Design Thinking Tricks To Help Solve Your Business Problems

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Many designers and business consultants use design thinking to help businesses and corporations solve strategy, time management, team working, and product development problems. These tools and techniques are perfect for creative business owners to use in your own businesses to help find new solutions to problems you may be facing.

Design thinking can be explained as a set of processes, tools and methods to create human-centred solutions to problems. Human-centred really just means putting people at the centre of everything - talking to the people who are affected by what you are doing, and keeping them involved (instead of just imposing a solution on them). Design thinking works through a series of stages to find resolutions, but we’re just going to look at two of these stages in this article.


Talk to/observe users to understand their perspective.

Identify previous attempts and what has and hasn’t worked.

Understand the context and what else needs to be considered.

If you’re facing a problem in your business that you’re not sure how to solve, or that seems a bit overwhelming or impossible, you can try using some of the creative ‘empathise’ techniques to find new ways of looking at it. This could be a problem like: 

  • I have lots of visits to my website, but I’m not making many sales

  • I don’t know how I’m meant to fit everything in, I feel like I don’t have enough time

  • Customers give me good feedback, but they don’t return to buy anything else

Empathising doesn’t find a solution to problems, but it does make you think about all of the different factors. This means that when you do come up with a solution, it’s more likely to work. One of my favourite design thinking tools is IDEO’s photo journal (if you’d prefer not to take pictures you can also draw or write short journal entries). 

  1. Look in your diary and block out 1-2 hours to go through the results. This should be at least  3 days away, or it could be up to a week away.

  2. Set yourself a brief. For example, if you feel like you don’t have enough time, you might want to take a picture of everything that makes you feel stressed about time (eg. this might be your to do list, your email inbox, post-its on your desk, an empty fridge, etc). Or if you don’t understand why you don’t have more repeat customers, you could photograph all of the things that influence your decision to purchase something (eg. this could include your purse/money, your watch/time, your friends/advice, your wardrobe/all of the things you already own, etc).

  3. Try not to problem solve or think too deeply about the photographs - that comes later. For now just photograph anything you think is relevant, even if you don’t know exactly why.

  4. Before you sit down to go through the images, print them out so you can look at them all together and physically hold them. 

  5. Sit down and look through the photos. For each one, ask yourself:

    1. Why did you take that photo?

    2. How does it make you feel?

    3. Are there any other things to consider that aren’t in the photos? If so why did you leave them out?

    4. What do these photos tell you about yourself and the problem (and maybe the solution)?

  6. Officially that’s the end of the exercise. It isn’t about solving the problem, but about starting to think in different ways, and gather evidence/information. However, it’s likely that you may have started to have some ideas as you went through your photographs. If so write them down.

So you aren’t left high and dry, here’s some coaching questions you can ask yourself when you’ve finished the photo journal exercise to help you find a possible solution:

    1. What could you try to help fix/change this problem?

    2. What advice would you give to someone else in this situation?

    3. What would you like to do?

    4. Who could help you?

    5. Which option (that you’ve come up with) do you like the most?

    6. What do you need to do to make it happen?

    7. Are there any obstacles you need to consider?

One of the things I like about design thinking is that it encourages you to get away from your computer and to do things physically. This can unlock a different part of our brains, sometimes called ‘embodied thinking’, which means we learn and understand with our bodies as well as our minds. So even if you take the photos on a smartphone, print them out for the reflection exercises. And keep your phone and computer away while you work through the questions. You can either just answer them out loud, or you can write your answers down on paper.


Combine, expand and refine ideas.

Iterate and create multiple drafts.

Discuss and seek feedback from others.

Don’t become attached to one solution.

As creatives, we’re used to exploring and testing ideas. But design thinking takes this to an extreme with its ‘quick and dirty’ approach to testing and prototyping. This is not about creating a finished product and giving it a soft launch to gather feedback and test the market. This is a quick testing method that can also be described as ‘trystorming’. You might create a basic product that only has one of the features, just to see how it performs. You might use a cheaper material, or a smaller size. In fact you might even make the product out of paper, only create an online advert to see how many people click it, or run a one-off free event to see what your prospective customers think.

The trick is to think about the one part of your design/solution that you want to test, and then think of the quickest and cheapest way to properly test it and get useful results. Most likely you don’t need branding (or even a brand name), or the standard features that customers expect, or a beautiful finish. 

Consider who you want to get feedback from. Could it just be you, and some friends and family? If you need to speak to customers, could you go to where they spend time (the high street, your children’s school, a local office block, a craft fair/a Facebook group)? You might be able to just go up and speak to strangers, or you could speak to the headteacher/manager/organiser and see if you could have some time/space to set up a drop-in testing workshop.

Listen to the feedback and keep testing and making improvements until it is right. And you might have to be ruthless. It’s difficult when you put so much of yourself into your creations, but if the feedback is telling you that something isn’t working, then you need to be able to let go and improve it.

By using a ‘quick and dirty’ prototyping technique, you can easily test lots of different versions without spending too much time or money. And it will make a big difference in the long term, when you can launch your products with confidence knowing they have been thoroughly tested, and your audience wants to buy from you

This is also the same if you are using prototyping to solve a problem instead of launching a product. By testing your solution before diving in, it means your solution is more likely to work, and last for longer.

The Design Thinking Process

As I mentioned, this is just two stages from the design thinking process. If you’re interested in learning more, IDEO’s ‘Field Guide To Human Centred Design’ is a great starting point, as is the Harvard Business Review article on ‘The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking’. Like anything, it all involves a time commitment that creative business owners may find hard to find. And sometimes it isn’t necessary - for most day to day problems you can probably solve them in the same way that you normally do. But if you are facing a ‘big’ problem that you don’t know how to fix, design thinking might be a useful way of using your creativity to find some new solutions.