You may have been hearing more lately about “design thinking” as it relates to providing experiences that delight customers. But what does it mean – and how can organizations begin to embrace the principle? Below we lay out the steps you can take to put design thinking to work.

Our daily lives seem permeated at every level by experiences that delight us, often enabled by technology that is easy to use and delivered by companies that seem to know us well. Think Uber, Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Spotify – the list goes on and they are only getting better at it.

How do they do it? Simple: they use “design thinking,” the art of putting customers’ needs at the center of everything you do. For-profit and nonprofit organizations alike are awakening to the critical need to apply design thinking to their product development and business processes. As the adage goes, cited most recently by Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Dieter Speth: “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”

Get to a single source of truth

Design thinking begins with having a thorough understanding of what your customers or users are trying to achieve – a concept known as “discovering user needs.” These needs are identified by gathering information across numerous touchpoints, described below but generally including customer interviews, market data and usage data. Of particular importance is capturing user behavior on digital platforms (website, email and social media, etc.) and sharing the findings across the enterprise. This gives your staff a 360-degree view of how and why people use your organization’s products and services, and engages them in the needs discovery process

These well-defined exercises are your first steps to informing the changes you may need to your platform’s technological design. The platform then uses available data as fuel, to help you make decisions about your prospects and customers. For more information on modern operating platforms, I recommend reading ‘Five keys to a modern operating platform’ and ‘ It’s not about digital’ by my colleague, Jonathan Murray .

Deploy a ‘Delta Force’

You may be asking yourself, “How do I even start all of this?”

Start by hiring an outside expert on design thinking and gathering data about your users and their needs. Think of them as your reconnaissance Delta Force for customer intelligence. Use the information they uncover to build-out your own knowledge base and mature internally as a design-led organization.

Begin looking at your world from your clients’ perspective, taking an “outside-in” approach to understanding your customers and their markets. Then re-imagine your offerings, including developing the content strategies, marketing automation and analytics you need to respond to their needs and repeatedly delight them.

Act and be methodical

Use a methodical approach to find and capitalize on your strengths and overcome your challenges. Listed below are a few of the recommended actions to start building a capacity for design thinking:

  • Conversations , with staff and customers to highlight thematic problem areas
  • Gathering data , on known user behaviors to supplement your conversations
  • Persona work , to uncover user needs and inform the design of future technology products
  • Feedback loops , to allow you to continuously improve and stay on top of customer reactions to the changes you make
  • Agile methods , embracing the notions of iterative, continuous delivery of new value and working as a team
  • Workshops , to engage your own teams, providing a platform for discourse on new ideas

Document and summarize all of your findings and make the learnings available to the larger team. This is one step forward in creating a culture of continuous learning and transparency. For more information on communities, you should take a look at Martha Denton ’s recent post on the subject .

Once your team is equipped with solid information and data about user needs, it can proceed with confidence toward designing and developing new products, services, processes and strategies that meet those needs.

Own it all

At dPrism we are firm believers that clients should ultimately develop in-house capability for design thinking. Doing so will not only increase customer engagement, it will also energize your internal teams as they develop design thinking methods and competencies, and benefit from the confidence and satisfaction that comes through active participation in the process.

If you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to send me an email .