Webinar Q&A – Design Thinking: Moving From Theory to Application to Business Results

You’ve probably heard about Design Thinking, whether you’ve read an article, watched a video, or even took an online course. But then what? How do you apply the principles and make an impact? How are companies actually applying Design Thinking and what business results come from it? Design Thinking is not just a trendy buzzword, but a proven and practical method to create human-centered solutions.

In a recent webinar I shared tips on how to apply the 5 stages of Design Thinking in real-world settings. If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available for you to watch online. My goal is to help you jump-start your transformative journey from being a Design-Thinking theoretical learner to a Design-Thinking practitioner.

During the session, I shared ways to help you get started. Below are five Design-Thinking skill-building project ideas to consider walking through, as practice:

The webinar was enhanced by a lively conversation with the attendees. We couldn’t address all questions that came in, and I would like to recap them below:

Q: How is Design Thinking different from performance consulting?

A: Performance consulting is a process designed to achieve business results by maximizing the performance of people and organizations. As a problem-solving methodology, Design Thinking is a perfect complement for performance consulting, especially helping to frame or reframe the potential challenge. It’s a great tool that PCs can use to help uncover the root cause of the performance challenge and work through the solution to improve business objectives.

It’s also important to note that design thinking shouldn’t replace any of your prior learning or processes. It’s simply another tool for you to use when a challenging, human-centered problem arises.

Q: Do you have a detailed use-case you can share that breaks down the five phases?

A: I will be sharing a detailed use-case in our Q1 Design Thinking Community of Practice session. In the meantime, I recommend reading Solving Problems With Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works. The book has great examples of successful applications for Design Thinking and is a very valuable read.

Q: How can we implement Design Thinking in a training, as a practical way?

A: The best advice I can give is to review the free materials in the link below from Stanford’s dschool, a school based upon design thinking methodology. dschool provides free content and promotes reusing the content so you can use it for an Intro to Design Thinking course. Once you are comfortable with the material and the value design thinking can bring, offer a crash course to your team (no longer than an hour) and then try it out. Pick a topic and go through a quick design thinking initiative (it can take as little as a half day) and get comfortable with the process. Having the theoretical knowledge is a great start, but there is no better way to get familiar with design thinking than by going through the phases yourself.


Q: It is important to look at the business problem, so how do I stop people from jumping straight to the solution?

A: If you start with the business problem (define phase), you’ve already skipped over the most critical phase – empathize. When I’m in a situation where my team or my client is starting with the problem, I encourage them to pause and review a few questions:

  • How did the problem manifest?
    • Uncover “who” the audience is through this question.
  • How did the problem get defined?
    • Uncover “who” defined the problem and what information defined the problem.
  • Who are the audience members (learners, users, customers, employees) interviewed who gave perspective, provided data, and validated that “this” is the actual problem?
    • Uncover if any empathy interviews occurred to validate if the team is following the process.

The intention behind those questions is to begin to open their minds to complete an analysis with the actual audience before confirming you have defined the business problem correctly.

Alternatively, I sometimes specifically call out design thinking and illustrate the current problem. This is a perfect opportunity to apply design thinking and encourage the team to follow the process.

Q: Can you share any experiences on how this affects your overall development process timeline?

A: Design thinking impacts the development process timeline when we, project leaders, allow it. Simply put—you will need to account for design thinking in your timeline. Yes, it’s iterative, which means not every phase happens in sequential order or one phase may send you back to the next to try again. But it won’t impact your timeline if you have taken those factors into account when you defined your timeline.

Design thinking is meant to be a quick process, bypassing the red tape and lengthy timelines associated with “piloting” ideas, which is why we use the term “prototyping.” On average, projects should not take longer than 3–4 weeks, otherwise you risk the problem evolving to a point where the data you have captured is no longer up to date. The iterative aspect could include talking with your audience every couple of days to get their feedback to make sure you are on the right path with your ideations or prototypes.

Below is a generic timeline to illustrate how we break up the phases:

  • Empathize:
    • 3 days planning
    • 3 days interviewing
  • Define:
    • 3 days
  • Ideate:
    • 3 days
  • Prototype:
    • 3 days
  • Test:
    • 3 days

Q: How futuristic is Design Thinking?

A: Futuristic is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “relating to the future or very modern or advanced.” By definition, design thinking is not futuristic in my opinion. Combining the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success, Design thinking helps to fuel innovation. Design thinking, however, is only as futuristic as you allow it to be. Companies that are considered “futuristic” have attributed many of their successes to design thinking. Encouraging you to open your mind and looking past your bias and preconceived notions about the “need” or the problem and solving for the root cause of your audience – that’s the power design thinking brings. If the solution involves evolving a product, process, or service, then design thinking is an ingredient in the future outcome or problem-solving, but I would not classify the methodology itself as futuristic.

Design thinking dates back to the 60s (possibly earlier depending on who you ask). Almost 60 years later the methodology is having significant global impact. As business problems grow in complexity, design thinking finds more room for growth and evolution given the framework is flexible in nature, providing a guidepost to remind you to remain focused on the most important factor—your audience, your customer, your learner. Never forget the human at the other end of the problem.

Keith Keating

Keith Keating

With a career spanning over 20 years in learning & development, Keith Keating holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership and has experience in a myriad of areas ranging from Instructional Design, Leadership Coaching, Operations Management, and Process Transformation.More recently Keith has been leading clients on the development and execution of their global learning strategies.Regardless of the role, at the heart of everything Keith does centers around problem solving.He studied Design Thinking at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and found Design Thinking was a perfect tool to add to his problem solving "toolkit".Since then, Keith has been utilizing Design Thinking to help clients tap into understanding and resolving unmet customer needs.
Keith Keating

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