Design Thinking and Marketing

By: Joe Ickes  | 05/30/2018

Design thinking is all about change and innovation.

Making your product, process or service better and/or more efficient. Before we get into how it can make those things better we must talk about what design thinking is and what it means.

Design thinking, as Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO defines it, 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.”

It's keeping the end users of your product, process or service in mind when enacting it. It allows for rapid innovation, experimentation, and change in order to test out new ideas.

There are many different philosophies behind design thinking and different steps to follow to achieve the end result. For the purposes of this article, we will be following the philosophy of Nielsen Norman Group, one of the leading user experience research firms around the world.


The design thinking process

Empathize: Understand the people using your product, process, or service. Research, study and observe them and how they are interacting with something. Put yourself in their shoes.

Define: Review the findings of your research and observations and create a list of your user’s problems.

Ideate: Brainstorm ideas and begin to think about how you could make their whole experience better. Record all of the ideas you have. Make sure to have a wide variety of ideas which solve the problem which were discovered previously.

Prototype: Create the vision which was brainstormed.

Test: Go back to the users and survey them again. See if there are any problems with the new experience. If so, go back to the ideate step and come up with new ideas.

Implement: Put your new vision into action and ensure it's used by everyone.


How to use design thinking in marketing

The whole goal of design thinking is to be inclusive and include the end users. From a business perspective it can reduce costs and expenses and create better business solutions.

Golden Gate Regional Center (GGRC) employees, Elizabeth Woodson and Saul Gurdus, enacted design thinking within their company to bring to their clients. GGRC provides financial support to clients who have developmental disabilities. To provide these services to people, GGRC has to first conduct a number of assessments with potential clients.

Conducting these assessments can be a very lengthly process since the government is usually involved. The ability for clients to get to the places where these assessments are being held was another obstacle since some may not drive. These inconveniences made the clients' lives very difficult and caused many people to avoid the process altogether.

To fix this, Elizabeth and Saul decided to try to bring GGRC to the people.

They wanted to test if there was a better way to reach their customers and have a higher opt-in rate to their service. By working with their clients on a daily basis, they had already developed a great amount of empathy for their customers. They knew their problems stemmed from getting the customers to come to them to use their service.

So, Elizabeth and Saul brainstormed ideas and bought an RV, creating a mobile office to meet with potential clients in their own neighborhoods. They went out and tested this idea with their customers and it ended up working. More customers opted into their service and they were also able to process their assessments faster since they were on-site with their customers.

With these steps, they showed all of GGRC that there are different ways to operate their business and reach their customers. They proved that experimentation was a good thing and that just because they currently operate one way doesn't make it the correct way.

As another example, IBM, has also started to enact their own version of design thinking while developing products and has had some great results.

Results of design thinking process on marketing: 2x faster to market, 33%25 reduced development time, 301%25 ROI




The whole goal of design thinking is to include the end user. From a marketing perspective, it can reduce costs and help come up with better solutions to current work flows in place. Design thinking gives people and companies the freedom to experiment and to not be afraid to try new things.

A good quote to sum up design thinking is from Klaus Schwab, a German economist and engineer:

“Change can be frightening, and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities - to learn new things, to rethink tired processes, and to improve the way we work.”

Design thinking allows change to happen and for new learnings to come to light for all types of products, processes and services.




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