How to Apply Design Thinking to Your Work

A woman leads a brainstorming session with her coworkers

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that’s been consistently gaining popularity in organizations across the world. Many in managerial roles have benefited significantly from the utilization and implementation of design thinking when it comes to finding impactful solutions to challenging problems.

Both those already working in a business setting and those pursuing an education in business can benefit from an understanding of how to apply design thinking in the workplace. Relying on a combination of user-centric thinking and scientific principles, design thinking is a process that can help anyone attempting to tackle difficult problems, especially those pursuing advanced business degrees, find creative and impactful solutions. 

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a process through which you can generate and implement effective solutions to difficult problems by focusing on people’s experiences, utilizing scientific approaches to problem-solving, and thinking creatively about solutions. This can include visual representations that aim to help you better understand your consumer such as journey maps, along with collaborative brainstorming sessions with your team.

Design thinking aims to tackle problems in a holistic manner by taking into account all aspects and contexts surrounding a particular problem rather than focusing solely on specific, isolated issues. What makes design thinking such a valuable resource is its ability to be utilized in a variety of industries such as design, business, and education.

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The Design Thinking Process

The design thinking process includes several key components that can help you and your team develop a better understanding of your product users, test different iterations of products, and allow for creative thinking. Though the process consists of several steps, they don’t have to be completed in a linear or sequential fashion. The design thinking process is able to flow organically, and various parts can be done concurrently. Here are some of the key components in the design thinking process:

  • Understand the consumer: The design thinking process typically starts with the act of empathizing with an organization’s target customer(s). This means attempting to put yourself in your consumer’s shoes and tap into their thoughts and emotions. This can be done through a process called journey mapping, in which you and your team create a visual representation of the steps your consumer completes in order to reach a certain goal. 
  • Define your problem or challenge thoroughly: This step in the design thinking process can include several components. It can include defining your challenge holistically; for instance, getting to the underlying root problem of which a specific challenge is a symptom. It can also include identifying your customer or consumer’s specific needs and problems, which can be done by drawing upon your research and insights. 
  • Generate ideas: This part of the design thinking process involves brainstorming, creative thinking, and collaboration between team members. This is where all of your team’s ideas are allowed to be considered without judgment or criticism. It’s important to keep in mind that ideas that don’t necessarily offer a viable solution to a problem could eventually lead to an idea that does.
  • Create prototypes: At this point in the process, you and your team can begin to utilize the ideas and insights you generated in order to create prototypes. This process can be repeated to refine products and strategies until they’re ready to be implemented.
  • Test your ideas: This component of the design thinking process utilizes the feedback of your consumers or customers to test the ideas and prototypes you and your team have generated. This step is crucial because it allows you to verify with certainty whether or not you’re adequately addressing your consumer’s needs. 
  • Implement your innovations: After you’ve gone through the process of generating innovative ideas and testing them to verify their effectiveness, it’s now time to implement your product or ideas into action.

Examples of Businesses That Have Benefited From Applying Design Thinking

You may be surprised to know some of the biggest names in business and technology have attributed their success to design thinking. Here are some examples:


Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia attributes the design thinking practice of testing out-of-the-box solutions to “chang[ing] the trajectory of [Airbnb].” At the time, the company was struggling with a lack of users booking stays. Soon, the Airbnb team began to realize all of the photography was low-quality and unappealing, which put the lack of bookings into perspective. It was at this point that Paul Graham, an associate of the Airbnb team, suggested the idea of going to New York City and taking high-quality photos of rentals themselves. It was through this unscalable idea that Airbnb was able to pivot and begin to gain major traction. Had the team not utilized design thinking principles in their efforts to solve their problem, Airbnb may have gone out of business.


Paul Clayton Smith, a former member of the UberEats design team, states that UberEats has had “gratifying” results as a result of applying design thinking principles such as getting to know the user and constant iteration of new features. UberEats makes ample use of design thinking principles by getting to know their app users, restaurant partners, and local food scenes of the cities in which they operate. This intense commitment to understanding their application users coupled with the constant iteration and testing of new features have allowed UberEats to expand its operation at a rapid and impressive rate.


IBM is a company that has fully embraced the design thinking process, and as a result, has experienced a slew of significant benefits. By utilizing design thinking principles and processes throughout their organization, IBM was able to get products to market twice as fast, reduce defects in their products by 50%, and increase their profitability by a whopping 38%. By taking a holistic approach that put users at the center of the problem-solving conversations and allowing creative, out-of-the-box thinking, IBM was able to reap the massive benefits that design thinking can offer to large organizations.

What Is Journey Mapping?

Journey maps are a tool you and your team can utilize to gain a deeper understanding of your consumer’s experience with your product or service. A journey map is a visual representation of your consumer’s experience and can help provide you with some clarity about their specific needs. Here are some of the components you’ll typically find in a journey map:

  • User or actor: The representation of the hypothetical consumer experiencing your product or service. 
  • Goal or objective: The specific objective the hypothetical user needs to complete. 
  • Scenario and context: The user’s need or goal and all of the steps they need to complete to reach it. 
  • Touchpoints: The instances in which the user interacts with your product or company. The journey map illuminates how the user interacts and engages with your product and company. 
  • Behaviors and emotions: How the user feels at each stage of the journey.

Design Thinking For Managers

Applying design thinking to your business can be an effective way to solve problems, understand your consumer or customer, and foster collaboration among your team. Managers looking to improve their team’s efficacy can benefit immensely from taking the time to apply the design thinking process to their projects and operations.

No matter what stage of business you’re in, design thinking can benefit your process of creating products and getting to know your consumer. By utilizing design thinking principles, your team can gain a holistic sense of your consumer or customer’s needs, which will ultimately allow you to serve them better.

Take the Leap

For those looking to advance their career opportunities with an MBA, having a solid grasp of the design thinking process is a great way to gain insight into collaborative problem-solving and creative leadership. MBA holders can expand their possibilities by understanding and utilizing the design thinking process in their educational and business-related pursuits.

Discover what an MBA can do to boost your career with Point Loma Nazarene University’s Daytime and Evening MBA programs. Whether you’re a working professional looking to advance your career without jeopardizing your current income or a recent graduate intent on furthering your education, PLNU can accommodate your specific needs and schedule. You can find more information on PLNU’s advanced education program’s here. Or apply now and offer yourself the chance to explore your true potential.

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