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    Design Thinking for Innovation – Ultimate Guide and Download

    6 essential phases for successful innovation, using the best design thinking framework available, anywhere.

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      Picture of Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Are you confused about what design thinking is? Or, Are you wanting to innovate bust don’t know how to get started?

      In this article, I’ll provide the benefits and explain how to go about design thinking. Read on to start innovating!

      What is Design Thinking?

      Design Thinking is a creative process for solving problems, strategy and innovation. And, according to PWC, innovation, problem-solving, and creativity are some of the most highly sought-after skills in a commercial context.

      In today’s world disruption is ever present for existing businesses which need to reinvent and innovate to remain competitive or risk becoming irrelevant obsolete (think Kodak or Blockbuster).

      Design thinking can help organisations from startups to global enterprises to unlock imagination to envision what does not exist, generate creative ideas of value, and innovate by implementing creative ideas.

      At its core, design thinking is human-centred. It seeks first to understand what customers find Desirable, then to validate if something is technologically Feasible, and lastly, whether the idea is commercially viable.

      Design Thinking can help you to:

      • Understand customers latent and unmet needs.
      • Reduce risk when developing new products or services.
      • Generate solutions that could make incremental progress or make giant leaps and transform your business.
      • Create a culture of rapid iteration, learning by failing and inclusive and not driven by egos.

      What is Innovation?

      Let’s take some time to define what innovation really is.

      • Imagination is to envision what does not exist.
      • Creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value.
      • Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas.

      The Benefits of Design Thinking

      There are several benefits to design thinking. Namely:

      • Superior and novel solutions. Design thinking increases the likelihood of a superior solution to result. The divergent and convergent phases, combined with the techniques and approaches create an environment in which more innovative ideas emerge.
      • Lower risks and costs. Using design thinking can dramatically minimise risk and reduce costs because here is an increased likelihood of better outcomes from the start, prototyping and testing is completed using a lean innovation approach of progressively increasing the fidelity of options as certainty increases.
      • Stakeholder alignment. Because of the co-design nature of design thinking, stakeholders are often involved in the process and aware of progress as the design thinking process evolves.

      The Six Main Design Thinking Phases

      The DUCTRI Design Thinking Model

      Design thinking often has five phases:

      1. Empathise – understand your customer’s world.
      2. Define – Determine the key insights and customers needs.
      3. Ideate – Create innovative ideas of value.
      4. Prototyping – Building mockups of the products and services authentic enough for customers to experience.
      5. Testing – Testing and iterating the prototypes with real-world users.

      There is a lot of value in the steps detailed above. However, given the need to innovate at an ever fast rate, the success of innovations is becoming more and more crucial for not only survival but to thrive.

      The DUCTRI model, created by Dr Christian Walsh, has taken the very best aspects of other models and created a more useful six phase model that also aligns with the essential business lens of Desirability, Feasibility and Viability. 

      I recommend using the DUCTRI model because it considers the resources and implementation phases that are critical to innovation.

      The DUCTRI model stands for:

      1. Discovering. The discovery phase utilises mostly qualitative research methods such as interviews and observations to gain empathy of a customers world.
      2. Understanding. The understanding phase is about making sense of the data and making choices about the insights, core needs and points of view and to determine the core problem.
      3. Creating. The creating phase is when creativity comes in to play to ideate lots of possible options. In this phase, the more options the better so that we don’t leap to a ‘solution’. Once we’ve ideated, then building prototypes come in to play. A prototype can be as simple as a sketch or a working website. the key, is to make a prototype good enough for users to experience and understand the concept.
      4. Testing. The testing phase is all about getting out of the office and engaging with customers by using well-designed experiments. The important observation here is that the experiments create action.
      5. Resourcing. Once a prototype appears to be feasible. then, consider how the solution might be resourced. What are the economic, social, cultural or symbolic capital needed?
      6. Implementation. The implementation phase is likely to be the most difficult because of the environmental and human behavioural change factors that that are needed for successful implementation.

      With the six main phases covered, there is also a seventh phase – repeat.

      Repeating phases are often essential because design thinking is not linear. The process is often messy, iterative and ambiguous for much of the time. However, trust the DUCTRI process to guide innovation outcomes.

      The Four Design Thinking Principles

      There are four underlying principles of Design Thinking:

      1. People-Centric. Design thinking is done for people with people. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (the people, the people, the people) is a Māori (indigenous people of New Zealand) expression.
      2. Diverse Collaboration. Collaborating with people of many varied backgrounds, viewpoints and cognitive styles to increase the chances of more robust insights and solutions emerging.
      3. Optimistic Growth Mindset.  Being optimistic has proved to allow more creative thinking. Constraints are seen as creative opportunities and problems embraced and viewed as solvable, no matter how big they may be.
      4. Experiential. Learning and testing our way to success is the ‘modus operandi’ for innovation. We remove our biases and egos by acting based on evidence from actual customers actions.
      design thinking principles

      The Three Critical Design Thinking Mindsets

      Design Thinking Mindset

      Design Thinking is a philosophy. It is an overarching way of thinking about problem-solving in a human-centric way. It is the mindsets of people that are the essential ingredients and the most critical mindsets are:

      • Curiosity. Curiosity is about digging deeper to find out the core needs and insights are. Seeing things with a ‘beginners mind’ so as not to settle for the obvious.
      • Creativity. A creative mind will look at possibilities and create choices. Challenging assumptions and ‘the way things have always been done’ by exploring alternatives and disregarding implied rules.
      • Clarity. Once you have a deep understanding and have travelled far along the process, taking others on the journey with clear communication and clarity of decisions is essential.

      How to Start Design Thinking?

      The best way to get started with Design Thinking is to start. Along with books like Tom and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence, try the following:

      • Research customers using observations and interviews, look for similar problems being solved in different settings and keep an eye on what might happen in the future with technology and legislative change. My MBA project took some inspiration from apps in social media, school and aged care.
      • Reframe problems and ask better questions. Using ‘How Might We …. ‘ questions presumes that a solution is possible and that we can solve the problem together. This method also stops us from jumping to a solution and closing off to other ideas.
      • Make prototypes simple. Depending on the setting, a sketch, a model from cardboard, or even a script could be used as a prototype, which is iteratively increased in its fidelity as feedback and learning are increased. The whole objective is to evidence customer choices and actions with low risk. The prototype should be just enough to convey the idea and for it to be experienced.
      • Be prepared to scrap the idea or change direction. As humans, we all tend to love our ideas. However, the only thing that matters is what customers think and do, let them guide your decisions.

      The DUCTRI Innovation Model

      The smartest guide to innovation yet!

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        Design Thinking - Step by Step Guide

        This design thinking step by step guide will provide the essential steps and information to be able to use design thinking to innovate today!

        The guide is presented in alignment with the model including the phases, mindsets and business lenses.


        So, you have an idea that solves a problem? The discovering phase is the start of the desirability focus and is the first divergent phase.

        It is about gaining empathy for the users or customers world, which means that we need to use get out of the office and nurture curiosity.

        1. Start with loosely defining what the problem or idea is.
        2. Identify some important questions that may need to be answered and frame them in ways that prompt rather than lead. For example, ‘Tell me about …’
        3. Determine where you may find the right type of people to research. Importantly, find people that are outliers or those that are hard to please because some of the biggest insights can come from here. I suggest to start interviewing and ‘snowball’ to other interviewees, because as you learn your questions will evolve and so will the gaps that may need to be addressed.
        4. Interview people. Often individual interviews are best to hear the full picture of their world. I recommend learning to craft interview techniques so that the interviewee is comfortable to open up. Using questions starting with why, when, what, where and how often provide a good starting point.
        5. Record the interviews. Use either voice transcription platforms or video. Video is often best because body language can provide significant insights.
        6. Observe people. If it is discovery that is best done in-situ then observe in the real setting. This approach often provides insights on what people really do rather than say they do.
        7. An option during interviews is to also use pictures to explain ideas or games to constrain people to categorise things.
        8. Look to other sectors as to how they may be solving similar problems. what can be learned from this?
        9. Focus groups can be used. however, these often have group dynamic issues to contend with.


        The understanding phase is the first divergent ‘choice making’ phase and is about making sense of the data that has been gathered.

        Using various tools we are trying to gain insight into the problem.

        At this point we need to remain focused on the problem, removing our biases and avoid jumping to solutions. It is about understanding the core issue.

        Some tools and techniques may help generate insight. I recommend;

        1. Reframing. From our discovery we may have a different view of the problem and could reframe to better define the problem.
        2. Create an affinity map. Download all the notable comments or observations from your review of the recordings and the meetings on to individual post-it notes. Then randomly place them on a wall. Iteratively, group the post-it’s into themes and sub themes. Look for the commonalities, linkages and gaps. Use images and sentiment to also encapsulate the insights.
        3. Empathy Maps. Empathy maps capture what interviewees say and do, then you can infer what they are thinking and feeling leading to the insights and needs.
        4. Personas. Personas are fictional representations of a user group. Often, they will communicate the pains, gains, day in the life, attributes and demographics. But, beware of stereotypes.
        5. Journey maps. Journey maps are useful for service businesses and complex systems. A journey map will often show the various points of interaction, responsibilities, critical success points and opportunities.
        6. Two by two. A two by two is a matrix that helps decide criteria. Most, important is that the ends the scale are actually opposites. For example using axes of impact and influence with high/low.
        7. Powers of ten. Powers of ten is used to test scalability and where assumptions break down. What is there were ten times more users? One hundred times? One thousand times?
        8. Customer jobs. This tool is often used  to map out a customers jobs, pains and gains before developing a value proposition that delivers the product or service, eliminates pains and increases gains. Jobs are either, functional, social or emotional. Also, understand the context and how important the job is.
        9. Point of view statement. A point of view statement captures and important insight and usually follows the formula: [User] needs to [users need] because [surprising insight].
        10. Alternatively, try job stories with the following format: When [situation] I want to[job to be done] so I can [pain/gain].

        Check out this post for more on my top insight generating tools.

        Empathy Map for Design Thinking


        The creating phase is the start of the Feasibility and is the second divergent phase. Again, at this phase we are generating ideas and possibilities. It’s important to remember that anyone can be creative with the right approaches.

        Some tools and to help spark creativity are:

        1. Connect and combine exiting solutions in new and novel ways.
        2. Use metaphors to describe and explore a range of possibilities. for example, ‘in what way is a car like a plane..? like a boat …?
        3. Challenge assumption using the Five Why’s technique. Firstly, list assumptions then ask why five times to see if the assumption holds true.
        4. Use ‘how might we …?’ statements. HMW’s are purposeful in that they are a springboard for idea generation.  For example, HMW’s can be used to – increase the good (how might we make roads safer), remove the bad (how might we stop crashes), explore opposites (how might we make boredom the best part of the trip), create an analogy (how might we make a car like a bed), change the status quo (how might we not need cars at all) or be applied to any aspect of a point of view or idea.
        5. Use the nominal group technique to individually ideate and then present to the group. the group then votes on the preferred option.
        6. try question storming. Start by using a disruptive question that challenges an assumption with ‘what is…?, ‘what caused…? Then, move to future, ‘why..? what if…?
        7. Also, try to include brainstorming that allows for people that require quiet reflection (introverts) and that help to build on ideas over time. for example, a topic or theme in an office where people can add comments over a longer period.

        10 Creativity Myths

        Design Thinking is something everyone can do, and you don’t need to be ‘creative’. David Burkus’s research demystified the most commonly held beliefs about creativity.

        1. The Eureka Myth. Nobody really shouts “Eureka” from a moment of inspiration. Often creativity is the outcome of much work, testing and validating.
        2. Breed Myth. Creativity has been proven not to be genetic.
        3. Originality Myth. Most new ideas are a combination of what already exists. Therefore, original ideas are a myth.
        4. Expert Myth. The more expertise someone has doesn’t mean that they have more creativity.
        5. Incentive Myth. Intrinsic motivation is far more potent than incentivising creativity.
        6. Lone Creator Myth. Most of the most creative people in history (e.g. Edison) had diverse well functioning teams.
        7. Brainstorming Myth. Often brainstorming does not produce great creativity; often, individual thought provides better results before group work.
        8. Cohesive Myth. While a cohesive team is good in some respects, fostering creativity, conflict and challenge can bring out the best.
        9. Constraints Myth. Creativity works best under constraints. Having unlimited resources can restrict creativity.
        10. Mousetrap Myth. A commonly held belief is that a better mousetrap, widget or whatever will have people clamouring to get one. In reality, ideas have to be shouted from the rooftops.


        Testing is all about experimentation. Testing in the innovation space requires the design of good hypotheses and experiments. it also requires a fair amount of resilience to failure.

        In this phase you are making choices about the direction and building prototypes to test to validate the feasibility.

        1. Decide what it is that you are wanting to test. Is it a potential solution? Or, something specific about a customers world? And, what is the core variable?
        2. Build the experiment. Often, this is in the form of a prototype to learn from. there are several types of prototypes, such as, mock-ups, role plays, storyboards or ‘wizard of Oz’.
        3. Test with real users and capture feedback. Be aware of fake reasons (don’t like the colour) and look for real reasons (I don’t trust you). Importantly, look for peoples actions over words.

        10 Principles of Testing or Prototyping

        There are 10 principles to consider when prototyping and testing:

        • Embrace a beginner’s mind.
        • Don’t fall in love with first ideas, create alternatives.
        • Fell comfortable with a liquid state.
        • Make it visual and tangible.
        • Start with low fidelity and refine.
        • Expose your work early and seek criticism.
        • Learn faster by failing early, often and cheaply.
        • Use creativity techniques.
        • Track learnings insights and progress.
        • Create ‘Shrek’ models (something that you are unlikely to build to spark debate.


        The resourcing phase is the start of the validating the viability.

        The main resources to consider are:

        • Social capital: membership in societies, relations, networks and alliances.
        • Cultural capital: personal dispositions, cultural goods, skill and education.
        • Symbolic capital: awards, trophies, diplomas, publicity, reputation and prestige.
        • Financial capital: income, savings, intellectual property and tangible assets.

        However, innovation is rarely done in an insular fashion. Often, partnership are created or open sourced to enable the right resources and the right amount.

        A useful tool is the pre-mortem to identify potential issues why a project may fail. And, then set about mitigating the issues.


        design thinking pre-mortem


        The implementing phase is often the most crucial barrier to viable innovation. An organisation culture, ways of working, group dynamics and habits all contribute to effective implementation.

        Ultimately, once an innovation is resourced, it will be people that need to implement it. Some useful approaches are:

        • Provide clear simple instructions, scripting the critical moves.
        • Follow the areas that are working well and amplify them.
        • Provide a near-term vision.
        • Connect with the teams identity using visual assets.
        • Make change smaller and within reach.
        • Support and develop your people.
        • Adjust the environment to make it easier to change.
        • Build habits using triggers.
        • Gather people around the change. Change is infectious.

        The DUCTRI Innovation Model

        The smartest guide to innovation yet!

          Downloading also gets you access to weekly insights.

          Join the community of founders & leaders transforming businesses.

          We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.


          Design thinking has the power to transform businesses and solve big and small problems.

          While you don’t need to be a ‘creative’ person, following and trusting the process and techniques is essential to uncover the customer needs, consider possible solutions, that are desirable, feasible, and viable. 

          The DUCTRI model is the next generation of design thinking models and is my go to approach for innovation.