How to Implement Design Thinking in a Start-up

Too often people make the mistake of speaking to family or friends for advice on a potential business idea rather than speaking to the people that will actually use their product or service. By taking a design thinking approach, you can ensure that those products or services are solving the real needs & problems of your potential customers.


So, what is design thinking?


Design thinking is a process which can be applied to creatively identify, and then solve, users needs & problems. Most notably, it takes a human-centred approach that marries business success and profitability with customer satisfaction. Contrary to popular belief, non-designers can and often do use design thinking strategies to create successful products, services and processes.  


To effectively implement design thinking in a startup, it’s vital to always start with the potential customer. After all, everything your product or service does will ultimately meet the wants or needs of your customer base.


So, how do you implement design thinking in a startup?


At Ashton McGill, we used design thinking tools and strategies to relaunch as an accountancy business last year. Design thinking is at the core of everything we do. It helps us improve our services so they continuously meet the needs of our clients. In this blog, we’ll outline each of the stages in the design process and how to successfully implement them.


What did we do?


Step 1: Research


The first step is speaking to people who would use your product or service. We found out what they wanted from an accountant and established the problems we could solve and the benefits we could deliver. This stage is all about having empathy and understanding for your end-users by undertaking in-depth research at very targeted segments of the market. To do this, you can use an Empathy Map or The Value Proposition Canvas.


The Main Takeaway: who are your target customers and have you spoken to them?


Step 2: Analysis


Now you’ve done your research, it’s time to analyse that data. Find the trends—what are the common things people are saying? Our customers said that accountants weren’t proactive, visiting their accountant felt like going to the dentist, and their accountant spoke to them in a language they didn’t understand.


The Main Takeaway: what are the trends you found when talking to potential customers?


Step 3: Ideate


This stage is about generating ideas for how to solve these problems. For example, because our research found that accountants weren’t proactive enough, we now use Slack to speak to our customers and answer any queries they have in a very dynamic way. To make the office feel less like going to the dentist, we designed a welcoming and relaxing workspace with nice furniture and good coffee. And to solve the problem of clients not understanding their accountant, we avoid speaking to them in technical jargon. This is all about empathy; really put yourself in the customer’s shoes to find solutions to these nagging problems.


The Main Takeaway: based on your research and analysis, how can you solve your customers’ pains with the product or service they’re currently using?


Step 4: Prototype


Now it’s time to test your ideas by getting feedback on them. Talk to your potential customers and ask their opinions on your ideas for your product or service. Do they like it, what would they change about it and why? The more research you do at this stage, the more you can improve and refine your product or service.


The Main Takeaway: What do your customers think about your potential product or service–what can you improve?


Step 5: Define & Design


You can now use this feedback to define and start designing your product or service. For example, when we began designing our onboarding process, we tried to make it as easy as possible for people to switch accountants.


The Main Takeaway: what are people looking for and how can you meet this?



Step 6: Implement


It’s now time to go to market with your new product or service. Think about what your product or service has that your competitors don’t. To do this, make sure to speak to people at every stage so you can produce products and services that really solve their needs or problems.


The Main Takeaway: what’s the value of people choosing your service over others?


Always speak to your customers!


Even after completing each stage of the design process, it’s important to keep getting feedback from your customers. Make sure you regularly communicate with them to find out how things are going. And never settle–I believe there’s always a better way to do things, just ask your customers!


The Main Takeaway: constantly look at your products or services and ask yourself how it could be better?


Anyone can design.


Design thinking is a term that’s often used but is commonly misunderstood. What’s more, people often gloss over it because it’s so difficult to explain. For us, design thinking isn’t overly complicated: it’s about efficiency, functionality and simplicity. Most of all, it’s about people and really meeting their needs and wants.