Design Thinking Is Strategic Thinking

The landscape for businesses is more competitive than ever before. Everyday introduces a new wave of threats — challenging businesses to stay agile and innovative to avoid losing market share.

As a result, businesses feel required to implement newly created solutions at breakneck speeds or risk the consequences.

In many cases, the businesses typically associated as ’leaders’ — Apple, IBM, Nike, P&G among others — frequently face and rise above these challenges because they understand how to solve tackle seemingly goliath-sized obstacles. They also share one element in common: Design Thinking.

Design Thinking refers to strategies that embody an approach that can be used to consider issues and resolve problems more broadly than within professional design practice, and has been applied in business and to social issues.

It is a fluid, solution-focused methodology that places the needs of humans as the foundation to building creative solutions to practical real life challenges.

By taking into consideration both the present and future parameters of the problem, several alternative solutions may be explored. This in turn encourages the observer to further develop various solutions without the fear of failure.

Design thinking is an effective approach only when the observer can allow their 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.

For Apple, IBM and the other aforementioned businesses, cultivating a workflow mindset around Design Thinking is the lynchpin to unearthing solutions to complex and ever-evolving problems.

Why is this philosophy so effective? Because Design Thinking, like Strategic Thinking, rejects problem-focused frameworks — and embraces solution focused frameworks.

Solving for solutions allows for the development of ideas that can more effectively weather the winds of disruption, while avoiding potential pitfalls stemmed from unconscious biases related to the initial problem. Solution-focused frameworks succeed in this by establishing three foundational elements need to be considered from the start: the audience, the objective, and the context.

This solution-focused framework — underpinning Design Thinking — ultimately leads to the creation of more desirable solutions that benefit both business and user. It relies on a combination of logic, imagination, intuition, and deductive reasoning to uncover new solutions. As this framework rolls out, unforeseen obstacles start to emerge with their own unique requirements, further fueling future creative ideas that can later be tested and refined.

“The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs.”
 — Jeanne Liedtka
Batten Briefing: Understanding the Power of Design Thinking

In its simplest form, this solution-focused framework to Design Thinking is broken into three key stages that can dove-tail and feed into one another. This is a fluid and agile process. As new learnings and considerations come into play, the observer may jump from back and forth as the end result is finalized.


Throughout the Discovery stage, the objective is to understand the specific requirements of the challenge that needs to be solved, while undergoing a deep dive to understand the audience’s needs and motivations, while taking into account the market’s climate and business objectives.

This typically involves interviews, focus groups, experience and task mapping to understand our audience, their journey and specific tasks (or actions) they engage with. Additionally, usability, content, and technical audits may be used to unearth further insights based depending on the scenario.


During the Digest stage, the blocks of information are refined to nuggets of insight, easily digestible, processed, and later utilized by the team going forward. As new insights and audience considerations emerge, it may become prevalent to re-explore Discovery.

Throughout this stage, learnings are processed through the use of journey mapping, card sorting, persona developments, and other tactics. The final deliverable is often a version of a findings report that can be distributed to internal and external teams. This is also an opportunity to vet and correct any hypothesis with the audience and stakeholders before moving onto Design.


Within the Design stage, the trial begins to see if research insights and indicative hypotheses hold water. As new designs and strategies are crafted, it may be beneficial to revisit Discovery and Digest to help solidify approaches.

As thoughts become visual and take a life onto themselves, the mantle of responsibility falls onto the team to ensure the needs of the audience are not lost in the weeds. Site maps, prototypes, wire frames, interaction flows are developed and rigorously tested prior to implementation. It’s within this stage that a Fail First methodology can be effectively utilized to test out potential approaches.

Design Thinking works as a catalyst for uncovering creative and strategic recommendations by creating a solution-focused framework that requires the observer to develop an empathetic approach to understanding the audience’s needs and objectives of the business, at various levels of altitude. This is the power of Design Thinking.

Supported by insights. Powered by empathy.