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The Value of Design Thinking

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Design
Wordcount: 1839 words Published: 18th Oct 2021

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Design Thinking is a non-linear method used to design products and services by focusing primarily on potential solutions and not the underlying problem, which is incredibly valuable to all organisations. It was introduced by Tim Brown and David Kelly at the University of Stanford in order to tackle problems in a human-centred manner, it is becoming more and more popular with businesses because it focuses primarily on the needs of the users and stakeholders by taking into account their cultures, backgrounds and other information which may alter their response to a product or service.  This information is accessed by observing potential stakeholders and recording qualitative and quantitative data which allows the problem solver to empathise with the stakeholder, therefore allowing them to identify what the true problem is in the Synthesis stage. The next stage is ideation, by now the designers should understand the users and their needs and will have a problem statement on which they can base their potential solutions off of. During the ideation stage designers are encouraged to 'think outside the box' and not be afraid to deviate from their initial plan by looking at the problem from different perspectives. This is highly valuable because many ideas which may have seemed impractical before can be researched in more depth, allowing the problem space to grow and more problem solutions to be created. This is followed by the Prototype stage, here multiple prototypes can be made and tested by potential users or volunteers, the process of prototyping and having a tangible object allows for problems to be identified by the volunteers or yourself and rectified more easily. Prototyping is also useful, especially in large scale design projects, because it can be shown to potential investors, allowing you to gauge interest or investment without investing large amounts of money into a full-scale model.

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An example of value being created by the first stage of Design thinking, exploration, is for the toymaker LEGO. At the beginning of the millennium "LEGO was the 5th largest toy manufacturer" (Lucy Kimbell, 2015)  globally, however, it was still "losing $1 million a day" (Kimbell, 2015), in order to combat these problems a new CEO, Juergen Vig Knudstorp was appointed. He implemented a new strategy for market research in the form of Design thinking. The "research team developed four key insights – that children play: To 'get oxygen', that is, escape parents' scrutiny, to understand hierarchy, to achieve mastery at a skill, and to socialise" (Kimbell, 2015). Thanks to this research, LEGO was able to tailor its products to the children's desires, creating value for the children, and therefore resulting in higher sales for the company. In fact, according to the Russia Higher School of Economics, "LEGO investments [outperformed] large stocks, bonds, gold and other alternative investments, yielding the average return of at least 11%" (Dobrysnskaya & Kishilova, 2018)  between the years of 2005 – 2015. In this case study, it is clear that the implementation of design thinking allowed the company to create value in monetary terms thanks to the research done during the first 6 months of Juergen Vig Knudstorp's time as CEO.

Another example of design thinking being used beneficially in the industry is the case of Airbnb. During late 2009 the companies revenue was "just $200 a week" ("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d), clearly unsustainable for the business. In order to combat this the 3 co-founders met to discuss how they could turn their business around, they soon realised that the problem was that all the photos "sucked" ("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d) and one of the co-founders, Joe Gebbia was quoted as saying "It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for." ("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d) Prior to this new approach, Airbnb assumed 'they could code [their] way through problems" ("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d). However they soon came to the realisation that "code alone can't solve every problem that customers have" ("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d), hence why they took a different approach, through design thinking. They decided to travel to New York to take more professional, better-looking photos and interview stakeholders in the business, the people renting out their properties and people who have potentially been customers.  Within a week they had 'doubled the weekly revenue to $400 a week'("How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business", n. d). Here it is evident that the design thinking approach was hugely beneficial in creating value for the company, owing to the human-centred nature of the process. Had they not used this process then they would have continued to view their customers as individual pieces of data, and not discovered what they truly desire therefore they would not have been able to root out what the problem was with their business plan. This is perfectly summarised by Rebecca Altman who stated "design is more than solving a problem.  Design is about making solutions, which at their very core are rooted in a belief in people. This is why human-centred design is a critical building block for a future of authentic human connection"  in the paper titled Influence of Reported Study Design Characteristics on Intervention Effect Estimates From Randomized, Controlled Trials, 2012. I believe this statement embodies why Design thinking is so valuable in the current day and age as technology and data dominate research methods and influence how businesses react, without taking into account how people react to changes in real life; emotions cannot be taken into account by computers and code. In Yotam Lurie's paper titled "Humanizing Business through emotions: On the Role of Emotions in Ethics" Lurie states that "having emotions, feelings, and affections is an important ethical asset for businesses and is central to humanizing management" (Lurie, 2004). It is clear in the case of Airbnb stated above that when they took into account what the potential stakeholders wanted on a personal level they were able to adjust their business model and therefore create more value for their business and for the stakeholders, who were created value for by being offered affordable places to stay anywhere around the world with ease.

Design Thinking is valuable because it encourages designers "to create ideas at the outset of the development process" (Brown & Katz, 2011), instead of building upon a pre-existing notion as stated by Tim Brown and Barry Katz in the Journal of Product Innovation Management / Volume 28, Issue 3. It is also stated in this journal that "these principles turn out to be applicable to a wide range of organisations, not just to companies in search of a new product offering" (Brown & Katz, 2011). Design thinking can even be applied to the global problem of climate change, instead of building on solutions already in place for problems such a water scarcity, for example, new ideas are being thought up which previously may not have even been considered. Take the problem of accessing water in urban spaces in Kenya. Due to the huge influx of rural-urban migration of over 250,00 a year, (The World Bank, 2011), more and more stress is being put upon water supplies, therefore meaning the previous solution of installing improved water pipes is becoming less and less viable. Due to this, new innovative systems need to be designed in order to combat the problem. One example of these new systems was an "effective and easily accessible water filtration system…which uses solar distillation, harnessing the sun to remove contaminants from water in Kenya" (ExperiencePoint, 2019) called the Har-K. It was designed by a group of students from around the world under the supervision of "Harvard's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) [and used] Design Thinking to tackle this problem" (ExperiencePoint, 2019). Here the value created by the Har-K is immense, obviously, by giving Kenyan access to clean water, and it shows that design thinking is applicable to a multitude of organisations of all different sizes.  This is another reason why I think design thinking is such a valuable tool.

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To conclude, I believe that the key reasons that design thinking is so valuable is because it encourages designers to be creative and not try to build upon previous solutions. Without this creativity, the world and all its societies would not progress or develop, instead they would remain at a standstill and become stagnant. As a whole, we have become too focused on scientific thinking,  technology and data have begun to take over, instead, we must think about what stakeholders in society really need and how we can provide solutions by using "critical thinking and in-depth cognitive processes" (Razzouk & Shute 2012). This is what design thinking provides, and it is why it is so valuable, especially in this day and age.


  • Brown, T & Katz B. 2011, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Wiley Blackwell. vol 28, no. 3
  • Dobrynskaya, V & Kishilova, J, 2018, LEGO – The Toy of Smart Investors. Russia Higher School of Economics. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3291456
  • Fengler, W, 2011, Why Do Kenyans wants to Love in Cities? World Bank Blogs, https://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/why-do-kenyans-want-to-live-in-cities
  • Kimbell, L, 2015, The Service Innovation Handbook, BIS Publishers, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • Lurie, Y, 2004, Journal of Business Ethics, Kluwer Academic Publishers. vol 49, no. 1, pp. 1-11 https://doi.org/10.1023/B:BUSI.0000013851.16825.51
  • Razzouk, R & Shute, V. 2012, What is Design Thinking and Why is it Important, vol 83, no. 3, pp. 330-348.
  • Savović J, Jones HE, Altman DG, R  et al. 2012. Influence of Reported Study Design Characteristics on Intervention Effect Estimates From Randomized, Controlled Trials. Ann Intern Med. vol 157, pp. 429-438.
  • https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-157-6-201209180-00537
  • Unknown Author, 2019, Design Thinkers Tackle Climate Change, ExperiencePoint, https://blog.experiencepoint.com/design-thinking-for-climate-change
  • Unknown author, n. d., How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business.  First Round,
  • https://firstround.com/review/How-design-thinking-transformed-Airbnb-from-failing-startup-to-billion-dollar-business/


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