Design Thinking problem solving: the power of asking ‘why’ 

By Gavin Edwards

In a recent post we looked at the business value of design, and how Design Thinking can help your brand gain a competitive advantage. Many of you expressed interest in the practical application of Design Thinking, so here we want to explore how to adopt design as a process to find the right problems to solve (and to find solutions that work).

Design Thinking helps define brand purpose

Covid-19 has turned business models on their heads and forced many organisations to entirely rethink their value propositions. 

In this new world, we’re surrounded by noise about how customers are reacting and responding to our shifting environment. These signals, gathered from the data we acquire, create ambiguity and greater uncertainty around the plans and futures we laid out before coronavirus hit.

But a key factor in effective Design Thinking is being able to navigate this ambiguity, feel comfortable with it, and use it to your advantage. 

‘Today’s problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them’.

Albert Einstein

Designers and business strategists are well verserved in navigating muddy waters, connecting the dots, and continually looking to find areas to create new value for customers and for businesses alike.

We gather this insight directly from customers and directly from the business (from the people who work there, the data they have, the marketplace within which they operate).

We also look sideways to see where we can leverage ideas from other industries and categories and bring them to bear elsewhere. 

In all our work, the purpose of design as a process is to find out why, and not just what. A plan for what you need to do is only as good as to the purpose that underpins it

At Inviqa, this is where we believe the value in the Design Thinking ‘process’ lies. 

Brands with purpose grow, companies with purpose last, and people with purpose thrive...That refrain is going to be even more relevant in a post-coronavirus world...So we will not waver one iota in our commitment to be a purpose-led business.

Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever

Design Thinking problem solving starts with ‘why’

A user-centric approach is essential for surviving disruption and succeeding in the long term. And finding your what in a period of disruption starts with a big why: why do you exist?

Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you and the wider organisation have a deep understanding of why you exist? What problems are you solving? What is your purpose?
  2. Is the problem you were solving pre-Covid still a problem that needs solving today (and tomorrow)? Do you need to adapt? Do you need a new why?
  3. Are you set up to continually understand and learn quickly – to look at all the data you can get and then build and test efficiently to gain the biggest learnings in the shortest possible time to understand whether you’re on track?
  4. Are you flexible enough to be comfortable with and responsive to rapid change on your path to success? Are your teams empowered to make the best decisions? 

If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions then it’s time to stop, reflect, and take a new approach. It’s time to gather the right stakeholders together and start collaborating to discover and align your customers’ evolving needs with a technically feasible and viable business strategy. And that starts with why.

A human-centered designer knows that as long as you stay focused on the people you're designing for, and listen to them directly, you can arrive at optimal solutions that meet their needs.


Create new value with Design Thinking

Thinking in a human-centric way to build meaningful and effective solutions is certainly not a new thing, but it’s safe to say that design has historically been an afterthought in the business world, used primarily to ‘make something look good’.

So, the first step for any organisation looking to 1) solve business and customer problems; and 2) create new value for both business and customers, is to really step back and address the problems you’re looking to solve for people i.e. your new why.

This is really a simple three-step process:

  1. Empathise: gather what data you can that helps you understand your users
  2. Define: combine all this information and identify what problems exist
  3. Ideate: think how to solve these problems in new and multiple ways

Ask yourself, when was the last time that your first idea was your best idea? Meaning and new ideas emerge when we explore things. Design Thinking is simply how we explore those problems and solutions.

Donald Norman, author, ‘The design of Everyday Things’

Why is this approach important? Because it helps how you move towards designing solutions for real problems

For example, years ago, companies realised there was a market for children's toothbrushes. The solution was simple and seemingly obvious: just shrink the toothbrush to fit a child’s smaller hand. But when IDEO was asked by ORAL B to explore where and how to differentiate in this space, they observed that what children actually needed were handles with big chunky grips. This changed the game and gave ORAL B the global best-selling toothbrush for children.

We start with ‘why’ because, when we truly understand the problems of our customers, we create value by designing better solutions to those problems. And this in turn creates competitive advantage for the business.

Start solving problems with Design Thinking  

Getting started with user-centred design isn’t complex, but whoever you are, or wherever you sit within your organisation, it’s your responsibility (along with everyone else’s) to continually start with why.

This is where Design Thinking helps identify your underlying (and perhaps new) business purpose and the core problems you’re trying to solve.

The problems you define when you ask why? define your purpose and reason to exist. And teams with a strong sense of purpose ultimately build great digital products and services.

People don’t buy WHAT you do – they buy WHY you do it.

Simon Sinek, author,‘Start With Why’

Amongst all the uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic, it’s tricky to find balance. 

But the equation is not profit vs. purpose, or economy vs. health. This kind of dichotomy is counter intuitive to success, so it’s about finding balance.

Right now, businesses should be thinking about value propositions that help consumers navigate these unusual times. They must remain relevant by continually asking what problems do we need to solve now?

About the author

Gavin Edwards consults with our experience design (XD) team. He supports our teams in bringing a user-centric view to our clients' businesses, using design to create products and services that solve real problems and drive value to both customers and organisations.