Design Thinking improves digital culture (part#3)

Inês Bravo
Jun 21, 2016 · 5 min read

When applying Design Thinking principles, the mindset to develop and become customer-obsessed help shortening the path towards creating a customer-obsessed culture. Design thinking incorporates a core principle: increase empathy for the end user, actively listening to and sharing ideas with customers.

When customer behaviors change faster than organizations deploys new products is a problem. Executing a mentality of continuous testing and learning is hard. Design Thinking principles when putting customers at the core of the process push for a transformation from “inside-out” to “outside-in” (Giron and Hart, 2015).

When, at an organization, innovation happens because of new technological possibilities, working in the opposite direction to meet user demands, is the opposite of Design Thinking (Giron and Hart, 2015). The intersection of feasibility, viability, and desirability is the goal.

Constraints and day to day business as usual

Constraints and day to day business as usual Design Thinking is concerned about “how something may be” rather traditional business models, which have their focus on how something is and must be (Raney and Jacoby, 2010). The assumptions that can be followed and developed, without testing, because that is not time enough, or resources enough, or data enough, or knowledge enough, can narrow the possible perspectives for the outcome.

Thinking outside the box is a challenge, but thinking inside the right constraints at the right moment, it is more demanding with a better outcome for the customers and users. Shifting design from creating eye-pleasing and functional products, design thinking can broader aims, for designers, organizing methods and approach. The first look should be from the prism of users’ needs.

The discipline could be a source of competitive advantage for a company when using this approach as a point of differentiation from its competitors (Collins, (2014)). However, the lack of clarity and coherence in the practice can, sometimes, lead to the poor implementation of tools, turning the process challenging and ineffective.

The perceived risk of the process and the exploration of failure can also see negative angles. Testing and analysis help the companies achieve a sustained competitive advantage through greater collaboration and better synthesis of data to create more innovative solutions.

Focus on human needs and desires fulfillment, apart from business viability, after delivery the product/service is something to care, improve and to continue. Design Thinking is not a lifesaver, but can help business (Walters, 2011). Discovering new opportunities for business, are not expected to be brought by ideation and creation when having linear business models decision-making.

Top managers fear time spent with divergence phase. This state of mind can be counterargument by Design Thinking process. When tools are used in as a natural form, with a scarcity of assumptions tested brings more constraints that the ones are predicted.

The holistic viewpoints help the organization to identify new business opportunities and enhance the existing ones. Designers can help at this phase, exploring tools that will assist everyone involved in the process to think from the customer point of view, avoiding costs and reducing risk, is recommended.

Context and empathy: emotions is what makes an experience an experience

The design requirement is influenced by a multitude of factors and stakeholders. Like Amanda O’Grady (2015) states, products that build deeper connections with customers are the result of a design process infused with emotion.

Design firm IDEO is famous for fostering Design empathy. Observing real people living their lives, understanding insights and act on it is a challenge for organizations. However, when doing so, profound emotional understanding of people, the creative capacity for innovation is unlocked (Barttarbee et al., 2014).

Empathy can be defined by the ability to understand, to be sensitive, to others person feelings and thoughts. Self-experience is not necessary; it is only mandatory that self-bias be turned off. So, to uplevel the human-centered design, designers needs to work consciously to understand the others experience. This dimension applies to clients and customers.

As stated by Barttarbee et al. (2014), empathic design involves observation. From that work, a set of data is collected and analyzed to uncover people’s unspoken needs (Brown, 2009). Empathy is a powerful force when putting designers in others people’s shoes is done correctly.

Emotion and empathic thinking can be seen as a rival to analytical thinking. Analytical makes judgment independent of emotions, empathic thinking foster trust. (Barttarbee et al., 2014). The act of empathizing with others can fail if people do not set aside their expertise. Different mental models can cause conflicting thoughts. Mental models shape our behavior; they are representations of real, hypothetical, and imaginary systems (Kahneman, 2011) allowing people to predict interactions and outcomes, based on beliefs, not logic, they are formed past experiences, culture and context (Kahneman, 2011).

If management gets lose touch with customers needs, empathic thinking can help, narrowing the gap. Transforming current situations into better ones, not perfect, can be done by empathic design. Human-centered and empathic design encourage that.


  • Battarbee, K., Fulton Suri, J. and Gibbs Howard, S. (2014). Empathy on the Edge, IDEO. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 6th October 2015]Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking, Harvard Business Review. June,issue pp. 85–92
  • Collins, H. (2013) Can Design Thinking Still Add Value? Design Management Review. Volume 24, Issue 2
  • Giron, F. and Hart, R (2015). Brief: Leverage Design Thinking To Spark A Customer-Obsessed Innovation Culture, Forrester Research [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2nd December 2015]
  • Grefé, R. 2011. Experience Design Is the Only Design, Design Management Review. Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 26–30
  • Johansson-Sköldberg, U., Woodilla, J. + Çetinkaya, M. (2013) Design Thinking: Past, Present and Possible
  • Kahneman, D, (2013), Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin books: London
  • Kelley, T. and D. (2012). Reclaim Your Creative Confidence. [Online] Available at:
  • Kimbell, L. (2011), Rethinking Design Thinking, part 1. Design and Culture. Volume 3 Number 3, pp.285–306
  • O’Grady, A. (2015). Desining with emotion, UX Magazine. [Online] Available [Accessed: 6th October 2015]
  • Raney, C. and Jacoby, R. (2010), “Decisions by Design: stop deciding, start designing”. Rotman Magazine. Winter 2010, pp. 36–39

UX, Design & limited resources

Resources are limited. As a User Experience Designer, the way that the world is perceived changes. A reflection experience by Inês Bravo.

Inês Bravo

Written by

user experience designer. strategist. visual geek. consultant. digital management. lisbon lover & world traveller. hyper island alumni.

UX, Design & limited resources

Resources are limited. As a User Experience Designer, the way that the world is perceived changes. A reflection experience by Inês Bravo.

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