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Design Thinking for Results

Design thinking is one of the creative approaches non-profits can use to strengthen their organizations by understanding the needs of their stakeholders and engaging communities in the most effective way. The concept of design thinking can be applied to procedures, systems, and customer or user experience. As an organization, you design the way you create, lead, innovate and manage your activities. 

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a creative methodology that you can use to solve problems and find desirable solutions for clients or customers. Design thinking is both an approach and a mindset. A design mindset is focused on finding solutions and taking actions geared towards the preferred future. Design thinking entails drawing up logic, intuition, imagination and system reasoning when exploring possibilities and coming up with outcomes that improve the experience of customers. Developing a designer‘s mindset allows you to see problems as opportunities so that you can confidently innovate transformative solutions for your organization. 

You can think of design thinking as the innovative solutions that exist at the point where business viability, human desirability, and technological feasibility intersect. You don’t have to be a designer to enter into the process of design thinking because design thinking is intuitive and requires enormous empathy. It relies on our abilities to recognize patterns, to be intuitive, to create rational and emotionally-oriented ideas, to recognize patterns and to be expressive through action. 

Applying the Process

There is a striking difference between design and design thinking. While design is the process of bringing something new and desirable into existence, design thinking focuses on using the designer’s perspectives and approaches to match the needs of customers with solutions that are viable, technologically feasible and offer customer value.

The process of design thinking entails an overlapping system of three phases; discovery, ideation, and iteration. The structured framework of design thinking enables you to understand and pursue innovative ways that can contribute to your organization’s growth and add value to your customers.


The discovery or inspiration stage involves formulating a design framework and discovering new perspectives on the opportunity. Looking at the challenges facing your organization, you start drawing inspiration by looking at different ways to approach the challenges. In the discovery stage, you select an affirmative or strategic topic, gather data, and understand or empathize with unmatched needs. For example in public libraries, you implement the discovery stage of the design thinking process by first identifying an affirmative topic that relates to library users. You then conduct interviews and observations to gather data about the strategic topic. Finally, you empathize with unmet needs by engaging library users to understand how they feel about the topical issue and how it influences their lives as a whole. 


At this stage, you start generating ideas based upon the research inspiration you obtained in the discovery stage. Initially, you start looking for patterns and insights, defining the topic scope, and formulating questions assumptions. You then switch gears by brainstorming ways to make the ideas and insights actionable. Next, you experiment prototypes, explore possibilities and envision a desired future. The ideation stage focuses on making the ideas visible. In the case of public libraries, you can generate creative ideas that aim at improving the overall service quality experienced by users. For example, you could create a new kind of children’s space designed with simple costumes, performance background, and handmade puppets to allow children to tell stories to one another. 

For non-profits and small businesses, creativity is central to the design process. Focus on generating creative ideas that are human-centered and those that aims at engaging users or customers through a series of tangible prototypes.


In the iteration stage, you evaluate the performance of the prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts. Through iteration, you’ll be able to develop an understanding of the users’ or customers’ unmet needs and establish customer intimacy so as to uncover these needs. The aim here is to experiment the ideas under different contexts to learn how the ideas can adapt to distinctive environments and staff cultures. You learn from the end-users experience and refine the ideas before final testing, approval, and launch. The information learned is then used to create new concepts so as to minimize the risks of innovation.

Organizations should encourage interaction between users to determine how the ideas are feasible, desirable and viable to enhancing user’s experience.

You don’t have to be a designer in adopt design thinking process for your small business or non-profit. The most important thing is to think like a designer in the way you create, lead and manage your organization. Design thinking begins with setting a strategic topic that aims at enhancing the overall customer experience. This critical concept of thinking like a designer is effective strategy development and organizational change.

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