Design Thinking: A verb or a Noun

In 2018, when Design thinking is celebrating its 53rd birthday from its first mention by L. Bruce Archer in his book “Systematic Method for Designers”, has walked a long road of self-improvisation and development. Embracing technology and high-paced innovation is critical for companies to keep succeeding in disruptive times. The more dependency of industries on technological advancements has voiced the need for a human-centric approach to finding the solutions to problems of this VUCA world keeping ample room for innovation.


Before I define Design thinking let us understand how Tim Brown has to define Design Thinking.

Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. - Tim Brown CEO of IDEO

To me, design thinking is a humanitarian approach having technical and economic viability. Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on people and merges creativity with innovation. A general misconception of the meaning of Design Thinking is to directly relate it to an early meaning of Design.

In the words of Doug Powell, Program Director for Education & Activation IBM Design (IBM, 2014b): “Design Thinking is rooted in three key thought models:

  1. Empathy for the user, the person who is using a product or service.
  2. Rapid Prototyping, the building of an idea.
  3. Radical Collaboration, where are different disciplines engaging in this Design -Thinking Approach to address this open problem.


Phases of Design Thinking

As IDEO founder David Kelley says, design thinking is not a linear path, it’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.

Design thinking involves 5 different stages. These are:

  1. Empathise
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Create/Prototype
  5. Test

Why Design Thinking as a verb is Important

The word design can be a verb or a noun: the act or process of designing and the process of reaching output can be either of these. Used as a noun, the word design seems to have an edge over the design as a verb in the popular practices of the current era. Design as a verb is about the way they (designers, researchers) think and act, their attitudes and approaches to problems and solutions.

Following are my arguments against Design as a noun:

1. The design is all about work and action. Organizations nowadays stuck so much in discussion room deciding upon strategies, road maps, planning and analyzing. Design thinking approach gives the flexibility to move from talking to action.

2. Secondly, this helps us to deal with unconventional problems which we figure out which gives an edge overstable and predictable problem statements. The research which we do for empathy mapping several times gives an entirely new set of the problem statement.

3. Design Thinking gives us an understanding that the product and services which we are working on at the end of the day are going to help human beings. Those are bought by human beings. The human-centric approach helps in the understanding and defining the problem statement which further helps in ideation of the probable solutions.

4. Prototyping helps the designers and researchers to understand the problem on more holistically view. This involves exploring different possible obstacles to solving the problem.

Organization using Design Thinking.

1.Procter and Gamble

In the 1990s, P&G’s “Oil of Olay”, an anti-aging skincare brand, was running at a loss and was struggling hard to dominate the market. Eventually, after considerable study and research, which included senior managers closely observing consumers at retail stores, the company realized that their main consumers were women over the age of 50.

They found out that women, who were in their 30s and 40s, were equally worried about wrinkles. By ignoring the beauty interests of these women, they were missing out on a potential consumer base that had to depend on other skincare brands. Finally, Olay was relaunched successfully in 1999 and to this day, it is the leading brand for anti-aging skin products. Through Design Thinking, P&G not only earned huge profits but also earned customer loyalty.

2. Airbnb

Airbnb has revolutionized the concept of travel booking in the tourism sector. But in 2009, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and people were not booking their rooms/houses. The problem was with the ad campaign itself — in the 40 different ads that they published, the rooms looked almost similar. Moreover, the pictures were of low quality and did not include all the rooms of a house Design Thinking helped Airbnb to come up with a brainwave solution that had little to do with scalability or technical upgrades. The founders of the company, personally visited New York, interacted with their customers, clicked pictures of the rooms and houses and displayed the enhanced pictures on the ads. With the Design Thinking strategy, the company’s per week turnover doubled — from 200 dollars to 400 dollars. Today, Airbnb is one of the largest travel companies in the world and is estimated to earn a profit of $3 billion by 2020


More and more businesses are moving to a Design Thinking approach because it not only fuels innovation but also saves money and the painstaking effort of developing an inferior product.It as an approach provides validation to the future goals and mission of the company.