Copyright 2019 Rima Design Ltd


Design thinking: What it is, why organisations need it, and how internal comms can help…

9th February 2016


Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

 (Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO)

Tim brown is arguably one of the pioneers, in more recent times, of the design thinking approach, having first presented his views on the concept back in 2008. Brown advocates that all organisations must embed design thinking into every business process – whether that’s to develop products, services, processes, or strategy.
Design thinking has become a bit of a buzzword, with most aware of it, but fewer having a complete understanding of it, and even fewer still practicing it. It’s why the current state of design thinking is possibly best described by William Gibson, who states:

The future of design thinking is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.

The main reason is because many organisations are not yet fully committed to the process, and so without the correct foundations or facilitators in place, design thinking is not given a chance for widespread adoption within organisations. And so design, all too often remains being seen – by those working outside of design – as the

Last decoration station on the way to market

Merely viewing design as an end result needs to stop. Design is at its most effective when it is in the form of a process; a process that is widely agreed works best when using the following three key stages.

The design thinking process

1. Understand – This is all about engaging with your audience/users/customers. Deep understanding of your users will reveal new insights, giving you new perspectives, which in turn will give you fresh and innovative solutions.
2. Ideate – Here the goal is to generate fresh and unexpected answers by reframing the problem. Instead of focusing on answering the given problem/question, try to focus on creating different questions born from the user insight. Good ideas come from good questions.
3. Experiment – This stage is very much about iteration – create, test, refine. Test your concepts on users to help continue your understanding of them and to give you intelligence on your ideas. Failure should be seen as an important part of the process.
As shown by the outlined process, design thinking is a way to advance a project or problem by approaching it differently to that of more traditional ways. To highlight the difference between the two processes, it’s worth us taking a look at a traditional method when approaching a communications problem.

The traditional approach to problem solving

1. The creation of a brief, put together from existing client data – no deep user analysis or insight.
2. With the brief in mind, the in-house team/external consultant comes up with a range of ideas, developing say three of them and proposes them to the client. The ideas are born from trying to answer the key problem and simply using the information available from the client. Not much investigation has gone on to identify alternative problems – no reframing of the problem.
3. After the selection of the preferred route, the idea is fully developed and presented in its entirety to the client. During this stage there has been no user testing of the idea at certain points along the creation path (iteration), with no collaboration and very little communication with the client (key decision maker) taking place.
4. The client provides feedback on the final concept; often large-scale changes are needed, and valuable time and money is wasted reworking the solution.
The above process should have helped to highlight some of the limitations of the traditional approach to problem solving / communication planning. And while good results can still be achieved when using a traditional approach, it’s rare to realise excellent, innovative results – those results will really only be experienced when a design thinking process is used.
And yes, the involvement of key decision makers throughout the project may sound difficult to achieve. But when it is explained to them how the design thinking methods employed will not only lead to greater results but in less time and so costing less money, they will then likely agree to playing their part in the process.

Design thinking for intranets

Another example of how the absence of design thinking in internal communications causes detriment can be seen when looking at intranets.
To point out, intranets are now going through somewhat of a revolution, due to the incorporation of mobile and social technologies – with thinkers such as Paul Miller predicting intranets to become the

“front doors” into the wider digital workplace

However, for a long time and for many organisations, the intranet had become an underused channel, where information was housed but rarely read. The reasons often cited for its underuse were:
– Poor user experience
– Employees not understanding why they should be using it
If organisations had deployed a design thinking process when implementing their intranets, then usage levels would likely have been much higher.
Hopefully it’s now clear to you what design thinking is, how it works and the benefits it offers for solving problems – including those concerned with internal communications.

But how can design thinking be embedded throughout an organisation?

As we touched upon earlier, design thinking needs to run through every element of an organisation. But in order to achieve this it needs to be facilitated. This is where internal communications can help.
Internal communicators should begin by being involved in the creation of design thinking facilitation teams; these are made up of individuals from every function within the organisation. Training is then required on how they can help others to understand and adopt a design thinking mindset. This can be achieved through holding workshops; workshops shouldn’t be solely focused on developing new products or answering questions within the realm of ‘traditional design’, but also on tackling any strategic issues, or ways to improve operational efficiency. This ensures everyone understands how design thinking can be used to help provide a solution for every problem in the organisation.
Importantly, leaders need to be engaged, principally showing them how design thinking can revolutionise how they approach strategic and operational problems. Leaders are a crucial audience to engage as they are also those who shape and change culture, and embedding design thinking in an organisation will require a change in culture.


It should now be clear to you how design thinking helps to develop innovative solutions by looking at the needs of the user, reframing problems and doing so collaboratively – rather than simply defining the audience and the available channels/resources and trying to force fit solutions.

We now have that new technology, what shall we use it for?

The above, for example, is not the right approach. Instead a user need should have been identified in relation to a reframed problem, and then the appropriate technology to satisfy the user need should have been selected or created after testing the available options with the user.
Importantly though, design thinking must have a focus on business, avoid getting too caught up on the theory of design. You must be ‘doing’ the design thinking not just ‘thinking’ the design thinking. After all, the goal is for people to take action and change the way they approach problem solving in the future.
Organisations need to encourage EVERYONE to apply design thinking EVERYWHERE and EVERYDAY.
Now go find your next problem to get your design thinking on with.
Until next time…


Leave a Comment