8 Design Thinking Tools You Can Start Using Today

From the big guys in Silicon Valley to the small startups here in Amsterdam, everybody seems to believe that design thinking is an extremely useful approach in order to unlock innovation. Probably, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of design thinking is a wall full of coloured post-its. However, design thinking is so much more! Essentially, design thinking is an iterative approach to solving problems in a way that might not be so obvious as we initially thought. So, design thinking allows us to really get into the shoes of the customer, to challenge assumptions and implications and to experiment, in order to find practical solutions that could be strategically beneficial for a business. Here’s an overview of tools that you can start using today. 

1. Visualization
This is not about drawing or going all out with paint or crayons, it is about using images to support conveying your ideas to others. When people try to express their ideas with words, the IT guy might automatically see code and servers whereas sales employees might start to think in sales campaigns. Instead, if the idea is presented by using a picture, the possibility of unmatched mental models and confusion is significantly being reduced. Consequently, your idea might actually come across as you intended, which increases efficiency and productivity.

2. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping could be used to visualize how ideas and items link to a central idea. As such, it is a great tool when trying to generate, structure and classify patterns that reveal insights for key design criteria. Instead of having a long, boring list with text, the mind map allows you and your team to structure the information in a similar way as the brain does. There’s great software tools out there that you can use, but if you have a decent handwriting, a good old-fashioned piece of paper will do too. Key here is full commitment from everybody involved.

3. Empathy Mapping
Now, more than ever, it is important to always have a customer-centric approach. We probably don’t have to explain that to you. In order to achieve it, however, it might be useful to know exactly what your customer is going through emotionally. What are the pains? What are the gains? Those can be derived from what the customer sees, hears, feels, thinks, says and does. Map it out, update when necessary and never let go of this precious map.  

4. Journey Mapping
Customer journey maps come in all shapes and sizes. And every once in a while, it might be a good idea to revise what your customer is going through. What are the emotional highs and lows? What are the opportunities for creating loyalty? Can the journey be shortened to make life of the customer easier? 

5. Value Chain Analysis
Value chain analysis is actually the business-side equivalent of the customer journey.

 This tool describes how a company deals with its value chain partners to produce, market and distribute new products or services. A careful analysis of the value chain, creates opportunities to create more value for customers all along the chain. In addition, it reveals insights about the company’s partners capabilities and intentions.

6. Business Model Canvas
We’ve already paid a tribute to Osterwalder & Pigneur’s business model canvas in this blogpost. The business model canvas is an excellent tool to visualize and summarize one’s business model, and to get an insight into how value is created and delivered. In a nutshell, it helps in understanding what needs to happen backstage, to create value for customer segments frontstage. 

7. Customer co-creation
Many people might be anxious to show unfinished products to customers, however, it is time to get over that. In line with the lean startup approach (read about it here), innovation is about learning from customers, and therefore customers cannot be involved early enough. How? Provide customer with visuals to get them to understand what could potentially be built. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it does have to be clear. The sooner you uncover what the customer really wants, the sooner you will be able to answer to those wants by delivering value.

Storytelling is closely related to visualization. It is a method to make ideas come to life by making them feel real and compelling. Just like visuals, stories can be used to tap into emotions and emotional memories tend to stick, research shows. As such, storytelling can enrich the context of your product or service, and can be used to draw and keep the customer’s attention. However, creating good stories requires some effort. Firstly, you need to be sure who your audience is. For this the previous tools could help. Secondly, create a storyboard. Set the scene for a problem, create characters that feel real in the plot. Do you ever read bedtime stories to your children/nephews/nieces/pets? Then you must know that all good stories follow a logical flow, have some surprise elements to it and a climax a.k.a. your solution to the problem. Don’t be afraid to make use of metaphors (again, to tap into people’s visualization), images and enthusiasm. 

Do you have any other tools that we should know about? We would love to hear more! 

About Amstel Lab
Amstel Lab partners with startups and scaleups to commercialize your business. On the back of our experience, we have developed the unique Amstel Lab method: a tailor-made approach to maximize success. We test your markets, refine your product, innovate your commercial approach and execute your strategies. Any good idea is worth seeing through. 

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