The Impact of Design Thinking on Enterprise Digital Transformation

Written By: admin | 03/15/17

The Impact of Design Thinking on Enterprise Digital Transformation

In 2009, Airbnb was on verge of bankruptcy. Today, it’s revolutionizing the tourism industry.

The key to Airbnb’s success? Design thinking.

Read more about Airbnb’s story: How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business

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What is design thinking?
"Design thinking at ChaiOne is a design-led approach to innovation that redefines complex business challenges in human-centric ways — fusing together the needs of the user, business goals and current or emerging technology to deliver a simple solution."
- ChaiOne CEO Gaurav Khandelwal

For major enterprises and startups alike, design thinking is a particularly effective method because it tackles problems that are ill-defined or unknown, of which — in our dynamic business culture — there are many.

Today, digital transformation (DT) projects at the enterprise-level can realize tremendous benefits from applying design thinking methodologies. This post is intended to give you more information about what design thinking is and what it accomplishes, as well as how design thinking contributes to an agile strategy for business innovation.

Innovating with design thinking methodology

When it comes to true enterprise digital transformation, it’s not technology that should come first, or even the businesses’ KPIs — it’s the user that should be the starting point.

Design thinking puts the user first, redefining problems in human-centered ways to create better, more refined solutions. Think Apple — which has used design thinking to create revolutionary products for decades.

Design-thinking principles

In the book, Design Thinking: Understand, Improve, Apply, the authors, Christoph Meinel and Larry Leifer, lay out four principles for the successful implementation of design thinking:


  1. The human rule, which states that all design activity is ultimately social in nature, and any social innovation will bring us back to the 'human-centric point of view'.
  2. The ambiguity rule, in which design thinkers must preserve ambiguity by experimenting at the limits of their knowledge and ability, enabling the freedom to see things differently.
  3. The re-design rule, where all design is re-design; this comes as a result of changing technology and social circumstances but previously solved, unchanged human needs.
  4. The tangibility rule; the concept that making ideas tangible always facilitates communication and allows designers to treat prototypes as 'communication media'.


Design-thinking process

There are several variations of the design thinking process in use today. Some processes have as few as three steps, while others have as many as seven steps.

The process, as defined by Stanford University’s, a leading university teaching design thinking, involves five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Let’s take a closer look at each of these stages.


In the empathize stage, the goal is to gain an empathetic understanding of the problem you want to solve. This generally involves observing, engaging and empathizing with people to understand their experiences and motivations.

For highly complex enterprise projects, it’s a good idea to engage a qualified user experience researcher to conduct a contextual inquiry*. Contextual inquiries, when done properly by experienced professionals, reveal important user insights that have a major impact on a project’s success.


In the define stage, researchers and designers synthesize observations about users from the empathize stage. The goal is to define the problem (e.g., design challenge, problem statement) in a human-centered way.

This is a crucial step in the design thinking process because it helps guide the team in the right direction in the next stage.


In the ideate stage, researchers and designers are ready to start generating ideas.

This is the opportunity for the research and design team to start thinking outside the box — identifying new solutions to the problem and looking for alternative ways to solve the problem.


In this stage, scaled down versions of the product are created and tested so designers can either validate the design or identify the best solutions possible. Based on user experience results, solutions are either accepted, improved or re-examined. The result? The design team gains valuable insight into how users actually interact with the product and a clear idea of project constraints.


Using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase — the product is tested and then retested in an iterative fashion. During this stage, alternations and refinements are made to the design. It’s at this stage — with testing and retesting — where a true understanding of the user’s interaction with a product is revealed.

The ChaiOne Way

At ChaiOne, we've created a process for building custom mobile and digital solutions that incorporates much of the design thinking methodologies covered in this post. We've worked on many successful solutions for clients ranging from start-up businesses to Fortune 500 energy companies.

The 5D process: Discover, Define, Design, Develop and Deploy The ChaiOne 5D product development process

Our process, which is both iterative and agile, helps us meet the demands of today’s dynamic enterprise environment — enabling project teams to quickly address industry changes and rapidly incorporate key user needs into the design of the final product.

To find out more about ChaiOne’s process, and how we can help businesses with their digital transformation projects, read our free whitepaper, "The ROI of UX". Want more information. Contact a digital strategist for a free 20-minute consultation at 888.316.0357.

*A user-centered design (UCD) research method that places the researcher in the environment of the user