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Design Thinking Goes Mainstream

February 26, 2016 3 Min Read Business Strategy, Manufacturing & Distribution
Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA
Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

2016 economic and market commentary

The concept of design thinking is not new; its origins can be traced to the 1969 Herbert A. Simon book The Sciences of the Artificial. While it has its roots mainly in the science and engineering fields, design thinking is quickly catching on as a unique way to help businesses develop new products, generate more sales, and solve age-old problems.

Simply put, design thinking is solution-based thinking versus problem-based thinking. It starts with having an ultimate goal or desired future outcome in mind, rather than trying to solve a specific problem. In doing so, you aren’t blinded by the current situation and can consider many possible solutions.

There are many ways to approach design thinking, but the process generally involves the following steps: research, define, ideate, prototype, and test. However, the first step, research, is the most critical.

A fundamental flaw of problem-based thinking is leaping directly to defining the problem. For instance, we tend to assume we know what is most important to our customers. Yet to truly understand your customer, you need to conduct research. Learn what is important to them. Find out how they use your product, what brings them joy or discomfort, and how it impacts the other aspects of their jobs or lives. You may find that your product functions exactly as it was designed, but it doesn’t meet your customers’ needs. Perhaps it could offer greater benefits.

Too often we view our customers’ issues or desires through our own lens instead of through theirs. But by changing your approach and point of view, you may discover things you didn’t know about your customers.  This in turn can trigger ideas to modify your existing products or perhaps create a new product altogether.

The Swiffer mop is a great example of how design thinking helped redefine a product category. When Procter & Gamble set out to design a better mop, they first studied how people cleaned their floors. Their research showed that people spend a fair amount of time cleaning the mop. Otherwise, they would be pushing a dirty mop around the floor, which is counterproductive. Rather than taking an existing mop and trying to improve it, the engineering team took a different approach: It essentially combined a broom handle, paper towels, and a spray bottle to begin a prototype process which eventually resulted in the Swiffer mop we all know. Today, the Swiffer is one of Proctor & Gamble’s most popular products with annual sales of more than $500 million.

Design thinking helps businesses devise solutions that meet customers’ needs. But in order to build that better mousetrap, it is first necessary to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and envision what the end product looks like.

Brian J. Sharkey can be reached at Email or 215.441.4600.


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Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

Manufacturing & Distribution Specialist, M&A/ Transaction Advisory Services Specialist, ESOPs Specialist, Business Valuation Specialist, Owner Operated Private Companies Specialist, Private Equity-Backed Companies Specialist

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