Design Thinking: Applying to Business, Employee Experience, and Sales

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Recently, my colleague Mark Barnett wrote What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular.

Today, I explore what are the origins of Design Thinking (DT) and its application in the world of business. The idea of design thinking in product design, development, and innovation isn’t new but it’s now applicable in other business areas like communication and sales.  

This concept originally emerged as a way of educating engineers on how to creatively solve problems, as designers do. John E. Arnold, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University was one of the first people to write about DT. In 1959, he wrote “Creative Engineering,” which established the four areas of design thinking. Design thinking evolved as a “way of thinking” in the fields of science, engineering, product development, and innovation. 

Emily Stevens describes Design Thinking “as both an ideology and a process that seeks to solve complex problems in a user-centric way.”

As companies grow, they get more complex and new problems develop. One of the challenges of a large company is employee retention. Recently, Design Thinking has shifted from being an innovative solution for customers to solving problems for the company’s employees. Companies have begun thinking about their employees as users too, which makes sense as employees are crucial internal stakeholders. This has given rise to a new term – Employee User Experience! 

An example of a company using Design Thinking to transform the employee experience is the Jewellery company, Pandora. The company recently put out a job advert for a UX Designer – Employee Experience. The description of the role states – “Applying UX design to support Pandora’s strategic ambition to employ the happiest, most empowered and digitally-enabled employees.”

For increasingly remote companies, empathizing with employees, understanding their challenges, and crafting work experiences that enable them is a priority. 

This ensures that the company understands its employees and their needs. It also leads to higher trust and performance, the positive by-product of which can be higher employee retention. 

Like in employee experience, another field within businesses that hasn’t received as much focused internal innovation is sales. Falon Fatemi at Forbes believes that Design Thinking is the Future of Sales and I agree with her. In the last year, my role at BSD Education has evolved from Learner Experience to Partnerships.

A major part of my job now is understanding and empathizing with educators, school leaders, business partners, and government officials. Deeply understanding their needs, concerns, challenges and then curating solutions for them. Sales and marketing are two fields that are perceived to have the lowest trust according to Hubspot.

Design Thinking alleviates this challenge and builds more trust. 

With sales, marketing teams have also begun embracing Design Thinking strategies and transforming their practice. This not only elevates the marketing output but also enables the sales teams in a company. Marketing teams no longer rely on gut instinct but spend time understanding their different potential users.

They do this by developing user personas and building small campaigns to test and measure the performance. Finally, they roll out large data-backed campaigns.

In this article Autodesk’s Director of UX shares how she combined her UX and Marketing background to solve a marketing problem at her company. She says, “While some marketing best practices prove to work time and again, we must also meet the unique needs of specific customers in order to drive significant business value. Professing to intuitively know those specifics is shortsighted; only once we go out and try to understand the challenges of our target audience can we truly accommodate their needs.”

We have seen Design Thinking evolve from its origins in engineering to product development and innovation to now molding the world of employee experience, sales, and marketing. As educators, giving students opportunities to develop their design thinking skills equips them to be prepared for the 21st Century work environment. 

Interested in learning more about how we help develop design thinking skills in students and how we use it in our professional work at BSD Education, do contact me at mq@bsd.education. 

about Mo
Mo is the Head of Learning Experience. He is an aeronautical engineer who found his calling in education and lifelong learning.
He helps to integrate technology programs of learning through professional development training, coaching, and classroom visits. He also manages our Customer Support, QA, and Performance team in the Philippines.

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