Design Thinking: How These 8 Brands Achieved Shocking Success

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Appnova Digital Agency
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We are going to explain design thinking in-depth and see how different brands are leveraging it to empathize and get closer to their audience.

Design thinking is the in-depth understanding of a consumer and the process of implementing a solution-based approach to solving their problems. Through its use, brands can connect with their target audience on a deeper level, without the customer even noticing it. It’s a way of creating empathy with an audience and helping them better understand a brand’s message. Here, we will provide a brief overview of the retail use relating to design thinking, the different phases of this method, and examples of brands that have successfully utilised this approach.

Benefits of Design Thinking

The use of design thinking can be useful for a company starting branding themselves or creating new campaigns to reach a specific audience. Through design thinking, a brand has the opportunity to help consumers visualise the full meaning and purpose of their message, along with several other benefits such as:

New Perspectives – Brands have the opportunity to view and solve problems through different perspectives. In this case, a company will likely put themselves in the shoes of a consumer to see the issue from their side, understand it, and devise a great solution. Once a brand approaches a situation from a consumer perspective, it creates a strong foundation to work from when solving problems.

Figure Out The Root of a Problem – In many cases, brands are only thinking of ways to patch up problems rather than searching for the root cause and how it could be fixed. Luckily, when a company uses design thinking it has the ability to pinpoint and tackle this problem directly. Design thinking gives companies the capability to target important issues and resolve it, not only them, but for their audience too.

Ensures Solutions – Businesses who use design thinking help offer clear and direct solutions to consumer issues. The overall purpose of this method allows companies to better understand customer frustrations and approach it head-on with a solid understanding of what needs to be changed to resolve the problem.

More Knowledgeable – From this extensive problem-solving approach, businesses are able to have a better grasp on consumer issues and how to treat them in future scenarios. With this improved knowledge, companies can also prevent any major problems before they develop into large-scale issues.

Phases in Design Thinking

The most important thing for brands to remember when going through design thinking phases is to never separate themselves from their target audience when looking for a solution. Each stage should be looked at as “we have this problem” and “how do we fix this for us” rather than “they have a problem” or “how do we fix this for them”, meaning that the company is taking on the issue as if it were their problem, not just the consumers.

1. Empathise

The first step of design thinking is grasping an empathetic understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. A company gaining empathy for its target audience will need to put itself in the area of concern and learn from consumers dealing with the issue. This could be executed in either a physical or digital environment depending on where the problem stems from. This phase is crucial to accomplish human-centric problem-solving that resonates with consumers.

2. Define

The information gained from the empathising stage is what will help define the problem in the next. A company who understands the issues of consumers can then gather this data and analyse it to construct a problem that’ll need to be solved. When tackling the problem, businesses will need to remember to state the issue from a human-centric positioning to help them better understand and help their targeted audience.

3. Ideate

Taking the problem defined by the previous phase, companies will then begin to brainstorm possible solutions. This is a time for brands to think out of the box and really try to understand the situation from the consumers’ perspective. By the end of this phase, a brand should have a handful of ideas to carry into the next stage.

4. Prototype

When a business has a couple of ideas worth trying, inexpensive small-scale versions of these ideas will be created to have a visual representation of a solution. In this stage, prototypes are also tested and then either accepted, rejected, or re-examined and improved in response to how consumers would react, feel, and judge the final product.

5. Test

Finally once a company narrows its ideas down to one prototype, a final test will be implemented to see how consumers react and understand it, with an emphasis on the solution. If all points are not met, final tweaks and alterations will be made until the prototype checks all the boxes.

The Positive Results of Design Thinking

Companies that use design thinking are confident that this method works and can lead to great improvements for the business as a whole. It’s even been proven that companies that are focused on design-based tactics outpace their competitors by 228%, in addition to outperforming The S&P Index annually.

The list of benefits continues with another report showing that companies that utilise design thinking have higher revenues by a third in comparison to businesses that don’t. This makes sense when you look at some of the highest achieving brands such as Google, Nike, IBM and PepsiCo that all use this method to reach their consumers.

Positive results of design thinking have also led businesses to create better ways to test out prototypes and create quality customer experiences, meaning this method has far surpassed its initial use and creation. This focus on customer satisfaction has led to creating loyal consumers and a 41% greater market share for simply utilising this approach.

8 Design Thinking Examples

Apple – One of the best design thinking examples comes from Apple. When the brand first launched it had initially caused a disruption to the mobile device field, as Apple’s cellphone was designed very differently to more traditional devices. Despite it being an outcast in appearance, Apple had meticulously integrated consumer needs into its product, making it the most user-friendly devices to date. Having design thinking embedded into its makeup led Apple’s latest addition to develop dual-cameras giving its audience the potential to capture outstanding visuals. The tech brand has successfully created a solution by empathising with consumers’ current issue of wanting quality visuals, whether it be their own images or images of others, and producing great results.

Airbnb – First a startup, Airbnb had many issues attracting consumers to its brand as they couldn’t quite figure out why revenue was so low. Once co-founder Joe Gebbia started approaching Airbnb’s site as if he were a consumer, only then was the company able to realise what was wrong. From a consumer’s perspective, the brand not having any high-quality images of each available rental made all options look extremely undesirable. When Gebbia finally found a solution to this problem, he and the other co-founder Paul Graham went around NYC and visited the rentals with a camera. They then replaced amateur photos of each property with more professional-looking images of each property that they took. A week later, Airbnb’s revenue doubled.

Braun and Oral BBraun and Oral B were looking for a new way to increase revenue for their Electric Toothbrush, the companies initially hired designers to take on the task of creating a successful strategy in response to their goals. At first, the designers had come up with new, high-tech solutions that would be incorporated into the toothbrush, potentially making it one of the best “smart” toothbrushes to date. Despite the potential success, Braun and Oral B directed the designers to think of what the consumers’ issues with the toothbrush were and how to reach their needs. The end result was the designers suggesting that the brands offer travel USB chargers and an easier method to order replacement heads. Once implemented, the results became exponentially successful for the companies’ revenues and CX as they catered directly to the consumers’ needs.

Starbucks – Starbucks’ design thinking ended up going in a totally different direction to their initial thoughts relating to customer issues. Back in 2007, Starbucks decided to survey coffee-lovers and consumers to learn more about what they were looking for amidst plummeting sales. To its surprise, the answer actually had nothing to do with coffee itself but customers were looking for a calm place to relax while they had their coffee and a sense of belonging. In response, Starbucks gave them exactly that. The company refurbished their store interiors’ to create a welcoming atmosphere for customers to gather. The brand also avoided plastic and metal furniture, instead of selecting warm woods and welcoming tones for store interiors, as it made for a homely environment. Along with that, all tables placed in Starbucks’ shops were rounded, as there are “no empty seats” at a rounded table, to better cater to customers coming alone. The results of the design thinking approach had been very successful, as to this day people consider Starbucks as a place to stay, relax, read a book or do work as it presents itself as a welcoming space.

MRI Machines – It’s been reported that around 80% of children that needed to have an MRI scan had to be sedated before the act because of the obvious fear of entering a noisy, foreign enclosure. Once Doug Dietz, Innovation Architect and Chief Designer of GE Imaging Machines caught wind of this staggering percentage, he went on a mission to help fix this issue between MRIs and the fear children were dealing with. As a result, Dietz created the CT Pirate Island Adventure which essentially was the MRI room and machine decorated in theme to resemble a pirate ship along with children’s favourite cartoons surrounding. From the 80% sedation recorded, it had dropped down to 10% as children looked at the machine as playtime and diminished their fears.

Embrace – Baby product manufacturer Embrace knew that a shocking amount of premature babies pass away in the developing world each year, the leading cause of which is Hypothermia. The company, therefore, made it a goal to design a product to help prevent this terrible problem. After much design research and taking into account that the nearest hospital and incubator could be 30 miles away, Embrace came up with the solution of a small sleeping bag that could replicate an incubator’s purpose. Inside the sleeping bag, parents would be able to place their premature baby and a warm heatable pouch inside that could maintain heat for four hours. Overall, Embrace’s sleeping bag has saved over a thousand premature babies and created a beautiful solution for both parents and health care institutions.

Nike – A great design thinking case study can be recognised when footwear-company, Nike created its “Air” campaign. The brand originally was having a hard time defining their product to a target audience, Nike took the time to empathise with its consumers and produce a shoe that would fit the mould of performance and street style wear. To help get the final concept out to their audience, Nike chose to cut out a window in the sole of their shoes, so that consumers wearing the product would literally be “walking on air”. This approach led Nike to be a top competitor in its field as well as creating a savvy solution justifying both its performance and street style uses still used today.

Netflix – One of the best design thinking examples that had slowly snuck up on society had to be Netflix’s approach towards empathising with consumers. Movie theatres, once very popular amongst families, friends, couples, and so on, were starting to bother consumers. The inconvenience of having to go to a certain location at a specific time for entertainment was annoying compared to having this same luxury at home. Netflix took this into account when it first launched its business, it offered rentable DVDs sent through the mail, essentially eliminating the need for anyone to go to the movie theatres or even drive to their closest BlockBusters to pick up a movie. Since then, the wave of consumers renting has subsided and audiences are now looking for more and more entertainment, leading Netflix to eventually introduce streaming services for its consumers and practice a great approach to design thinking.


The use of design thinking in a business model can help brands obtain goals and understand consumers in ways they may have never known they could reach. Whether it be understanding that consumers want a sticky header for good user navigation or creating a new atmosphere for your audience, there are unlimited amounts of digital thinking methods that companies can use to successfully find solutions to customers’ problems.