Bethany Austin
Sep 9 · 5 min read

Lean startup and design thinking are two frameworks that are popular among product developers and innovators. Each of them help to take a large proportion of the risk out of creating products and services, especially those that are disruptive.

However, knowing just how valuable both Design Thinking and Lean Startup can be within your business can make it hard to know where to begin. Which of the two should you prioritise? And when should you use each of them?

As huge fans of both of the methodologies, we actually believe that the two should be used in harmony to allow you to really understand your customers. That way, you can create a product or a service that they truly want and need.

And that’s the key to a profitable business!

What is design thinking?

Design Thinking is a problem-solving process. First we begin understanding and scoping a clear problem and then look at how to solve the problem.

Source: Design Council

Discovery is the beginning of the process, which looks to understand the ‘problem’: The user and their environments, behaviours, tools they use and decision-making processes. It looks at the landscape somewhat broadly often through methods such as surveys, user diaries, observations or immersion.

The idea is to really understand the user to build empathy.

The “Define” phase is an opportunity to refine and narrow down ideas and to look at the main challenges the product/service may face. At this point, research is for depth. That means implementing methods such as customer journey mapping and focus groups.

These first two phases are hugely important, yet are something that is often missed out from the “Lean Startup” approach, which we will look at next. By allowing you to build empathy with your user to begin with, these stages mean that you can test your product for viability, feasibility and desirability before putting any money, resources or huge amounts of time behind it.

The final two stages of the Design Thinking process are “develop” — the ideation stage where design concepts are tested out — and “Deliver” — where the product is finalised and launched. These phases overlap somewhat with the “Build” and “Refine” phases prior to launch within the Lean Startup method.

What is Lean Startup?

“Lean Startup” is essentially a blueprint for running a successful startup, which has a scalable and repeatable business model. Created originally by Eric Reis, it challenges the conventional ways in which a product or service is created. It suggests that the best way to ensure success is to work cyclically through the following phases: Build, Measure and Learn.


During the “Build” process, the startup creates an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), a very basic version of a product. Next, they test the assumptions that this first product was based on during the “Measure” phases, generating evidence for the ways that they may need to pivot their business. This is often done through analysing metrics and through split (A/B) testing. Finally, “Learn” is the time to iterate the product/service based on these findings.

You are now left with a product to begin the process again with.

When this iterative process is repeated multiple times, product-market fit is supposed to be met. The theory is that by learning about your users and pivoting, you will eventually meet all of their needs.

However, whilst there is definitely a huge amount of valuable information that can be gleaned from this system, we don’t believe that it gives a complete picture. In order to take as much risk out of the innovation process as possible, it is important to speak to your users at every stage. Here, we have written a blog post about the importance of UX starting with knowing your business and customer before product development.

Steve Blank’s work looks at lean startup from a different perspective and suggests doing the following, which has similarities to the design thinking framework in that customers are at the start of the product development process.

How to use Lean Startup and Design Thinking in harmony


Both the Lean Startup and The Design Thinking processes are iterative, meaning they encourage learning from your users and pivoting your product to better suit their needs. When used in conjunction, you will include your users in every single phase of the journey, thereby de-risking the decisions that you make.

We recommend implementing the “Discovery” and “Define” phases of Design Thinking before beginning the “Lean Startup” process in order to get a complete picture of your users.

Whilst traditionally a startup would follow the trajectory of:

1.Coming up with an idea,

2.Creating a prototype,

3.Raising Capital


Combining Lean Startup and Design Thinking creates a build order that looks more like this:

1. Come up with an idea

2. Research for breadth to understand the user and context

3. Research for depth

4. Test idea with users

5. Create a prototype

6. Test again with users

7. Design

8. Test again with users (repeat and pivot as necessary)

9. Raise capital

10. Launch a product or service, confident that your users will love it

The takeaways

Whilst both Lean Startup and Design Thinking are popular buzzwords within the innovation and product development communities, they are most often treated as separate entities. When used in this way, companies limit the amount that they truly understand their users, thereby meaning that they are still taking a considerable risk when launching a product or service.

On the other hand, utilising the two methods in conjunction allows you to take the user with you through every step of the design and development process. As such, by the time the product is launched, the risk of doing so has been considerably reduced.

With the users at the centre of your processes, you guarantee better design and faster business growth.

The Snap Out Team


Get fresh eyes and a new perspectives. Snap Out is a user and market research consultancy specialising in emerging tech, product development, brand perceptions and grant funding.

Bethany Austin

Written by



Get fresh eyes and a new perspectives. Snap Out is a user and market research consultancy specialising in emerging tech, product development, brand perceptions and grant funding.

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