, delightful, and efficient experiences. Design thinking helps you to understand real people’s needs and problems and uncovers ways of improving user experiences.

So, don’t hesitate to make design thinking a part of your company culture. It will promote creating products that deeply resonate with your customers — ultimately driving engagement and growth.

And if you need help in creating products that show how much you care about your customers, come to Eleken for a human-centered UI/UX design .

design thinking of company

Kateryna Mayka

Top Stories

design thinking of company

Demo, Prototype, MVP, Full Product: What's Different in Your Approach to Design?

design thinking of company

What Does a Head of Product Actually Do? A Week in the Life of Head of Product

design thinking of company

How to Redesign a Website: Actionable Advice with No Fluff

design thinking of company

How to Conduct a UX Audit (Examples and Methods)

design thinking of company

UI/UX Terminology: Speak the Same Language With the Designer

Don't want to miss anything.

Get weekly updates on the newest design stories, case studies and tips right in your mailbox.

Your email has been submitted successfully. Check your email for first article we’ve sent you.

design thinking of company

  • Reviews / Why join our community?
  • For companies
  • Frequently asked questions

Illustration showing five icons, each on represents a different stage in the design thinking process.

The 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process

Design thinking is a methodology which provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s extremely useful when used to tackle complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown—because it serves to understand the human needs involved, reframe the problem in human-centric ways, create numerous ideas in brainstorming sessions and adopt a hands-on approach to prototyping and testing. When you know how to apply the five stages of design thinking you will be impowered because you can apply the methodology to solve complex problems that occur in our companies, our countries, and across the world.

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that can have anywhere from three to seven phases, depending on whom you talk to. We focus on the five-stage design thinking model proposed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the d.school) because they are world-renowned for the way they teach and apply design thinking.

What are the 5 Stages of the Design Thinking Process

The five stages of design thinking, according to the d.school, are:

Empathize : research your users' needs.

Define : state your users' needs and problems.

Ideate : challenge assumptions and create ideas.

Prototype : start to create solutions.

Test : try your solutions out.

Let’s dive into each stage of the design thinking process.

Hasso-Platner Institute Panorama

Ludwig Wilhelm Wall, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Transcript loading...

Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users' Needs

Illustration of Empathize showing two profile heads looking at each other and overlapping about 25%.

Empathize: the first phase of design thinking, where you gain real insight into users and their needs.

© Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

The first stage of the design thinking process focuses on user-centric research . You want to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Consult experts to find out more about the area of concern and conduct observations to engage and empathize with your users. You may also want to immerse yourself in your users’ physical environment to gain a deeper, personal understanding of the issues involved—as well as their experiences and motivations. Empathy is crucial to problem solving and a human-centered design process as it allows design thinkers to set aside their own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs.

Depending on time constraints, you will gather a substantial amount of information to use during the next stage. The main aim of the Empathize stage is to develop the best possible understanding of your users, their needs and the problems that underlie the development of the product or service you want to create.

Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Needs and Problems

Illustration of a target with an arrow in the center to represent the Define stage of the Design Thinking process.

Define: the second phase of design thinking, where you define the problem statement in a human-centered manner.

In the Define stage, you will organize the information you have gathered during the Empathize stage. You’ll analyze your observations to define the core problems you and your team have identified up to this point. Defining the problem and problem statement must be done in a human-centered manner .

For example, you should not define the problem as your own wish or need of the company: “We need to increase our food-product market share among young teenage girls by 5%.”

You should pitch the problem statement from your perception of the users’ needs: “Teenage girls need to eat nutritious food in order to thrive, be healthy and grow.”

The Define stage will help the design team collect great ideas to establish features, functions and other elements to solve the problem at hand—or, at the very least, allow real users to resolve issues themselves with minimal difficulty. In this stage, you will start to progress to the third stage, the ideation phase, where you ask questions to help you look for solutions: “How might we encourage teenage girls to perform an action that benefits them and also involves your company’s food-related product or service?” for instance.

Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas

Illustration of three light bulbs going off as a representation of the Ideate part of the design process.

Ideate: the third phase of design thinking, where you identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created.

During the third stage of the design thinking process, designers are ready to generate ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs in the Empathize stage, and you’ve analyzed your observations in the Define stage to create a user centric problem statement. With this solid background, you and your team members can start to look at the problem from different perspectives and ideate innovative solutions to your problem statement .

There are hundreds of ideation techniques you can use—such as Brainstorm, Brainwrite, Worst Possible Idea and SCAMPER . Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea techniques are typically used at the start of the ideation stage to stimulate free thinking and expand the problem space. This allows you to generate as many ideas as possible at the start of ideation. You should pick other ideation techniques towards the end of this stage to help you investigate and test your ideas, and choose the best ones to move forward with—either because they seem to solve the problem or provide the elements required to circumvent it.

Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions

Illustration of the Prototype phase of the design process showing a pencil, wireframes on paper, and a ruler.

Prototype: the fourth phase of design thinking, where you identify the best possible solution.

The design team will now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the key solutions generated in the ideation phase. These prototypes can be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments or on a small group of people outside the design team.

This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages . The solutions are implemented within the prototypes and, one by one, they are investigated and then accepted, improved or rejected based on the users’ experiences.

By the end of the Prototype stage, the design team will have a better idea of the product’s limitations and the problems it faces. They’ll also have a clearer view of how real users would behave, think and feel when they interact with the end product.

Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out

Illustration of the Test phase of the design process showing a checklist on a clipboard.

Test: the fifth and final phase of the design thinking process, where you test solutions to derive a deep understanding of the product and its users.

Designers or evaluators rigorously test the complete product using the best solutions identified in the Prototype stage. This is the final stage of the five-stage model; however, in an iterative process such as design thinking, the results generated are often used to redefine one or more further problems. This increased level of understanding may help you investigate the conditions of use and how people think, behave and feel towards the product, and even lead you to loop back to a previous stage in the design thinking process. You can then proceed with further iterations and make alterations and refinements to rule out alternative solutions. The ultimate goal is to get as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.

Did You Know Design Thinking is a Non-Linear Process?

We’ve outlined a direct and linear design thinking process here, in which one stage seemingly leads to the next with a logical conclusion at user testing . However, in practice, the process is carried out in a more flexible and non-linear fashion . For example, different groups within the design team may conduct more than one stage concurrently, or designers may collect information and prototype throughout each stage of the project to bring their ideas to life and visualize the problem solutions as they go. What’s more, results from the Test stage may reveal new insights about users which lead to another brainstorming session (Ideate) or the development of new prototypes (Prototype).

Design Thinking: A Non-Linear process. Empathy helps define problem, Prototype sparks a new idea, tests reveal insights that redefine the problem, tests create new ideas for project, learn about users (empathize) through testing.

It is important to note the five stages of design thinking are not always sequential. They do not have to follow a specific order, and they can often occur in parallel or be repeated iteratively. The stages should be understood as different modes which contribute to the entire design project, rather than sequential steps.

The design thinking process should not be seen as a concrete and inflexible approach to design; the component stages identified should serve as a guide to the activities you carry out. The stages might be switched, conducted concurrently or repeated several times to gain the most informative insights about your users, expand the solution space and hone in on innovative solutions.

This is one of the main benefits of the five-stage model. Knowledge acquired in the latter stages of the process can inform repeats of earlier stages . Information is continually used to inform the understanding of the problem and solution spaces, and to redefine the problem itself. This creates a perpetual loop, in which the designers continue to gain new insights, develop new ways to view the product (or service) and its possible uses and develop a far more profound understanding of their real users and the problems they face.

Design Thinking: A Non-Linear Process

The Take Away

Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear process which focuses on a collaboration between designers and users. It brings innovative solutions to life based on how real users think, feel and behave.

This human-centered design process consists of five core stages Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

It’s important to note that these stages are a guide. The iterative, non-linear nature of design thinking means you and your design team can carry these stages out simultaneously, repeat them and even circle back to previous stages at any point in the design thinking process.

References & Where to Learn More

Take our Design Thinking course which is the ultimate guide when you want to learn how to you can apply design thinking methods throughout a design thinking process. Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (3rd Edition), 1996.

d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE , 2010.

Gerd Waloszek, Introduction to Design Thinking , 2012.

Hero Image: © the Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide

design thinking of company

Get Weekly Design Insights

Topics in this article, what you should read next, what is design thinking and why is it so popular.

design thinking of company


Personas – A Simple Introduction

design thinking of company


Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results

design thinking of company

  • 4 years ago

What is Ideation – and How to Prepare for Ideation Sessions

design thinking of company

  • 3 years ago

Stage 1 in the Design Thinking Process: Empathise with Your Users

design thinking of company

Affinity Diagrams: How to Cluster Your Ideas and Reveal Insights

design thinking of company

Empathy Map – Why and How to Use It

design thinking of company

What Is Empathy and Why Is It So Important in Design Thinking?

design thinking of company

10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview

design thinking of company


Make Your UX Design Process Agile Using Google’s Methodology

design thinking of company

Open Access - Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the  democratization of knowledge . Unfortunately, world class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change , cite this article , link to us, or join us to help us democratize design knowledge !

Cite according to academic standards

Simply copy and paste the text below into your bibliographic reference list, onto your blog, or anywhere else. You can also just hyperlink to this article.

New to UX Design? We’re giving you a free ebook!

The Basics of User Experience Design

Download our free ebook The Basics of User Experience Design to learn about core concepts of UX design.

In 9 chapters, we’ll cover: conducting user interviews, design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more!

New to UX Design? We’re Giving You a Free ebook!

Rethinking Everything ... Innovative Strategist, Bestselling Author, and Inspiring Keynote Speaker

Business catalyst. Keynote speaker. Expert advisor.

Design thinking in action … 35 great examples of companies using “design thinking” to drive innovation and growth

May 7, 2017.

Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving

Design thinking is a term coined by David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school. It utilises elements from the designer’s toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions. By using design thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” says Tim Brown who is now CEO at IDEO.

Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which has become known as design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

Consumer Packaged Goods

  • Designing a Simplified IoT Electric Toothbrush
  • Indra Nooyi HBR Design Thinking Interview
  • Using Design Thinking to Guide Product Development for Oil of Olay Brand
  • Design Thinking for K-12 Educators
  • Great Fast Co Design Article on Teaching Kids DT
  • Design Thinking STEAM School Case Study
  • Awesome Case of Designing an Entire High School Via Design Thinking
  • Dense but Rich Dissertation of Use of Design Thinking in a School District
  • The Power of Empathy in the Elementary Classroom

Financial Services

  • Click Link & Scroll Down for Bank of America Case Profile
  • How ABN AMRO Leverages Design Thinking
  • 3 Banks Integrating Design Into Customer Experience
  • Evolution of Design Thinking in Deutsche Bank’s IT Division
  • Bank of Ireland’s Lesley Tully on the Value of Design Thinking
  • GE Healthcare – From Terrifying to Terrific
  • NY Times – Design Thinking for Doctors & Nurses
  • Design Thinking in Healthcare – Schizophrenia
  • Design Thinking Lessons from Mayo Clinic
  • Design Thinking at Stanford University Medicine
  • Design Thinking Case Studies in Journalism
  • Why Design Thinking & Journalism Go Together


  • Design Thinking & Winnebago at GGRC for Better Service
  • Collection of Design Thinking Case Studies from Museums
  • Improving Quality of Life for the Elderly Via Better Food Service
  • Mobisol’s Use of Design Thinking for Solar Energy
  • Leveraging Design Thinking in Cambodia Video
  • How Nike Became a Fashion Powerhouse Through Design
  • Nordstrom Innovation Lab Video Profile
  • Popular Airbnb Design Thinking Success Story
  • Innovation at Apple – Design Thinking Case Study
  • IBMs Design Centered Strategy
  • Design Thinking at IBM
  • Google’s 3 Step Process for Generating Innovative Ideas
  • Intuit’s Designing for Delight
  • How the Uber Eats Team Designs
  • Design Thinking in Action at SAP


  • Cool Step by Step Case of Applying DT to a Common Challenge for Travelers
  • How Makassar Plans To Use Design Thinking to Improve Transport


  • Designing Your Life Through Design Thinking – My Personal Story
  • NY Times – Design Thinking for a Better You
  • Stanford professor’s Take on How DT Can Help You Lose Weight, Stop Worrying, & Change Your Life
  • Designing Your Life – Insight into the Most Popular Class at Stanford!

Join the discussion Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Professional Diploma in UX Design

Professional certificate in user research, professional certificate in content design, professional certificate in ui design.

UX Design Fundamentals

Software and Coding Fundamentals for UX

  • Corporate Training
  • Hire our alumni
  • Journal of UX Leadership
  • Our mission
  • Advisory Council

Education for every phase of your UX career

Professional Diploma

Learn the full user experience (UX) process from research to interaction design to prototyping.

Professional Certificates

User Research New

Learn how to plan, execute, analyse and communicate user research effectively.

Content Design New

Learn the principles of content design, from mastering tone and style, to writing for interfaces.

Understand the fundamentals of UI elements and design systems, as well as the role of UI in UX.

Short Courses

Gain a solid foundation in the philosophy, principles and methods of user experience design.

Learn the essentials of software development so you can work more effectively with developers.

Equip your team with the mindset to thrive in a digital-first world

Join our hiring program and access our list of certified professionals

Learn about our mission to set the global standard in UX education

Meet our leadership team with UX and education expertise

Members of the council connect us to the wider UX industry

Fresh insights from experts, alumni and the wider design community

Read stories from our students who have made successful careers in UX after completing our course

What is design thinking?

Discover what is design thinking and why it’s important, including the five stages of design thinking. Deep dive into a few case studies and learn how to apply design thinking.

Free course promotion image

Free course: Introduction to UX Design

What is UX? Why has it become so important? Could it be a career for you? Learn the answers, and more, with a free 7-lesson video course.

design thinking illustration

Design thinking is a mindset that breeds innovation. While it’s based on the design process, anyone in any profession can use it when they’re trying to come up with creative solutions to a problem. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what design thinking is and why it’s important, including the five stages of design thinking. Then we’ll present a couple of design thinking case studies and wrap up with a primer on how to apply design thinking. And don’t worry, this guide is broken down into easily digestible chunks, as follows:

Let’s get started!

What is design thinking? A definition

Design thinking is an approach used for problem-solving. Both practical and creative, it’s anchored by human-centred design.

Design thinking is extremely user-centric in that it focuses on your users before it focuses on things like technology or business metrics. 

Design thinking is also solution-based, looking for effective solutions to problems, not problem-based, which looks at the problem itself and tends to focus on limitations. 

Design thinking is all about getting hands-on with solutions. The aim is to quickly turn your ideas into testable products so you can see what works and what doesn’t.


Why is design thinking important? 

Design thinking is important because it challenges assumptions and fosters innovation. While many ways of thinking rely on the habits and experiences we’ve formed, they can limit us when it comes to thinking of design solutions. Design thinking, however, encourages us to explore new ideas. 

It’s an actionable technique that allows us to tackle “wicked problems,” or problems that are ill-defined. For example, achieving sustainable growth or maintaining your competitive edge in business count as wicked problems, and on a broader scale, poverty and climate change are wicked problems too. Design thinking uses empathy and human-centred thinking to tackle these kinds of problems.

Who uses design thinking?

The short answer? Everyone! Design thinking can help you in whatever your role or industry. People in business, government, entertainment, health care, and every other industry can benefit from using design thinking to come up with innovative solutions. 

The most important thing design thinking does is help people focus on their customers or end users. Instead of focusing on problems to fix, design thinking keeps things user-centric, which boosts customer engagement. 

What are the 5 stages of design thinking?

According to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (known as d-school), the five stages of design thinking are: 

Although these stages appear to be linear, following one after the other, design thinking isn’t a linear process. Stages are often run in parallel or out of order, or repeated when necessary.

Phase 1: Empathise 

Your goal here is to research your users’ needs to gain an empathic understanding of the problems they face. You’ll get to know your users and their wants and needs so you can make sure your solutions put them front and centre. This means setting aside your own assumptions and getting to know your users on a psychological and emotional level. You’ll observe, engage, watch and listen. 

Phase 2: Define

Here you state your users’ needs by compiling the information you gathered during the Empathise phase and then analysing it until you can define the core problem your team has identified. 

You do this by asking questions like: what patterns do you see in the data? What user issues need to be resolved? The conclusion of this phase comes when you’ve figured out a clear problem statement that is defined by the users’ needs. For example, “Bank customers in Glasgow need…”

You can learn more about how to write a problem statement in this guide.

Phase 3: Ideate

In this phase, you’ll generate ideas and solutions. You and your team will hold ideation sessions where you can come up with as many ideas as possible. No idea is too silly for this stage. The important thing is getting all ideas out on the table. There are a variety of techniques you can use, like brainstorming and mind mapping, to come up with solutions. This phase ends when you’ve managed to narrow down your ideas to just a few of the best ones.

Phase 4: Prototype

Your goal in this phase is to find the best solution to the problem by prototyping —that is, producing scaled down versions of the product or its features found in the previous phase. You’ll put each solution to the test by improving, redesigning, accepting, or rejecting it.

Phase 5: Test

Here you’ll try out the solutions you arrived at in the previous phases by user testing them. However, while this is the final stage of design thinking in theory, it’s rarely the final stage in reality. Design thinking often includes going back to previous phases to find other solutions or to further iterate or refine your existing solution.


Design thinking examples and case studies

Now that you understand the theory and process of design thinking, let’s look at some examples in action where design thinking had a real-world impact.

Case Study 1: American Family Insurance’s Moonrise App

American Family Insurance, a company that offers life, business, auto, and home insurance, came to design company IDEO with the goal of innovating in a way that would help working families. 

Stages 1 & 2: Empathise and Define

While American Family thought their customers might benefit from budgeting tools, IDEO found from their research in the Empathise phase that, actually, people needed a way to build up their savings against unforeseen needs.

They noticed a lot of people had meticulously planned budgets, which made budgeting tools a moot point. But they were living just within their means and an extra expense, like a doctor’s visit or kid’s basketball uniform, could throw their budget off. These people didn’t want to take on debt though, they wanted extra work so they could have a cushion.

Stages 3 & 4: Ideate and Prototype

IDEO took that idea and ran with it, creating Moonrise, an app that matches people looking for work with extra hours and income. Today’s businesses depend on on-demand work but the temp agencies they work with tend to want permanent placements. Moonrise does things differently. It enables companies to find people who are already employed elsewhere for short-term work through a simple text message interface. The employers can list shifts on the platform and workers are paid as soon as they finish their shifts.

Stage 5: Test

To test the app, 11 Moonrisers, six employers, and a team of designers and programmers were assembled for a one week period to work out the kinks in the platform. 

Based on the test’s success, American Family Insurance now owns the startup Moonrise, which launched in Chicago in 2018 and has since expanded to additional states. In 2018, over 7,000 shifts have been fulfilled and over $500,000 has been earned by people on the app.

Case Study 2: GE Healthcare’s Scanning Tools

GE Healthcare has cutting-edge diagnostic imaging tools at its disposal, but for kids they’re an unpleasant experience. 

“The room itself is kind of dark and has those flickering fluorescent lights…. That machine that I had designed basically looked like a brick with a hole in it,” explained Doug Dietz , a designer who worked for GE. How could they make the experience better for kids?

The team at GE began by observing and gaining empathy for children at a daycare centre and talking to specialists who knew what paediatric patients went through. The team then recruited experts from a children’s museum and doctors from two hospitals. This gave them a lot of insight into what children went through when they had to sit for these procedures and what could be done to lessen the children’s stress.

Stages 3, 4 & 5: Ideate, Prototype, and Test

The first prototype of the new and improved “Adventure Series” scanner was invented. Through research and pilot programs, the redesign made imaging machines more child-friendly, making sure they have other things to focus on than the scary looks and sounds of the machine. For example, the Coral City Adventure in the emergency room gives children an underwater experience where they get into a yellow submarine and listen to the sound of harps while their procedure takes place.

Patient satisfaction scores increased to 90% and children no longer suffer such anxiety about their scans. The children hold still for their procedures more easily, making repeats of the scans unnecessary. There’s also less need for anesthesiologists, which improved the bottom line for those hospitals that used the scanning machines because more patients could get scanned each day.

How to apply design thinking 

If you want to apply design thinking in your own work, follow these steps and best practices:

  • Improve design thinking skills. Use training to explain, improve, and practically implement the phases of design thinking. You can do this in several ways such as workshops, online courses, or case studies shared with your team.
  • Identify the correct problem. Listen to users and ask them unbiased questions in order to understand their perspectives. Engage with everyone and stay open-minded, so you can identify the correct problem, not the problem you or your organisation thinks users are having. 
  • Have more debriefs. Be open about what went right and what went wrong in your process. Openly discuss why things succeeded or failed and why. View failure as learning, not as an excuse to give up.
  • Iterate and iterate some more. The goal of design thinking is finding the best answer possible—and that probably won’t come in the first round of iteration. You’ll need to test and iterate as much as possible with new ways to solve the problem.

Design thinking is so popular—and so effective—because it places the user’s needs front and centre. For more user-centric design tips, learn how to incorporate user feedback in product design , get to grips with user research ethics , and learn how to conduct effective user interviews .

  • design thinking

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the best UX insights and career advice direct to your inbox each month.

Thanks for subscribing to our newsletter

You'll now get the best career advice, industry insights and UX community content, direct to your inbox every month.

Upcoming courses

Learn the full UX process, from research to design to prototyping.

Master key concepts and techniques of UI design.

Certificate in Software and Coding Fundamentals for UX

Collaborate effectively with software developers.

Certificate in UX Design Fundamentals

Get a comprehensive introduction to UX design.

Learn the skills you need to start a career in content design.

Master the research skills that make UX professionals so valuable.

Upcoming course

Build your UX career with a globally-recognised, industry-approved certification. Get the mindset, the skills and the confidence of UX designers.

You may also like

design thinking illustration

The importance of clear and consistent branding in Content Design (and how to achieve it)

voice ux design blog header image

Designing for voice interfaces: The opportunities and challenges of UX design

Build your UX career with a globally recognised, industry-approved qualification. Get the mindset, the confidence and the skills that make UX designers so valuable.

5 March 2024

5 Game-Changing Examples of Design Thinking (and What We Can Learn from Them)

Design thinking is a powerful framework with the capacity to revolutionize your approach to just about anything.

Over the last decade, the practice of design thinking has made its way into a variety of other disciplines and industries. In the past, employers may have thought of design as something only for artists or other creative professionals. Nowadays, CEO’s and hiring managers across many disciplines are calling on designers to improve their products or services.

From consumer products, healthcare, travel, non-profit community programs, and even self-improvement, design thinking has proven a useful problem-solving tool for innovators and entrepreneurs alike.

We’ve rounded up five examples of how design thinking can have incredible effects on a company’s success as well as a huge impact on the world around us. For each example, we’ll go over how each organization used the design process to improve their services and what we can learn from their experience. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is design thinking?

Braun/Oral B Electric Toothbrush

The good kitchen, bernard roth’s “the achievement habit”.

  • Key takeaways

1. What is design thinking?

A designer’s biggest task is to identify and solve existing problems with a product and leave users happier than they were before. At times this task can seem overwhelming and hard to grasp. The process of design thinking consists of five steps that designers use to organize their information and find meaningful and successful solutions to a problem. The design thinking steps go like this:

  • Empathize: Understanding the user and the problems they face through conducting user interviews, creating empathy maps, and listening to user stories.
  • Define: Organizing and analyzing the research information to produce a concise problem statement and possible solution or hypothesis.
  • Ideate: The brainstorming phase. Designers think of a wide variety of possible solutions and evaluate each one.
  • Prototype: Turning ideas into a physical representation of the product that will solve the user’s needs, slowly adding greater detail and complexity as designers move between testing and iteration.
  • Test: Putting the prototype in the hands of the user and determining whether the product has solved the problem at hand and reduced friction or frustration.

The idea behind design thinking is to keep the user in mind from beginning to end. With the user at the forefront, designers can move between these five design thinking steps to create problem solving products with the potential to change industry standards and even lives.

2. Five awesome examples of design thinking

In 2016, Braun and Oral B recruited the expertise of designers Kim Colin and Sam Hecht, founders of the London-based design studio Industrial Facility, to create a smarter electric toothbrush.

When they initially partnered with Braun and Oral B, the manufacturers suggested Colin and Hecht design an electric toothbrush with a variety of sophisticated data-tracking features including a music player, ways to sense how well the users were brushing every single tooth, and even how sensitive their gums were.

However, Hecht and Colin quickly advised them to think more about the customer’s experience as opposed to their own vision for the product. They suggested how a few simple additions to the brush could solve many of the frictions their users were reporting. Hecht and Colin added on-the-go, USB charging and made it easier for users to order replacement brush heads, both problems that Braun and Oral B consumers had already expressed.

The result was an exceptional product that took user feedback into consideration to boost sales and increase customer loyalty.

Using the design thinking process to find better ways to serve a community can have profound effects on the lives of its members. Take Danish design agency Hatch and Bloom’s creation of The Good Kitchen as an example.

In 2007, Denmark had over 125,000 elderly citizens relying on government-sponsored meals. Hatch and Bloom were called upon by the Municipality of Holstebro to design a new and improved meal delivery service for these citizens. What came to fruition was a service with greater quality, more freedom of meal choice, and more flexibility for not only the elderly citizens receiving the meals but also the chefs and other employees responsible for cooking and delivering them.

How did they create such a superior service? One of the most notable actions Hatch and Bloom took was the decision to interview and prototype with both consumers and chefs. They found the things that meal recipients were desiring were similar to what the chefs requested as well—a more dignified service with a greater variety of food options.

By listening to their concerns, hearing their pain points, and testing out new options, Hatch and Bloom found ways to keep both their customers and employees happy and healthy.

It’s hard to believe that the ever-successful start-up Airbnb was once making less than $200 per week. What grew their revenue and transformed Airbnb into a billion-dollar business? Lots of experimentation, risk, and thinking outside of the norm.

Joe Gebbia and Paul Graham, co-founders of Airbnb, remember going over numerous charts, graphs, and codes with their design team trying to find some clue as to why their growth was nearly zero.

It wasn’t until Gebbia began moving through the app like a user that he realized why no one was wanting to book a stay—the pictures looked terrible! Without any data to back their next decision, Graham and Gebbia decided to rent a camera, travel to New York, and spend some time with their customers to replace the amateur photos with more professional-looking ones.

A week later, their revenue nearly doubled. By taking a risk on a non-scalable solution, Graham and Gebbia witnessed their dwindling start-up transform into a thriving enterprise that revolutionized the travel industry.

The design team at UberEats is constantly accessing design thinking principles to fuse modern, state-of-art technology with the antiquated and fundamental act of enjoying a meal.  And it’s safe to say that they’ve had a pretty successful project.

One thing that really stands out about the UberEats design team is their adherence to the design thinking process. They seek to empathize with their user’s experience so much that they’ve implemented The Walkabout Program—a quarterly event where UberEats designers are sent to a city to learn about it’s transportation infrastructure, delivery and restaurant industry, and it’s overall food culture.

In addition to this immersive design technique, UberEats designers iterate quickly and innovate constantly. They participate in rapid field testing, where designers are interviewing and prototyping with the people who will be using the product the most: restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and meal recipients.

The UberEats team also holds innovation workshops where team members from many disciplines gather to brainstorm possible improvements. These same designers also attend numerous out-of-office conferences, meetups, and talks related to the restaurant industry, cuisine trends, and food technology.

You can even apply design thinking to your own personal development!

In this book by Bernard Roth, academic director and professor of Engineering at the Hasso Plattner Institute Design at Stanford University, the design thinking process is used to encourage individuals to accomplish the things they’ve always wanted to but never could.

Whether you need help breaking bad habits or creating positive ones, Roth says the design process can help people make meaningful changes in their lives. Many individuals have attested to this method with their success stories using the design thinking process to lose weight, battle anxiety, or even start a new business.

Roth encourages people wanting to make a change in their lives to first empathize with themselves and ask questions like, “How would I feel if I solved this problem? What would it do for me?” He then says to use the answers to these questions to define the problem at hand, much like the second step in the design thinking process.

Next, Roth urges people to brainstorm solutions to their problem and not to be shy when trying them out. Instead of just thinking about your problem and how it could be solved, Roth encourages the use of the design thinking process to turn your ideas into actions and enter into an iterative cycle within your own life—tweaking and testing solutions until you find what works for you.

3. Key takeaways

These examples of design thinking show just how impactful this methodology can be when solving problems.

Whether it’s a new app, a community service, or a physical product, the best thing you can do to innovate successfully is to keep your user in mind at every step in the design process. It can be tempting to create a flashy, high-tech product.

Instead, focus on what your users are asking for.

It’s easy for designers to become disconnected from their user. Don’t be afraid to take risks and immerse yourself in the lives of the people who will actually interact with your product. Then implement their feedback and test your results. Eventually, you’ll land on that final iteration with the potential to change the world around you.

If you’d like to learn more about design thinking, check out these other articles:

  • 5 design thinking exercises every UX designer should know
  • How to get a design thinking certification: the best programs and courses
  • How to run an awesome design thinking workshop
  • 3 Examples of interaction design at its best

A global ‍ ‍ company

We believe a better future is for all of us to design.

We’re a multidisciplinary community of makers who leverage discovery, play and experimentation to help organizations get and stay ahead now and in the future.

We design breakthrough products, services, brands, and experiences; craft strategies that help businesses grow; and build critical capabilities that transform organizations.

Looking to solve a problem, grow your team’s capabilities, or build new strategy? We’re here to help. Get in touch so that we can help chart a path forward.

40+ years of design & innovation

design thinking of company

logo main

No products in the cart.

companies that use design thinking

10 Companies That Use Design Thinking

All over the world, there are many companies that use design thinking for their improvement and development.

There are more than 75% of companies worldwide that engage in designing thinking.

It is a problem-solving policy that focuses on the people of an organization for breaking out development and knowledge.

We can say that it is a kind of methodology that helps the designers to find a desirable solution to the problem.

Design thinking is a process that questions the problem, assumes, and suggests how to tackle the unknown challenges.

It is also a dynamic and iterative process that deals with experimenting new ideas, sketching, prototyping, and testing, etc.

Listed below are the global companies that use design thinking.

Read on and be inspired by them!

Quick Links

1. Nordstrom  

Nordstrom is one of the well-known customer-centric companies in the world whose first type creates an n-store sunglass app.

It applies design thinking before they spend a lot of money on solutions to their problems.

They make a small team from Nordstrom that spends their whole week in flagship stores to help the customers build the app.

In the very beginning, they start to build the paper version app just by design thinking while receiving much feedback from customers.

On the base of all the feedback and by design thinking, they show a new prototype to the customers and so on.

At last, at the end of the week,  Nordstrom  produces a full of functioning app for the customers.

Because of these features and regulations on which this company is moving on, it is now one of the most famous companies. 

Having design thinking is not much expensive and costly and you can form the team from your company members.

These members followed the instruction and consumed a lot of days in working with problems for their stores for desirable resolution.   

2. Bank Of America

Bank Of America was looking for an easy way to increase and build up the savings accounts for its customers.

So for managing this problem, they apply the design thinking methodology for engaging the customers and saving the accounts.

Design thinking gives them ideas for saving and depositing processes to their customers for feeling comfortable.

For example, customers feel the same good whether they deposit $50 a month or $600 at the end of the year.

Design thinking gives a developed round up concept to the Bank Of America that allows the customer to save on every transaction.

As a result. customers get a better feeling for transaction.

Not only this, Bank Of America gives the very astounding result of design thinking.

It now has 10 million customers and more than $1.8 billion savings is maintained for them.

3. GE Healthcare

Before design thinking, a healthcare institute uses MRI to scan children who are alone and don’t have prior experience of it.  

This is a frightening experience for the children.

They are often crying during this MRI process because of unpleasant knowledge.

When the chief of this company felt all this, he thought of an idea to change it.

GE Healthcare decided on the solution to these shocking problems by applying of design thinking.

By using design thinking, he decided to observe the children who go to the scanner with a companion.

Design thinking gave him the idea to have a doctor whom the children can have conversation with at the time of scanning.

It gave an idea to transform the MRI into a pirate ship of adventure.

Now, whenever children are brought to MRI, a doctor conveys an adventure story of pirate to the children.

This change makes the starring role in healthcare, and more than 80% of children want to have such kind of scan.

Just imagine how a terrifying machine ultimately changes into a unique creative journey ship due to design thinking.

By observing the people either by conversation or clues, you can quickly uncover the people’s erudition and vision.

Oral B changed the vision of their company just by approaching and observing the people.

They made supposition in toothbrushes for the children of all ages like smaller and skinnier brushes for adult ones.

Hence, this company made brushes like small hands with small brushes and big hands along with big brushes.

Now comes design thinking for changing the idea to manufacture the brushes for the children.

They realize that when children are brushing, they hold the brush using their fist and hold too far that they hit their faces.

From this understanding and awareness about their product, they identified that children need a kind of plump spongy brush.

After this fantastic detection from design thinking, Oral B now sells one the best toothbrushes in the world for more than 18 months.

Nike was finding itself very difficult to become a prominent brand amongst all other skateboarding community.

They wanted to have the same level of maintenance as other upper-brand companies such as DC and Globe.

But they didn’t have much management for that, and even didn’t know how to handle the bugs and drawback of their product.

They spent a lot of money on this issue to have a better ranking in the field of brands.

Suddenly, Nike workers decided to emerge and engage the company to design the process by using design thinking.

After getting this idea, they started a conversation and chat with other brands for their level and attitude.

In the days of conversations, they examined the main thing that the community looks for in a skateboarder company.

After all the conclusions and results, they started to make a skateboarding product and released it.

They released Nike Dunk SB after inclusive learning and searching from their customers and other communities.

Nowadays, Nike is much famous in the world of skateboarding culture, and this are all because to design thinking.

There are thousands of top listed phone manufacturing companies and one of them is Samsung .

It is a giant in electronic products and other accessories like smartphones, tab, and TV, etc.

In the very beginning, the chairman of this company got frustrated due to a lack of revolution in their company.

This is due to unplanned ideas and lack of proper consoling for moving the company in a way like other companies.

After that, the chairman realized that design thinking plays a vital role in the manufacturing of smartphones.

He understood that design thinking is the way to shape out Samsung like a top brand in the world.

Thus, Samsung created a design thinking team and focused on the innovation to make world-class products.

It is exciting to say that now, Samsung has one of the biggest teams in the world that works on design thinking.

These days Samsung makes the product of the future with shaping, designing, bridging them to unmet customers for a solution.

In short design, thinking can easily change the progress of one’s company and promote it to top-rated.

For the first time, the revenue of Toyota was $71.047 billion.

However, for resolving the issues and increasing the revenue for the next time, they completely changed the company’s design.

In simple words, they redesigned the whole package and customer contact services by using design thinking.

Design thinking gave the idea to make a multidisciplinary team that started to work on several projects of the company.

With design thinking, they invested more $500 million for better development of high-quality automated vehicles.

Now, Toyota is one of the global marketing company and plays over in more than 80 countries worldwide.

Design thinking gave the idea to build the automated cars with street design and smart home technology.

Also with design thinking, Toyota promotes robotic machines based upon the sensor aluminum check.

The company revenue has increased several times to unexpected values because of design thinking.

Pepsi ‘s CEO had a lot of struggle for the company but managed to grew the sales up to 80%

The only reason for increasing the sale is design thinking.

With design thinking, Pepsi made tremendous success in its field.

The CEO always believed that the company needed more innovation processes and postproduction experienced workers.

They got ideas from design thinking to create a culture in which they made a customer center that focused on the company’s decision.

Now all the decisions and the program that this company builds for the customers and workers are based on designing thinking

With design thinking, they made a Pepsi spire that was a touch screen fountain machine that talks to customers.

A tracking device was put in the machine that tracks purchases and makes a suggestion for customers.

This technology used by the Pepsi company came out because of design thinking.

After using the design thinking process, Apple became a more profitable company and grew sales up to 11%.

The design thinking idea changed the whole package of the company and the workers’ way of working.

They get $58.1 billion income net by changing their policies in a new style with the design thinking team’s help.

They dug deeply into the customers and made developing products that meet those needs the users want.

No doubt, Apple uses design thinking to build a prototype and test all of them with the end-user.

Furthermore, building up the prototype and testing them is as essential to the company as design thinking.

They make a goal and then figure out how they can achieve these goals by making changes into them.

10. Microsoft

In the technology market, Microsoft is one of the leading giant companies that ended last year with a $33.055 billion revenue.

Microsoft makes the increases in its revenue every year up to 13.65% in the beginning without any plan.

After right consoling and holding the design thinking team, this company is now expected second most profitable.

Now in the year 2020, its new revenue is $42.9 billion of net income, withholding 7.6% growth according to investors.

Before design thinking, Microsoft was able to alter itself from technology-centric to a user-centric company.

Design thinking completely reshaped this company and its products.

Now this kind of thinking plays an essential role in the company for solving the user’s problem and bugs in products.

After getting any kind of problem, they concern the users for that and addressing their needs in the working process.  

Microsoft has only one creative process which is delivering new value and new solutions with radical compassion.

Making new equipment that has more prolonged effect is only due to design thinking ideas.

Final Thoughts

Design thinking is a kind of skill that makes work much more comfortable and gives you more than one postulate of a solution.

These companies that use design thinking make better revenue and take an excellent rating.

No doubt, this is effortless just by making a team that is only focusing on the drawbacks and lacking to maintain them.

If you are holding a company or any institute, then we recommend you adapt to design thinking for it.

Read our other interesting articles below.

10 Best Websites Selling Logo Designs

5 Best Raindrop Brushes For Procreate

10 Amazon UX Designer Interview Questions

best ai course creators

10 Best AI Course Creators

masterworks membership overview

Masterworks Membership Interview: Demystified

How To Get the Most Out of Runway Motion Brush (In-Depth Guide)

How To Get the Most Out of Runway Motion Brush (In-Depth Guide)

Leave a reply cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Privacy Overview

Design Thinking: Creating Better Customer Experiences

Learn how the principles of design thinking can help fuel the success of your organization.

design workshop

Associated Schools

Harvard Division of Continuing Education

Harvard Division of Continuing Education

Professional & Executive Development

Professional & Executive Development

Course description.

Learn how to apply design thinking principles in your organization. Develop the skills to uncover customer needs through research, journey mapping, and rapid prototyping. 


design thinking of company

Jon Campbell

Prajakta Kulkarni

Prajakta Kulkarni

You may also like.

innovation workshop

Disruptive Innovation: Leveraging Multi-Sided Platforms

Develop the strategies and skills you need to design, launch, and scale a successful and sustainable multi-sided digital platform.

walkable cities

The Walkable City

Join Join Jeff Speck, author of the best-selling Walkable City, for a comprehensive two-day course on the most effective arguments, techniques, and tools for reshaping places in support of walking, biking, and transit.

Clarify, Ideate, Develop, and Implement

Design Thinking and Innovation

Design Thinking and Innovation from Harvard Business School (HBS) Online will teach you how to leverage fundamental design thinking principles and innovative problem-solving tools to address business challenges.

Brought to you by:

Darden School of Business

Design Thinking in Action (A): South Western Railway

By: Jeanne M. Liedtka

with a description of three concepts it inspired and an invitation to design a set of experiments to test the concepts' desirability, feasibility, and viability. The C case reviews the two phases of…

  • Length: 4 page(s)
  • Publication Date: Jul 4, 2022
  • Discipline: Strategy
  • Product #: UV8680-PDF-ENG

What's included:

  • Teaching Note
  • Educator Copy

$4.95 per student

degree granting course

$8.95 per student

non-degree granting course

Get access to this material, plus much more with a free Educator Account:

  • Access to world-famous HBS cases
  • Up to 60% off materials for your students
  • Resources for teaching online
  • Tips and reviews from other Educators

Already registered? Sign in

  • Student Registration
  • Non-Academic Registration
  • Included Materials

The South Western Railway (SWR) case series examines a design thinking project from its inception to the final stages of experimentation, with a particular emphasis on the design of research strategies, both at the initial discovery stage and at the concluding testing stage. The A and B cases each conclude at a pivotal stage in the data-gathering process. The A case sets the design problem and its context and invites students to design a plan for exploratory research as a follow-on assignment. The B case reviews the research strategy implemented, identifies insights it produced, and concludes

with a description of three concepts it inspired and an invitation to design a set of experiments to test the concepts' desirability, feasibility, and viability. The C case reviews the two phases of testing actually conducted. Taken together, the three cases cover a completed design thinking process in detail, with a particular goal of encouraging student reflection on the design of research plans, both exploratory and confirmatory. SWR operated some of the busiest train routes in the United Kingdom, with 235 million passenger journeys a year. It covered urban, suburban, regional, and long-distance routes between London's Waterloo Station and locations in southwestern England. SWR struggled with some long-term problems: challenging relations with a highly unionized work force, major network repairs needed, low staff morale, and overcrowded commuter services. All these were compounded by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Amid these challenges, senior leadership at SWR concluded that the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to change how the public and the UK Department for Transportation viewed SWR, and to improve the passenger experience. SWR reached out to David Kester & Associates (DK&A), a leading design-strategy consultancy, in search of a partnership that could help the rail company innovate. DK&A's mandate was clear: learn fast from customers, rapidly deliver confidence-building basics at stations, and work closely with SWR staff to reshape both the organization's culture and their passenger's experience. SWR wanted practical ideas to better meet customer needs-ones that could be trialed and scaled throughout the network. But how to go about gathering the data needed within a tight timeline amid the complexity of SWR's operations and opportunities? For those interested in adding self or peer assessment to students' design thinking learning journey, Professor Jeanne Liedtka, working with coauthors Karen Hold, Jessica Eldridge, and Treehouse

Design, has synthesized more than a decade of research at Darden to create the Innovation Impact Assessment. This tool will help students identify personal development opportunities and provide them with practical guidance (in the form of detailed individual feedback reports) to accelerate skill development. The instrument identifies a set of five core competencies based on 44 behaviors that successful design thinkers have in common. It is available for individual use and bulk purchase via Darden Business Publishing at this link: https://store.darden.virginia.edu/innovation_impact_assessment .

Jul 4, 2022 (Revised: Mar 13, 2023)



United Kingdom


Business consulting services, Industrial sector, Transportation and distribution

Darden School of Business


We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience, including personalizing content. Learn More . By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies and revised Privacy Policy .

design thinking of company

ENG60704 Chapter 1.5 - Design Thinking (understand and observe)+ Intro to Innovation-March 23


  • The Magazine
  • Newsletters
  • Managing Yourself
  • Managing Teams
  • Work-life Balance
  • The Big Idea
  • Data & Visuals
  • Reading Lists
  • Case Selections
  • HBR Learning
  • Topic Feeds
  • Account Settings
  • Email Preferences

Bring Human Values to AI

  • Jacob Abernethy,
  • François Candelon,
  • Theodoros Evgeniou,
  • Abhishek Gupta,
  • Yves Lostanlen

design thinking of company

When it launched GPT-4, in March 2023, OpenAI touted its superiority to its already impressive predecessor, saying the new version was better in terms of accuracy, reasoning ability, and test scores—all of which are AI-performance metrics that have been used for some time. However, most striking was OpenAI’s characterization of GPT-4 as “more aligned”—perhaps the first time that an AI product or service has been marketed in terms of its alignment with human values.

In this article a team of five experts offer a framework for thinking through the development challenges of creating AI-enabled products and services that are safe to use and robustly aligned with generally accepted and company-specific values. The challenges fall into five categories, corresponding to the key stages in a typical innovation process from design to development, deployment, and usage monitoring. For each set of challenges, the authors present an overview of the frameworks, practices, and tools that executives can leverage to face those challenges.

Speed and efficiency used to be the priority. Now issues such as safety and privacy matter too.

Idea in Brief

The problem.

Products and services increasingly leverage artificial intelligence to improve efficiency and performance, but the results can be unpredictable, intrusive, offensive, and even dangerous.

The Solution

Companies need to factor AI’s behavior and values into their innovation and development processes to ensure that they bring to market AI-enabled offerings that are safe to use and are aligned with generally accepted and company-specific values.

How to Proceed

This article identifies six key challenges that executives and entrepreneurs will face and describes how to meet them. Companies that move early to acquire the needed capabilities will find them an important source of competitive advantage.

When it launched GPT-4, in March 2023, OpenAI touted its superiority to its already impressive predecessor, saying the new version was better in terms of accuracy, reasoning ability, and test scores—all of which are AI-performance metrics that have been used for some time. However, most striking was OpenAI’s characterization of GPT-4 as “more aligned”—perhaps the first time that an AI product or service has been marketed in terms of its alignment with human values.

  • JA Jacob Abernethy is an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a cofounder of the water analytics company BlueConduit.
  • FC François Candelon is a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and the global director of the BCG Henderson Institute.
  • Theodoros Evgeniou is a professor at INSEAD and a cofounder of the trust and safety company Tremau.
  • AG Abhishek Gupta is the director for responsible AI at Boston Consulting Group, a fellow at the BCG Henderson Institute, and the founder and principal researcher of the Montreal AI Ethics Institute.
  • YL Yves Lostanlen has held executive roles at and advised the CEOs of numerous companies, including AI Redefined and Element AI.

design thinking of company

Partner Center


  1. Stanford Design Thinking Process

    design thinking of company

  2. “Design thinking” explained

    design thinking of company

  3. Guide: Design Thinking

    design thinking of company

  4. What Is Design Thinking, And How Does it Impact Your Business?

    design thinking of company

  5. 5 Essential Steps of the Design Thinking Process

    design thinking of company

  6. The Design Thinking Process

    design thinking of company


  1. 5 Examples of Design Thinking in Business

    Design thinking is a user-centric, solutions-based approach to problem-solving that can be described in four stages: Clarify: This phase involves observing a situation without bias.

  2. What is design thinking?

    Design thinking means putting customers, employees, and the planet at the center of problem solving. McKinsey's Design Practice has learned that design-led organizations start with design-driven cultures. Here are four steps to building success through the power of design: Understand your audience.

  3. What Is Design Thinking & Why Is It Important?

    Design thinking is a mindset and approach to problem-solving and innovation anchored around human-centered design. While it can be traced back centuries—and perhaps even longer—it gained traction in the modern business world after Tim Brown, CEO and president of design company IDEO, published an article about it in the Harvard Business Review.

  4. Design thinking, explained

    At a high level, the steps involved in the design thinking process are simple: first, fully understand the problem; second, explore a wide range of possible solutions; third, iterate extensively through prototyping and testing; and finally, implement through the customary deployment mechanisms.

  5. Ten principles of design thinking that deliver business value

    1) From departmental silos to cross-functional teams. Companies with a central, siloed design department (sometimes subsumed into marketing or R&D) generally performed less well financially than those that let designers off the leash and distributed design experts into cross-functional product-focused teams.

  6. What is Design Thinking?

    Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. It is most useful to tackle ill-defined or unknown problems and involves five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Show video transcript

  7. 4 Inspiring Design Thinking Examples with Valuable Lessons

    Design thinking is a powerful tool for product teams, but what does it look like in practice? How have successful companies applied it—and why does it work? Last updated 9 May 2022 Reading time 18 min Share

  8. Why Design Thinking Works

    Marcos Chin Summary. While we know a lot about practices that stimulate new ideas, innovation teams often struggle to apply them. Why? Because people's biases and entrenched behaviors get in the...

  9. What Exactly Is Design Thinking? [Updated Guide for 2024]

    Design thinking is an approach used for practical and creative problem-solving. It is based heavily on the methods and processes that designers use (hence the name), but it has actually evolved from a range of different fields—including architecture, engineering and business.

  10. Design Thinking Insights

    A design-led approach to embracing an ecosystem strategy. July 21, 2021 -. Embedding design thinking, methods, and tools from the outset of ecosystem development will help companies produce integrated ecosystem offerings that delight customers, stave off threats, and create new sources of value. Interactive - McKinsey Quarterly.

  11. How to Use Design Thinking to Guide Your Company's Innovation

    In practice, design thinking involves five key steps guiding companies and businesses: Empathize Define

  12. IDEO Design Thinking

    Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. —Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO

  13. The Value of Design Thinking in Business

    Design thinking is an approach to creative problem solving that is widely recognized as a valuable course to human-centered product innovation. It has been called a methodology, a culture, and a philosophy. Design thinking, fundamentally, recognizes that design should achieve purpose and business goals, not just beauty.

  14. 6 Companies that Have Successfully Applied Design Thinking

    ‍ ‍ 1. Nordstrom Nordstrom is known to be one of the most customer-centric companies in the world. This was evident when they were creating their new in-store sunglass app. Rather than take the standard approach used by many large organisations before them (pick a solution and spend lots of money), Nordstrom applied Design Thinking.

  15. Design Thinking Comes of Age

    It's about imparting the principles of design—collectively known as design thinking —throughout the organization. The approach is in large part a response to the complexity of many products,...

  16. Design Thinking Examples: How Successful Companies Apply It

    Design thinking is a unique client-centered approach that helps businesses create innovative ideas using a human point of view instead of raw historical data.

  17. The 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process

    The Design Thinking process is a human-centered, iterative methodology that designers use to solve problems. It has 5 steps—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. ... For example, you should not define the problem as your own wish or need of the company: "We need to increase our food-product market share among young teenage girls by ...

  18. Design thinking in action ... 35 great examples of companies using

    May 7, 2017 Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving Design thinking is a term coined by David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school. It utilises elements from the designer's toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions.

  19. What is design thinking? Examples, stages and case studies

    Facebook X LinkedIn Design thinking is a mindset that breeds innovation. While it's based on the design process, anyone in any profession can use it when they're trying to come up with creative solutions to a problem. In this guide, we'll walk you through what design thinking is and why it's important, including the five stages of design thinking.

  20. 5 Game-Changing Design Thinking Examples to Learn From

    3. Key takeaways. These examples of design thinking show just how impactful this methodology can be when solving problems. Whether it's a new app, a community service, or a physical product, the best thing you can do to innovate successfully is to keep your user in mind at every step in the design process. It can be tempting to create a ...

  21. Design Thinking: Process, Examples, & Models

    Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear process that seeks to understand the user of a product or service, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems. The alternative strategies developed from this method are inventive in nature because the process pushes team members to consider what might not be instantly apparent.

  22. About IDEO: Our Story, Who we Are, How We Work

    It also keeps the people we're designing for at the center of the process, getting their buy-in early on—an integral part of human-centered design. IDEO is a global design company. We believe a better future is for all of us to design. We use phrases like "design thinking" and "human-centered design" to describe our process.

  23. Top 10 Companies That Use Design Thinking: Be Inspired!

    Inspiration 10 Companies That Use Design Thinking All over the world, there are many companies that use design thinking for their improvement and development. There are more than 75% of companies worldwide that engage in designing thinking.

  24. Design Thinking: Creating Better Customer Experiences

    Learn how the principles of design thinking can help fuel the success of your organization. ... Design Thinking and Innovation from Harvard Business School (HBS) Online will teach you how to leverage fundamental design thinking principles and innovative problem-solving tools to address business challenges.

  25. Design Thinking in Action (A): South Western Railway

    with a description of three concepts it inspired and an invitation to design a set of experiments to test the concepts' desirability, feasibility, and viability. The C case reviews the two phases of testing actually conducted. Taken together, the three cases cover a completed design thinking process in detail, with a particular goal of encouraging student reflection on the design of research ...

  26. ENG60704 Chapter 1.5

    English document from Taylor's University, 18 pages, ENG60704 ENGINEERING DESIGN AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT FELICIA WONG YEN MYAN OUTLINE Why innovate 10 types of innovation Design thinking process what is it? Business value Understand Observe Project theme How to approach project? Recap 2 WHY INNOVATE?

  27. Bring Human Values to AI

    In this article a team of five experts offer a framework for thinking through the development challenges of creating AI-enabled products and services that are safe to use and robustly aligned with ...

  28. Best UI/UX Design Bootcamps Of 2024

    Tech companies rely on UX and UI designers to create accessible, aesthetic and user-friendly web interfaces. UI/UX design bootcamps offer a fast track to these in-demand tech careers. Focused on ...