Sawyer J. Lahr is Partner of Teak Research. He has lead research for product development across industries in Thailand since 2013, working with both local and international clients to identify opportunities and develop concepts for new products that are human-centered by applying theories and methodologies from social science and design.

Design Thinking

How Design Thinking Can Help Your Digital Product Development Process

Morphosis team developing a digital product

Clients and partners often ask us if design thinking always has to be linear. And our answer is always, no. 

That’s because design thinking is not always used from the early stages of product development. Design thinking is often an a la cart item or a checklist item for organisations next to other buzz words like “Innovation” and ‘Agile.”

Are we innovating? Check. 

Are we Agile? Check. 

Are we using design thinking? Check.

Usually design thinking is introduced to an organisation in the form of a talk, workshop, or Design Sprint, but the truth is that this doesn’t always work for every organisation. Only if you have buy in from the people in your organisation at all levels will design thinking be implemented and practiced systematically.

But for those who want to try, here are the main takeaways from our 20 yrs of combined experience with what we now know as design thinking.

Design thinking is a term popularised by the IDEO, a design agency whose founders are industrial designers. Like the concept of Agile which originated from software engineering, design thinking originated from industrial design – not in the field of business management, which is still trying to effectively adopt it.

In our experience, design thinking is both a mindset and a toolset.

The design thinking mindset is about creative problem solving. Different from sociology or anthropology which seeks to study people and culture for the sake of understanding, design thinking is about understanding people for the sake of designing something for them. Otherwise known as Human-centered Design.

The design thinking tool set includes many design methods which involve a lot of post-its and whiteboards to cluster observations, develop insights as well as paper, pencils, and markers to sketch concepts and scenarios of a future product, service, or system. 

This practice of design thinking is over 10 years old and originates from at least two major universities in the Western world and their own models of design thinking: Stanford University and its Double Diamond Model and the Illinois Institute of Chicago and its Design Methods Model. 

Both models of design thinking have value with the most significant differences being that the Stanford model is rooted in industrial design and focuses on solving pain points for users while the IIT model is rooted in strategic planning and focuses on reframing business problems through research and making informed business decisions. 

Whichever school of though your design consultant subscribes to, it will affect the outcome of your project. That’s why when you are choosing a design consultant, you should consider which model or models of design thinking they practice and how they implement design thinking to achieve your business outcome.