The effectiveness of Design Thinking

Once we’ve covered the basics of design thinking – ‘Design Thinking – Reflective Essay‘-, it’s time now to see how it can be applied into real-life projects. In the first video we are going to see how IDEO draws upon design thinking in order to address the challenge of the ‘shopping cart’.

Moreover, in the following one we can glean many insights from the conversation between Joe Gebbia from Airbnb  and Phin Barnes from First Round Capital. This video is genuinely interesting as it shows how powerful can design thinking be in driving your company to success. However, as design thinking principles promote, the best way to succeed is by failing fast. Enjoy the conversation that unfolds how Airbnb transformed form a start-up into a billion-dollar business – largely thanks to the power of design thinking.



Design Thinking – Reflective Essay

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”

                                                                  Albert Einstein

Today’s ever-changing landscape requires marketers to have a very different skill set from the one before the web 2.0 arrived into our lives. The huge accessibility to information along with the empowerment of the consumer have dramatically changed the rules of the game. Hence, flexibility and agility are vastly needed in order to adapt to this new dynamic environment. And this is the moment when design thinking comes into the picture as the response to our needs. One of his strong advocates, Roger Martin (cited in Liedtka, 2011), defines it as “the process of continuously redesigning a business using insight derived from customer intimacy”. Design thinking is a state of mind (Venkatesh et al., 2014) and anyone can acquire it (Johansson-Sköldberg, 2013). Hailed as the new indispensable tool for marketers, it can certainly ease the path towards creativity and innovation. Put it simply, it aims to hit the sweet spot where the needs of the consumers, the viability of the business, and the feasibility of the technology overlap. Thanks to the MACE course, I’ve been able to acquire design thinking skills and put them into practice. In the following paragraphs I will go through the major takeaways I’ve gleaned from the course within the design thinking arena.

The Design Revolution:

As mentioned in an earlier post – ‘Take a walk in their shoes’-, nowadays landscape demands marketers and brands to be consumer-centric. And design thinking can be seen as the idea that can drive this revolution towards a mutually beneficial relationship between brands and consumers. By primarily focusing on their audience needs, brands can optimally navigate through this new environment that is in a state of flux, of uncertainty. If the revolution eventually takes over, capitalism will be replaced by customer capitalism – where consumer satisfaction is the most sought-after quality (Martin R. cited in Leavy, 2011). Along these lines, push strategies – where consumers are regarded as mere recipients and ultimately buyers – have then to give way to pull strategies – viewing it as a much more collaborative process where consumers’ input is key to success (Leavy, 2012). What’s more, brands shouldn’t be fearful of empowering consumers and, to some extent, letting them take centre stage. A model that wisely encapsulates this approach is DART, which stands for Dialogue, Access, Reflexivity, and Transparency (Leavy, 2012). Providing the right platforms to have conversations, allowing consumers to modify and extend the content, drawing upon their contributions as a means for improvement, and ultimately embracing openness and authenticity are must-do for brands that are willing to take part in the Design Revolution.

Design Thinking Process:

Once we’re fully committed to partake in this revolution, it’s time to get a firm handle on design thinking. Personally, I’ve experienced that the best way to take on board this way of addressing problems is by doing. Nonetheless, having a clear understanding of its skeleton and guidelines. First off, let’s have a look at the four main rules of design thinking: the Human Rule – it always has a predominant social dimension as it puts human beings at the center of the equation-, the Ambiguity Rule – no preconceived ideas, stereotypes, or idea-stifling mechanisms should be embraced, but rather create areas with no clear boundaries that welcome wild ideas-, the Re-Design Rule – see past designs as ideas where we can build upon and ultimately enhance-, the Tangibility Rule – creating prototypes can serve as a means of streamlining communication (Meinel et al., 2010). When it comes to the design thinking stepwise process, there are various models yet all have share the same consumer-centric and iterative characteristics. IDEO, the ‘design-thinking’ firm par excellence, breaks down the process into five steps: Understand – thoroughly look into the underlying consumer behavior and motivations-, Observe – go out and talk to people, see how they interact with your product or service, be an ethnographic researcher-, Visualize – come up with as many ideas as possible, engage in brainstorming with the aim of a great design on the horizon-, Evaluate/Refine – test ideas, make prototypes-, and finally Implement (Bell, 2008). Truth be told, though, this IDEO process is missing out on emphasizing the importance of asking the right question. And not only that, but also re-framing the question according to the tests and prototypes carried out – it’s pivotal to see feedback as a catalyst for improvement. Iterative prototyping is a process that allows fine-tuning ideas as well as identifying possible issues or opportunities – it brings creativity and feedback together (Meinel et al., 2010).

Framing the Right Question:

This should be the first concern when engaging in design thinking. Which is not to say that we should devote lots of time to it – that would clearly run counter to one of its tenets of failing fast. However, we ought to be mindful of the fact that how we frame the question will ultimately determine the direction of the process. If we ask the right question, we’re certainly increasing our chances of stumbling upon great ideas that solve the problem framed. As Liedtka et al. (2013) wisely put it, “the framing of a question ultimately drives the nature of the answers”. Hence, if we keep on asking the wrong questions, they will lead us to unsuccessful territory. Equally, starting by establishing many boundaries – intending to narrow it down as soon as possible – can genuinely backfire as it may leave out the questions that actually need to be asked. So due attention has to be paid to this crucial first step, since it will help us unlock consumer insights in the next stage – which is the ‘Understand’ IDEO step.

Being User-Centric:

Here comes the real huge shift from brand-centric firms to user-centric ones. In an era where peer-to-peer communication and interactivity are hallmarks of society, great ideas need to be driven by consumer insights. Thus, market research, ethnography, first-hand experience, user testing and roleplaying becoming critical avenues to explore (Beaumont, 2010). Further, in order to genuinely put yourself in their shoes is of paramount importance to have their journey in mind. The journey where the consumer stumbles upon several milestones, touchpoints, where your brand can ultimately have an impact. By taking a stroll in their shoes and actually follow the same route that they usually go down, you will be in a much better position to answer and solve the question you’ve asked beforehand. Naturally, though, as long as you are sufficiently open-minded and willing to leave all your preconceived ideas that can potentially get in the way – or at least, be aware of them and try to minimize their impact. You have to know what they like, dislike, what are their core motivations, their interests, and so on and so forth. The richer the information you have, the more likely to come across a powerful consumer insight. Hence, it becomes instrumental to undertake this research with a keen eye for detail and embracing all sorts of information – you really never know where the insight is going to come from. Once you’ve got a comprehensive and well-rounded view, you can create your ‘persona’ – which brings all the consumer’s characteristics together into one specific individual. Additionally, envisioning the scenarios where this ‘persona’ is expressing him or herself is also a key task to perform. And equally important, place this ‘persona’ within a specific tribe. This is actually an important bit within the whole process of understanding the consumer. Further, as mentioned on a previous post – Lean Tribe Canvas-, our audience should be seen as a tribe that shares values and interests. Hence, creating a story – which has been covered in two different posts: Storytelling 1.0 and Storytelling 2.0 – that narrates the journey of this ‘persona’ can be of great use for the Visualization step – where creativity takes over.

Abductive Reasoning and the Knowledge Funnel:

Unsurprisingly, a groundbreaking way of tackling challenges such as design thinking, doesn’t go down traditional pathways but innovative one. And here is when abductive reasoning comes into it. According to Leavy (2011), “abductive reasoning is the logical process whereby we make sense out of a phenomenon that doesn’t follow an existing deductive rule and hasn’t happened enough to make an inductive finding”. In essence, it aims to find the most likely solution for the problem framed. Hence, as mentioned earlier on, the framing of the question becomes critical in generating valuable answers. Interestingly enough, there is actually a model called the ‘knowledge funnel’ that clearly shows how to apply it to real-world situations. It has three stages: Mystery – where you are ask yourself a specific question, and make exploratory research in order to stumble upon some insights-, Heuristic – where you have already come across a reasonable explanation that accounts for the mystery-, and Algorithm – where you achieve to, in a way, standardize the heuristic and turn it into a formula that can be used to solve more similar problems (Leavy, 2011). It’s worth remembering, though, that the issue many firms face is that once they’ve already reached the Algorithm phase, what ensues is stagnation. They get too confident and complacent thus letting competitors gain a foothold in the market with a new groundbreaking idea. Therefore, what marketers ought to do is recognize when they have reached a somewhat end point, and wisely come back to the Mystery stage. In doing so, they will be able to reinvent themselves and keep their competitive edge alive.

Collaborative Culture:

Another key aspect to take into account is the importance of breaking down silos between disciplines (Denning, 2013). If design thinking is to be successful, an inter-disciplinary approach needs to be adopted. In such a way, you’re not only profiting from the diversity of expertise, but also the effect that it unconsciously has in moving away from narrow-mindedness. By working with a wide variety of professionals – anthropologists, engineers, psychologists, and so forth-, you’re setting the ideal stage for your mind to be open and receptive to new ideas. And it goes without saying that the chances of coming up with richer and more insightful ideas is higher as the reasoning goes into deeper levels. Likewise, both failing fast and being transparent and authentic are also fundamental characteristics to embrace. And in the light of today’s social dynamics, where user-generated content has become a commonly used term due to its prevalence, regarding collaboration as something that anyone can take part in and get involved is vital. Indeed, the whole process of creation can be actually seen as a process of co-creation by letting users to have their say in how the products and services have to be developed. In phenomena such as crowdsourcing we can clearly identify a growing trend in our society in which we draw upon the wisdom of the crowd.


Getting to grips with design thinking has allowed me to come to realize that the actual beauty of design lies in its process, rather than in its end result. And to my surprise, it entails much more psychological and sociological factors than I initially expected. In a world where the attention span is reducing year by year to an astonishing degree and a tremendous amount of our time is spent on social media platforms, the visual aspects of any output – brand, product, etcetera – ultimately have a massive bearing upon our behavior. Hence, a discipline such as Design – driven by design thinking – can play a large part in providing value to customers and engage with them. But, most importantly, design thinking is undeniably a process that can help many industries. For instance, the marketing and advertising industry can largely benefit from it by applying its process to brand strategies. By taking on a user-centric approach, brands can be much more empathetic thus bring better value to their customers – which is essentially marketing’s raison d’etre. Other than that, in a hyper-competitive world like ours it becomes imperative to be creative and innovative. Thus, a tool such as design thinking certainly needs to be add to the marketing toolkit. Furthermore, I highly value the fact that design thinking is a process whereby we learn to acknowledge that reality is  equal to chaos thus the better way to deal with it is acting accordingly – using abductive reasoning. Along with that, as it places huge emphasis upon the importance of asking the right question, I hold that philosophy can be incorporated as a massively useful tool to get better at this task. And last but not least, it’s fair to say that design thinking deserves to start to be included in the education portfolio as a means to nurturing our inherently creative minds.


Beaumont, C. (2010) ‘USER’ Design Thinking Model. Available at: <; [Accessed: 13th of April of 2014]

Bell S. (2008) Design Thinking. American Libraries. January/February.

Denning P. (2013) The Profession of IT. Design Thinking. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 56, Number 12.

Leavy B. (2012) Masterclass. Collaborative innovation as the new imperative – design thinking, value co-creation and the power of ‘pull’. Strategy & Leadership. Emerald Publishing Limited. Vol. 40, Number 2.

Leavy B. (2011) Interview. Roger Martin explores three big ideas: customer capitalism, integrative thinking and design thinking. Strategy & Leadership. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Vol, 39. Number 4

Liedtka J. et al. (2013) Solving Problems with Design Thinking. 10 Stories of What Works. Columbia University Press.

Liedtka J. (2011) Case Study. Learning to use design thinking tools for successful innovation. Strategy & Leadership. Emerald Publishing Limited. Vol. 39, Number 5.

Meinel C. et al. (2010) Design Thinking: Understand – Improve – Apply. Understanding Innovation. Springer.

Johansson-Sköldberg U. et al. (2013) Design Thinking: Past, Present and Possible Futures. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Volume 22, Number 2.

Venkatesh A. et al. (2014) Design orientation: a grounded theory analysis of design thinking and action. Marketing Theory. Sage Publications. 12 (3) 289-309

The Conundrum Brands are Facing

Web 2.0 has clearly been a game-changer, empowering the consumer and providing a huge access to large amounts of information. Brands are now obliged to let consumers take centre stage if they are willing to be successful. According to Simon Sinek, the essential bit that ultimate drives behavior is the purpose. So if we extrapolate that to brands, if a brand has a clear and compelling purpose, if it stands for something, it’s more likely to engage with consumers and turn them into brand ambassadors.

In addition to that, the experience attached to this brand purpose becomes all the more important in today’s era, where there’s a huge appetite for experiencing things – the so-called YOLO (you only live once) trend. The following Forbes article goes on to show how critical it is to add an experiential layer to the brand proposition.

On the flipside, though, there are some authors that argue that brand equity is by and large no longer a huge asset.

“Most of us figure out how to find what we’re looking for without spending huge amounts of time online. And this has made customer loyalty pretty much a thing of the past. Only twenty-five per cent of American respondents in a recent Ersnt & Young study said that brand loyalty affected how they shopped.”

Insights from Social-Psychological Experiments

Coming up with a groundbreaking idea, product, strategy, that’s what we are all after – or at least, a genuinely good one. Yet, before racking our brains in order to hit on that awesome idea, it’s pivotal to fully understand our audience, our consumer. And even before that, it’s worth having in mind how irrational we are as human beings. Later on I’ll cover the essential bits of behavioral economics, but for now, let’s take a look at the basic and unmissable social-psychological experiments. These insightful experiments were the byproduct of the unease and bafflement created by the ruthless World War II. Social psychologists like Solomon Asch or Stanley Milgram, decided to put human behavior to test and see how far can we go and how much behavior is driven by social influence, obedience, and conformity.

1. Asch Conformity Experiments

In these two experiments we can clearly see the massive bearing that have others’ behaviour upon ours. Both showcase how incredibly ridiculous it can actually get..

2. Milgram Obedience Experiment

This is another experiment that signals how vulnerable we are to obedience and, what’s more, how unconsciously pleasant it can be to feel in power, to be the authority.

3. Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance

One of the most striking insights from Social Psychology is the inherent need to be self-concordant. Cognitive dissonance accounts for the unease we feel when exists dissonance between our beliefs & values and our actual behaviour.

4. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment

Another truly shocking experiment was the one undertaken by Philip Zimbardo, who confirmed how far can we actually go if assigned specific roles. As a matter of fact, not only the subjects clearly displayed despicable behaviour, but also Zimbardo himself was a prisoner of his own experiment. One of his colleagues – who curiously enough ended up being his wife – made him see reason and stop the experiment.

5. The Psychology of Evil

All these experiments go on to show how powerful context is, out behaviour is deeply influenced by the context we are in. To the extent that totally reasonable and kind people can be led astray in a matter of minutes. In this recent TED talk, Zimbardo talks and gives vivid examples of how the context can ultimately trigger absolutely horrible behaviour.


Take a walk in their shoes

Now, more than ever, marketers ought to take on an outside-in approach in their strategies and tactics. As opposed to putting the brand at the center of the equation – inside-out approach-, today’s environment calls for being consumer-centric. The insights gleaned from the outside need to be turned into brand strategies. In other words, every single campaign needs to be underpinned by consumer behaviour findings – found through ethnographic research. It’s all about putting yourself in your audience shoes. Yet, that’s not enough, marketers have to also take a stroll with their shoes on. Go through their daily experiences, their common feelings and emotions, have the thoughts that may come to mind when using their product, as well as when not using it. Simply put, the marketer of this new era must be empathetic.


As mentioned in a previous post – Storytelling 2.0-, in today’s landscape consumers are in the driving seat, while marketers are trying to decipher where consumers are driving towards. In order to know which is the direction consumers are facing, empathy becomes an instrumental skill to practice. Beyond that, putting yourself in their shoes can actually lead to deeper insights. Instead of finding out what do consumers want, if done appropriately and luck is on your side, you may stumble upon what consumers want but they don’t yet know they actually want it. By anticipating their future desires, you’re in a great place to strengthen the bond with them and, equally important, engage in disruptive innovation. No one consciously needed an iPod before it was launched, the need was foreseen thus gaining a strong foothold in the market.

Now, is it an easy task to take that stroll with their shoes on? Well, it’s essentially down to your willingness to truly let go of your preconceived ideas, stereotypes, and experiences around them, and just focus on enjoying the walk. In doing so, you will be setting the right frame of mind to tackle it successfully. Equally important, is worth remembering that our nature as social beings is on your side. The process of being empathetic is nothing alien to us. In fact, in the late 80s neuropsychologists found out that there are a neurons – the Mirror Neurons – which are responsible for our empathy. If we see someone smile, this neurons get activated and send the same signal as if we were smiling. Hence, taking on an outside-in approach shouldn’t be much of an issue since it’s something we are hardwired to do.

The following video nicely sums up the importance and pervasiveness of empathetic behaviour:

Creating the Conditions for Virality

The advent of the web 2.0 has added a new dimension to virality dynamics. In addition to word of mouth, now electronic word of mouth is what marketers are constantly attempting to set off. Going viral seems to be one of the most desired outcomes. Yet, the whole point is erroneously framed since the very outset. When a video goes viral is not the end result of pressing a magical button. Rather, it’s the combination of many marketing and social aspects along with a large percentage of luck – delivering the right message, in the right place, at the right time, and in the right social media platform as well. Therefore, marketers would be much more likely to succeed if they take on a different approach. The objective should be ‘creating the right conditions to go viral’, instead of directly ‘going viral’. That is not to say that there are no useful guidelines that increase the chances of success – such as understanding how social networks are structured. But asking the right question, or in this case setting the right objective, can certainly save time and effort.

Having said that, Jonah Berger provides us with the so-called ‘Contagious Framework’ as a great tool to create the appropriate conditions for virality to happen. It’s made up of six interwoven components that if taken into account, can genuinely ease the path towards viral success.



The first variable to be mindful of is Social Currency, which is the social capital we gain when enhancing our identity in front of  other people. For instance, if we have access to a site that other can’t, the exclusivity and envy elicited in others comes into it.

On a more behaviouristic level, the second component – Trigger – emphasizes the importance of memory association when aiming to provoke a certain reaction. For instance, if a brand creates a campaign around the concept of seeing someone running, chances are that it will come to the audience’s mind many times as it will pop up in their heads as soon as they see someone running.

Thirdly, as mentioned in a previous post – Storytelling 2.0-, the Emotional aspect of any campaign becomes instrumental in creating a strong connection with the audience and accomplishing to remain in their minds for a long while.

Furthermore, something that is Public thus easy to reach lots of people and, most importantly, travel through many networks, is also another variable to be mindful of when creating the conditions for a viral campaign.

Additionally, the Practical Value that a brand provides to its audience is remarkably crucial in order to increase its chances of being passed on, and on, and on. The more value added to the relationship with your audience, the more likely this piece of content will be shared.

And unsurprisingly, Storytelling is also a key component when aiming for word of mouth. As noted earlier on – Storytelling 1.0-, human beings are hardwired to be longing for meaning, and stories are certainly the best way to meet that need.


Storytelling 2.0: a marketer’s guide to storytelling

Once we’ve covered the key aspects of storytelling – Storytelling 1.0-, it’s now time to add this powerful tool to the marketing toolkit. Before coming to grips with the art of storytelling within the marketing arena, it’s worth remembering the pivotal role that brands are playing nowadays. Brands are depositories of meaning that allow us to shape our postmodern identities. In particular, well-crafted brands such as Nike – ‘Just do it’-, stand for something, have a purpose from which they derived their own existence. And on the back of that, individuals that share the same values and aspirations – and ultimately the same purpose – are compelled to be part of the ‘Nike community’. Or as Seth Godin’s would rightly say, the ‘Nike tribe’. At its basic, the creation of a strong community comes down to outstanding storytelling. If the brand achieves to put across a unique story that resonates with its audience, chances are that it’s just a matter of time before it grows exponentially.



It is fair to say that today’s marketing is all about engagement. Namely, it has to be primarily focused on bringing value to the customer – enhancing on some level their life. By embracing the power of storytelling, brands are in a better position to perform the tricky task of engaging with their audience. Because it not only eases the path towards awareness, but also and most importantly, creates an emotional connection that paves the way for building a mutually beneficial relationship. With regards to the emotional aspect, it becomes all the more important in a world where the attention span is of eight seconds – with a downward tendency. Hence, having in mind that we are emotional beings, it’s more likely that an emotional message will trump a rational one – at least when it comes to memory storage.




Diving a bit deeper into the art of storytelling in the web 2.0 era, it’s fundamental to be mindful of the fact that marketers are no longer have the upper hand, but the consumers do. There are many implications to that, such as the increasing importance of recognizing user-generated content as an indispensable aspect to integrate into any marketing or advertising strategy. And it makes every sense, since the Postmodern era, as mentioned in earlier posts – ‘I think, therefore it is pointless’-, it’s all to do with the creation of individual meanings instead of universal or absolute ones. Thus, brands ought to create strategies that are in keeping with the current zeitgeist which signals the necessity to provide platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and so forth – where consumers can express themselves and be part of tribes of their choice. So brands not only need to have a clear purpose and know what they stand for, but it’s also essential that they’re open to consumers modifications and contributions. In other words, brands are the ones that have to create the ideal space for this tribes to engage with each other and keep on building up the brand’s meaning – such as the Nike community. For all these reasons, listening now becomes a vital step of the process of crafting a brand. Namely, capturing the very essence of the audience you want to resonate with and strategize accordingly.

Finally, in the following video Vaynerchuk makes the excellent point that brands ought to give a lot of thought to context as well. Instead of viewing social media platforms as mere distribution channels with virtually identical patterns, it’s vastly important to tailor your strategy and content to the specific platform you are utilizing. Which is to say that, even though the brand story remains the same, its shape might need to be modified according to the platform where it’s put across. For instance, Vine is naturally calling for cool short videos, whereas Facebook may leave more room for engaging in a deeper level.