Understanding the Design Thinking for Innovation Process

Posted by Hailey on May 11th, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic, for all its atrocities and problems, did result in a few positives. Faced with unprecedented challenges and unforeseen obstacles, global citizens found themselves needing to innovate to survive. From the most minor innovations, like how to beat boredom during lockdown, to the largest, like creating multiple vaccines in record time, people used design thinking for innovation to change their cards after being dealt a poor hand.

The process for design thinking for innovation is broken down into five "steps". While steps may imply a set and linear process, design thinking for innovation is not necessarily linear; rather, innovation often requires looping back and to an earlier stage and optimizing based on new information. 

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Understanding the fundamentals of design thinking for innovation may help you with your own thought processes and quests for innovations. Below, we briefly outline each step.


At the genesis of any great idea is inspiration. Drawing inspiration from something is a wholly individual phenomenon that happens naturally; you can't force inspiration. Artists may draw inspiration from a face they see or a scene that plays out in front of them. Similarly, product designers may draw inspiration from a situation they find themselves in.

Inspiration can come from anything, though most often, for products or services; it comes from learning a new bit of information. In recent years, many have been inspired to change their personal behavior after learning about how damaging some consumer products are to the environment. In fact, many new products are services have arisen from this inspiration.


After drawing inspiration from something, you likely will feel as though you have the solution to a problem. But, in more cases than not, your personal biases and preferences are not shared with the greater population. In order to understand what the pain points are for others, designers need to practice empathy.

Practicing empathy places us in multiple other people's shoes and helps us see and understand different perspectives. Some would argue this is the most critical step in design thinking for innovation, as any product or service's success hinges on its adoption. Take time on this step.


Equipped with inspiration and a sense of understanding, it's time to actualize your thoughts into an idea. 

Take our example earlier about being inspired by the environment. Perhaps after learning that other people want to help the environment but don't have the means to, you realize that designing a ubiquitous consumer product is the way to go. Here your ideas come to life, and you decide on something like household cleaning products since the traditional chemicals are horrible for the environment.

Your idea is accessible and will be adopted.


Ready for trial and error? You need to make your product. In our example, this would be the stage where you work with R&D teams to manufacture prototypes of your cleaning products. 


You won't know if your prototypes are feasible without testing. Continuing our example, here, you would test for cleaning efficacy, packaging preferences from customers and get other feedback after use. 

Depending on the feedback you receive, you will return to one of the previous stages and rebuild with your new information. 

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