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Demystifying Design Thinking

Design Thinking Steps

I was reading an HBR article titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO), when it struck me why do people call Steve Jobs a “genius”? Was it his ability to envision a new industry, a strong grasp of product which people want or sharp business acumen?

Many say his “genius” lay in the fact that he combined everything; understanding of customers, products that people will love as well as acute business sense.

But what goes into creating this “genius”? Are they more intelligent than others? Do they have IQ level that surpasses anyone else’s?

Tim gives example of Thomas Edison as someone with an awesome business sense around a product he invented. Unlike other inventors, Edison just did not invent the bulb as a discreet product and left it as it is. Rather Edison was able to envision an entire industry around it. So his “genius” lied in the fact that he understood the entire eco-system that could be developed around a bulb. So how do we term this genius that both Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison had? It is the “Design Mindset”.

So what is this Design Mindset?

It is the ability to understand the user’s needs and preferences by having a thorough understanding of what people want and need in their lives, what they like or dislike about a certain product or service.

Design is not about a genius artist drawing a beautiful picture; design is not about a technology geek who can develop an awesome product. But design happens when every skill comes together – the artist, the developer, the marketer, the salesman and the user to create something that people will love to use.

Tim Brown points out that design is not the work of a lone creative genius, but rather it is achieved through collaborations between various disciplines.

In another part of the article he explains that:

The myth of the creative genius is resilient:  We believe that great ideas pop fully formed out of brilliant minds, in feats of imagination well beyond the abilities of mere mortals. But… was a result of hard work augmented by a creative human-centered discovery process and followed by iterative cycles of prototyping, testing and refinement.

Tim gives the case study of a hospital where his company IDEO worked with the management to help improve the service efficiency of the nurses thus benefitting all stakeholders; patients, nurses and the hospital management. And all this was achieved through understanding the customer need, their pains and designing an effective solution through iteration.

Steve Jobs brilliance was his ability to bring the various interdisciplinary skills all in him.

Often we see startups develop a brilliant idea, launch their product but with no importance attached to design. When we think of design we think of hiring a UI/UX designer and we think of the cost associated with it. But design is not about a UI/UX expert, it is not about having a colorful website. Rather design lies in the very aspect of your value proposition and how you translate that value proposition into your product/service and how your consumers consume your product/service.

Design is about the user and what makes the user happy and satisfied. If you are developing a product/service to solve a problem for a target market, you are inherently thinking design.

Design thinking is not a skill that you can learn in a school. Rather it comes from the core understanding of what your vision is, and what you want to give to your customers. It is that clarity of thought that separates the “genius” from the “mere mortals”.

So how do you develop Design Thinking?

  • Firstly it is about having “Empathy” for your customer and other stakeholders. By empathy, I mean understand your customers, their problems, needs or wants, things that they say (or don’t say).
  • Observe your customers in action. Sometimes it is of no use to ask customers what their problems are. Because often people are so used to a certain way of doing things, they will not acknowledge it is a problem. However, when you observe them and their actions, you will discover things that they would never have articulated to you.
  • Create prototypes and test with your user. More you test your prototypes with the user, you will be able to unearth new problems which can help you fine tune your product/service better.
  • Iterate till you perfect.

So next time when you think of redesigning your website, or change the way your customer can buy products from your website; analyse the problem, why and for whom is do you want to change and what do you want to change. Ask a potential customer to use your website and observe how he uses it. You may realize that your initial assumptions about the problems on your website were not correct. Rather the problem lies in something completely different. This is “Design Thinking”.

Do you have examples you want to share of Design Thinking? Do let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.



Raunak Guha – Co- founder FounderMates

Raunak holds an MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Imperial College London. Prior to starting, he was working as a Business Development Executive with a Financial Analytics SME in the UK. He has been very active in the startup eco-system in London and possesses a deep passion to foster entrepreneurship globally.

He can be contacted at +91 9008 639 690 and his email id is:

Raunak’s past article(s):

Innovation – What it is NOT :


Article Name
Demystifying Design Thinking
What is this Design Thinking? Can it be taught? How can entrepreneur think design? This article explains steps in Design Thinking and how to perfect it.