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Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value


Designers think differently. Instead of what is minimally sufficient to get the job done, they think about how to make the experience one that the consumer will enjoy. Minimally sufficient is the right answer in some cases; but in the market place, it’s becoming more important to consider how the consumer will experience the product. That’s what Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value is all about. It’s about how to make the experience the right experience.

The book is a collection of works from 34 authors in 10 different countries. It reads more like a collection of articles than one story with a beginning, middle, and end. However, throughout the book is this underlying theme of how to make the experience better for the consumer.

Think Differently

Design thinking is about thinking about problems differently. However, articulating exactly what that means isn’t always easy. Characteristics like considering the overall experience help but leave much to be desired, as there’s no single path to understanding what the customer experience will look like.

Our cultures tend to permeate our thinking with hidden structures about how we think about problems. In The Ethnographic Interview, many techniques and approaches are laid out to try and tease out these underlying thinking patterns. Ultimately, ethnographic approaches are useful to designers as they seek to understand the consumers lifestyles and values. To a greater degree than traditional product marketing, design thinking relies on a deep understanding.

What is Brand?

For many, Brand is a Four Letter Word. Brand is a shortcut – bestowed on you by the marketplace – that takes what the market buys or interacts with you for and encapsulates it into a name. Starbucks may be about coffee, but it’s also about the promise of good customer service. A brand is about fulfilling that promise consistently, day after day.

In the context of design, brand is important, because it shapes the focus for a design. If your brand is one that caters to contractors, you’ll focus your design around their needs. If, instead, your brand conveys that you help regular folks get their home improvement projects done, your design will focus around them.

Wicked Problems

Design is often used to confront wicked problems (see Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices for more on what wicked problems are). The irony of this is that design thinking itself is caught up in the most frequently cited wicked problem of leaders – balancing short-term and long-term demands. Design thinking takes longer than traditional approaches to product design. It requires a large, up-front investment that may – or may not – pay dividends in the future.

The fundamental struggle between short-term cashflow needs and the desire to make investments for the future confronts corporations and individuals both. Design thinking is a decision to make the long-term investment.


Innovation is a hot topic now. Organizations believe that they need to be innovative to survive in a world where there are so few barriers to startup. Innovation, Design Thinking suggests, is built upon the back of design. This, I believe, is a slight overstatement. Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation speaks about IDEO’s human-centered design and how they use it to spark innovation. (Human-centered design is design thinking.) However, innovation is the implementation and adoption of an idea. (See Diffusion of Innovations and Unleashing Innovation). Further, as Jeff Dyer asserts in The Innovator’s DNA, it takes more than just listening to and understanding the customer’s needs. It takes the ability to build associations and connect new ideas.

So, while I believe that design thinking is a necessary component for fueling innovation, it’s not sufficient to create innovation in the absence of the ability to connect different ideas together.

Systems Thinking

At the heart of making connections is the ability to think in systems. (See Thinking in Systems for more on systems thinking.) This is because thinking in systems is fundamentally focused on the relationships – or connections – between the various components of the system. Thinking in systems relies upon the ability to identify the component pieces – just like everyone else – but goes beyond to simulate the interactions of those pieces in larger systems. (See Sources of Power for more on mental simulations.)

Talk to the Elephant

When modeling the way that people make decisions, it’s widely believed that we make rational decisions based on facts. However, what scientists are finding is that we tend to make emotional decisions and then rationalize them. F.G. “Buck” Rogers, one of IBM’s most notable sales people, famously said, “Customers buy on emotion and then justify with logic.”

In the language of Jonathan Haidt, your emotional elephant is in control. His elephant-rider-path model invites us to recognize the power that our emotions have and how little our rational minds really do. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more.) Design thinking steps beyond the rational requirements and looks for the emotional pull that will continue to tug on us long after the practical need has been addressed.

Triple Bottom Line

Historically, organizations were only concerned with the bottom line. The money that the corporation made was all that mattered. However, consumers and conditions are changing that perspective. More and more organizations are being measured not just by what money they make for their owners but also for their impact to social and environmental factors. Red Goldfish explains in greater detail the kinds of concerns that consumers have and structures like B Corporations, which are designed to provide a framework for organizations that promote the needs of the planet – not just profit.


It’s not surprising that creativity is a key component of design thinking. After all Tom and David Kelley (of IDEO) wrote Creative Confidence to encourage everyone to be creative. You can’t very well connect disconnected ideas together if you can’t be creative. Luckily, everyone has the capacity to be creative. However, sometimes that creativity is buried under years of belief that we’re not capable of it.

The need for creativity in the design process means that there’s no single formula, checklist or standard operating procedure for creativity.

Reducing Complexity

In the end, design thinking seeks to reduce the complexity in our world. Design should be about eliminating the unnecessary barriers, burdens, and hassles. (See Demand for more on hassles.) We’ve got way too much information coming at us for us to attend to every detail. We’ve got to be able to focus on only a small part of reality. (See The Information Diet.) That means we need design thinking to reduce our focus to only those things that are relevant and necessary. Perhaps if we can all practice Design Thinking, we can make the world a better place.