Does design thinking have relevance to brand strategy and business start-ups?

Over the past year or two I’ve been exposed to the theory of Design Thinking, which got me thinking (funny that). I had no preconceived notion of what Design Thinking actually was and, to be frank, felt a little left out.

I just returned from viewing a movie called ‘Design Thinking’ at Wintec, and it really got me thinking about whether this is simply a trendy fad that cool people talk about, or does design thinking have a more fundamental and broader role to play in brand development, business and society.

I studied Industrial Design back in the early 80’s, but moved into the world of marketing very early in my career, packing away the ideas and concepts that were installed into us at design school. After all, what does design have to do with  mainstream business and marketing strategy?

However, the more I now ponder design thinking and its methodology, the more intuitively it seems to fit into the world of brand strategy and marketing. The key tenet of design thinking is that all design starts with, and is built around solving a problem. Whether it’s a consumer or business problem or a social one, a problem is still a problem.

The second key premise of design thinking is that of testing and validating concepts and ideas early on in the development process through prototyping, and then making changes or improvements based on customer feedback.

In the context of brand strategy, the customer’s problem is also most definitely at the centre of the brand, and solving it is the only reason for a brand and business to exist. As we begin to fully explore and understand the nature of problems through the eyes of the customer or problemee (the person that has the problem) we begin to see fresh opportunities for solving them. Just as in product design, we may/should have several potential solutions, which all need to be tested and validated.

If the customer doesn’t value a proposed solution then we have to rapidly ditch it and pursue another avenue of solution design. The key thing is that we don’t build an entire company or production line before we test our ideas! We talk to our potential customers early in the design process to gauge their acceptance and quickly pivot if we have too. The cost of failure is minimised and through our ‘minor’ failure we gather a deeper and improved insight into a potentially better solution.

This is how I was taught to design products. It was as obvious then as it is today. The difference today is that we’ve coined a neat phrase that captures this smart way of thinking and designing. It makes no difference if we’re designing a product or a new business – the problem is at the epicenter and the only thing that determines if it will be successful or not, is whether it solves the problem to the satisfaction of the person that has the problem.

Design for the sake of design is art. There is a place for art, but in business and branding, delivering solutions to problems is what matters. That’s the only thing that customers are prepared to part with their hard-earned money for.


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