How can strategic design thinking empower designers?

by Markkose Mathew June 9, 2020 4 mins read

What is Strategic Design Thinking?

In simple terms, Design thinking looks at literally everything from “What does the customer want” instead of the popular thinking style of “What do we do well?”

Design Thinking is a focussed innovation methodology based on the way designers seek to reconcile technological feasibility to profitability and customer desirability. It focuses on solutions, not problems, and rests on the principles of customer-centric design, rapid prototyping and experimentation. Design thinking is all about radical innovation in all areas from a customer’s eye-view. Design thinking has already proven its value in product development.

A lesser articulated fact is that it’s a key tool for strategic decision-making in the future. Strategic Design Thinking ticks all the boxes for companies that want to develop a light footprint, become genuinely customer-centric and make full use of digital technology while staying profitable. If you get the thinking right, there is a high likelihood that your decisions are right too.

The Game Has Changed

There umpteen good reasons why design thinking is a topical issue right now, especially for strategic decision-making:

  • -Profits and healthy toplines have given way to customer orientation and innovation as top strategic priorities.
  • -Most top managers and employees have been through a strongly analytical education, and this one-sided view may have been fine in the past. The future, however, requires a healthy mix of analytical and intuitive thinking.
  • -Today’s generation has grown up with lean interfaces and outstanding designs. Think of the way Amazon lets you place orders with a few clicks, or how Apple has revolutionized electronic devices. Design thinking gives organisations a customer-centric way of thinking to deliver a comparable experience.
  • -Many of today’s successful organisations, were established in the 20th century and some even beyond. The strategies that counted on during their inception, may no longer be valid. Design thinking helps organizations understand the needs of their various stakeholders and redesign the strategy accordingly.
  • -Outdated organizational structures and silo mentalities inhibit successful collaboration. Design thinking introduces a new way of working within the company that is based on teamwork, interdisciplinary collaboration and lean hierarchies.
  • -Design thinking shortens the time to market, thanks to rapid prototyping and experimentation. Instead of long planning cycles, early prototypes are market-tested and continuously refined based on user feedback... This saves time and reduces the risk of failed innovations.

The Need For Fresh Thinking

The pressure of external trade-offs and the need for incumbents in particular to rediscover the joys of entrepreneurship have created an urgent need for new ways of thinking and decision-making. Five areas of tension, in particular, underline the potential that design thinking can unleash:

1. Strategic ambition

Big versus small: Instead of thinking in terms of incremental improvements to existing offerings, companies should be reaching for the stars. New and valuable growth areas can be tapped by including scalable business models in the corporate agenda and development program.

2. Entrepreneurial culture

People versus technology: Based on a clear and overarching vision, a customer-centric approach allows companies to identify new business models and products. Good quality, ease of use and desirability are the new target parameters.

3. New skillsets

Knowledge versus intuition: Companies are either not collecting the right data or are collecting enormous amounts of data and not using it efficiently. Smart data – using the right data for the right decisions to uncover trends, needs and wants and steer business activities – is the new paradigm.

4. Agile processes

60% versus 100%: Applying concepts such as rapid prototyping and experimentation can shorten the time to market and cut costs compared to traditional methods. New products are iteratively tested on the market even before they have been finalized. This makes the product generation faster and more focused on customer requirements, which can be incorporated through direct feedback.

5. Inspiring environments

Network versus silos: Joined-up thinking is another new business paradigm. Silos within the organization are broken up as business units collaborate across different areas. Similarly, companies are collaborating with external partners in various fields – even with players from other industries – to enhance their creativity and diversity.


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