The secret of successful digital transformation? Design thinking

23 June 2021 / Insight posted in Article, Business, Featured

Digital transformation is critical to remaining competitive, but it is easy for businesses to focus on just one piece of the puzzle, by simply implementing the latest technologies with a plug-and-play approach. Some focus on adopting the latest technology in isolation without considering other elements in their haste to reap the benefits of the digital age. The secret of successful digital transformation takes a more holistic approach and only happens when the people, the process and the technology all work together.

Design thinking is an ideology and a process that aims to solve complex problems and build innovative solutions with a human-centred approach. It puts people at the centre of design and has a strong focus on observing and understanding the user’s perspective.

The approach can be used effectively by businesses across different sectors to uncover the true needs, pains and gains of people interacting with the service and, in turn, drive targeted efforts to enhance the experience, unlocking the “people part” of the digital transformation puzzle.

Design thinking encourages businesses to put people first and consider the real people who use their products and services. This lays the groundwork for success when it comes to implementing new software and ways of working.

With any digital transformation journey there are four distinct stages: discovery, design, development and delivery; and design thinking is especially useful in helping craft the first two. By using design thinking from the outset, all the relevant stakeholders are bought into the process. This makes the change management process much smoother and ensures that the customers’ needs are catered for, paving the way for successful delivery.

Using design thinking to take your business to the next level

Design thinking originally came about in the 1960s as a way of teaching engineers how to approach problems creatively, like designers do. Today all variety of businesses use design thinking to take a people-centric approach and in doing so, harness the benefits of this established practice.

A key advantage of design thinking is that it encourages stakeholders to lay aside their pre-conceived ideas and consider alternative solutions. The entire process allows stakeholders to challenge assumptions and explore new routes and ideas. It helps businesses to try new things before narrowing their options down.

SMEs can use the model to re-imagine their current ways of working, including the way they interact with their customers, the way they engage their employees and the way their business operates – in order to drive a meaningful and impactful digital transformation.

Design thinking helps stakeholders to take a step back from ‘the way things are’ and envision what their ideal future state could look like. With collaboration at the centre, this approach helps build a collective vision of where the business can be – and what more it can do. This then provides clarity about where they are (point A) and where they want to go (point B).

The technological solutions can be viewed as ‘digital enablers’ that will allow businesses to be innovative, to be disruptive and to be agile. It helps us bridge the gap from A-to-B and make that collective vision a reality, which in turn helps businesses build their competitive advantage.

With the ever-changing expectations of customers, increasing market competition and the evolving regulatory environment, it is more important now than ever to maintain competitive advantage.

Design thinking step-by-step

According to Stanford University’s, there are five core tenets for design thinking:

1) Empathise
This first step is at the core of design thinking; it involves stepping into the shoes of the customer and understanding how they do things, how they feel, and how they think. It is important because the problem we are trying to solve is not ours but rather that of the customers, so we must gain empathy first.

2) Define
This involves gathering all the insights and framing the ‘right’ problem statement to focus all the design activities on.

3) Ideate
This involves brainstorming and engaging in blue sky thinking to generate a number of ideas.

4) Prototype
This involves going beyond words and making things tangible; it is the idea that we need to ‘build to think and learn’ and experiment as much as possible.

5) Test
This final stage involves showcasing the prototypes and gathering feedback to drive an iterative cycle for design and development; it helps us find the ‘right’ solution to the ‘right’ problem.

Design thinking is not a linear process, but rather an iterative one which enables stakeholders to evolve their thinking, find new patterns and spark new innovative ideas.

Going through the above step-by-step process helps businesses to find the sweet spot for innovation, as global design agency Ideo puts it, the place where end users’ desirability, technical feasibility and financial viability meets.

Case study: Design thinking in action at Moore Kingston Smith

A practical example of design thinking at leading professional service advisers Moore Kingston Smith has been the application of it as part of an initiative to transform the personal tax service.

The digital transformation team started out by conducting primary research by interviewing their clients and gathering first-hand insights into their experience of using the firm’s tax service. This was the first step towards building empathy for their customers and understanding their needs, pains and gains. These customer insights along with an innovation scan of the market provided an invaluable perspective combining different angles.

The team conducted a design thinking workshop to immerse themselves into the users’ experiences and work together on a set of design activities covering all aspects of the design process. The workshop was centred around collaboration, creativity, compassion and, most importantly, the customer. Taking this approach created a shared understanding of the various user types and their customer journeys, enabling the team to identify the right problems to address, which were then tested through rapid prototyping to evaluate the possibilities.

Using the design thinking model helped all relevant stakeholders to fully understand the impact of potential solutions on the customer journey experience of different user types. It laid the foundations for a common vision of what the future state customer journey should look like and how customer delight can be delivered every time.


Design thinking enforces a human-centred approach and builds empathy for the real users of the products and services. It allows businesses to identify the ‘right’ problem statement for their business to address and fosters creativity and innovation enabling business leaders to stumble upon disruptive ideas.

The model can be a powerful catalyst for change internally as it helps stakeholders build collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams from the inception stage. It also allows businesses to fail early and fail fast – minimising the risk of implementing new ideas and maximising the benefits.

If business owners wish to remain relevant and competitive in the market, they must act now and adapt to the changing customer demands. Design thinking should be used as a powerful tool to ensure the ‘people’ part of the digital transformation journey is right at the heart of the decision-making process.

For more information or to find out how we can help you, please contact us.