Design Thinking for Startups: A Way to Avoid Catastrophe

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design thinking for startups

design thinking for startups

You might have heard about design thinking. If you feel puzzled as to what it actually is, you are not alone. It means different things to different people. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to design thinking. I rather wanted to talk about the meaning of design thinking for startups and what it can do for them.

In order to depict the importance of design thinking for startups, I want to start this piece by describing a common pattern for catastrophic failure. I have witnessed this pattern in numerous cases of startup downfalls and it is so obvious that it can be easily missed.
I believe that utilizing design thinking for startups is an effective model to avoid this grave mistake.
We will talk about the users, as the most important element of design, and then we shall dig deeper and make sense of the concept of design thinking and what it can do for startups. I have also included a basic three-step plan to start implementing design thinking in your startup.


The Failure Pattern


The team comes up with an idea that they consider it to be great. They brainstorm and try to fine-tune it a little bit, then present the idea to their family and loved ones and receive great feedback.

“The idea must be great because we like it! So let’s hide it from everyone else and focus on making it real.”

They write a business plan and gather some money around. It is officially a startup now.
Startups have a magical quality about them. This sensation has the potential to transform the mindset of the people involved. It can become their lives. When the team believes in its goal, nothing else matters.
Our startup manages to overcome every obstacle in its path and achieves its goal. What once was a mere idea on a piece of paper is now brought into life.
The grand opening comes and success is imminent; only that it is not. No one wants the product.
The startup brings in marketing and sales professionals to try to find out what is wrong with people (!). They might change the packaging, the advertisement strategy, or change parts of the product/service. Yet no one shows interest.

“We were ahead of our time. People didn’t get it.”


What Went Wrong?


Startups are built with great promises. A grand idea drives people to work hard and change their lives and maybe even the world.
The desire of achieving success pushes startups forward to hastily design their end-products/services and execute their plan. The focus of most startups is on the execution phase and going forth.
This excitement can cloud the judgments of the people involved. Doubting the merit of the idea is considered close to blasphemy. After all, the idea has become the very core of the team’s identity and the single driver of their ambition. Defending the idea can become a matter of pride. It should not. Startups should be flexible in coordinating their efforts with the people they are creating for.
in the discussed failure pattern, the real people were only allowed to get involved at the very last stage. The quest for making history as soon as possible distracts startups from a simple fact. Startups should make things that are needed and build products the way they are desired.
No individual is going to pay hard-earned money for something that they don’t need nor want.
No one starts their startup with the intention of failure, yet it happens. The practice of design thinking for startups can prevent this catastrophic end.

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User is King


Several critical mistakes can ensure failure. Among them, the gravest of all mistakes is ignoring the user.
Businesses profit by solving the problems and meeting the needs and wants of their users. Ignoring this fact and expecting users to align their desires with your product would surely end in failure.
The most important element of the design is the user.
The user is going to interact with the end product and his/her happiness would determine if the product is a success or not. This obvious fact still is not embedded in most of the startups’ workflows. It is not just the startups; established companies also have dropped the ball in this area.

Multiple Frameworks have been developed to remedy this very problem, among which user-centered design is famous.
User-centered design is a framework of iterative processes that concentrate on the users and their demands. It intends to design a relevant product/service for the end-users. I am not going to elaborate on this concept, but what I would like to point out is what lies at its heart.
I like to think of the user-centered design resting on 3 pillars: Identification, Focus, and Flexibility.




Startups should identify the needs of the user and build an idea around a solution that is actually relevant. In other words, you cannot gain anything by solving a nonexistent problem.
Learning about the target user should be of the highest priority in a startup.
Find the needs of the user. In fact, a lot of successful startups have begun at this very point.
We see time after time that a seemingly brilliant idea dictates every move in the design process, be it needed by the users or not. This cannot result in anything good.
Identifying a need and coming up with the solution to address that need is what a truly great idea means.
Get to know the people that are going to use your product and try to see it from their perspective. Find the pain points and try to eliminate them. That works!

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It is essential to keep the user in the center of the design process invariably. After finding the needs, everything should run smoothly but it is so easy to lose track of the user. An example of this is adding features to a product that is not needed by the user. Only because we think it is cool, or easy we add it anyway and all it does is to over-complicate the product.
Startups should stay focused on the user every step of the way. When in doubt, ask your users. Watch them interact with your design and take note of the aspects that feel rough on the edges. Make sure that every decision is aligned with the end goal of user satisfaction.




Keeping the focus on the user requires certain adaptability. Startups should be flexible in coordinating themselves with the changes in the user’s demands. Change has become an inevitable part of our world. New technology is waiting on the corner to transform the way we do anything; and not just the technology. New gadgets, new content, and new trends are revolutionizing every imaginable element of our lives.
In this dynamic environment, we cannot just cross fingers and hope people won’t change their perceptions. We have to weave flexibility into every fiber of the startup to enable it to grow with user’s needs.
If you have been developing a health app for phones and suddenly people want it to be on their smartwatch, you have to comply.
Maintaining consistent communication with user groups is integral to achieving flexibility.

How can we identify the needs of our users and implement this in the core of our design process and stay focused all the way? This is where design thinking for startups shows its value.


Design Thinking


I remember the days that engineering took precedence over design and marketing was a way to find buyers for the existing product.
Design and user surveys are not the last thing in a startup’s to-do list now. The days of packaging an existent technology to better suit users are over. In this day and age, new technology is developed for an identified need. If people need it, it should be built. If people want it a certain way, it must be built that way.

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Read More: Best Minimum Viable Product Examples: How were Famous Startups at First?

Utilizing design thinking for startups is a new way of perceiving the creation process. Coming up with a groundbreaking solution requires a deep understanding of the problem and the human factor that is involved. Startups are creating products for the people and thus they must understand the user first.


What Can Design Thinking Do


I believe that the main benefit of the design thinking for startups is that it is a means to circumvent catastrophe. It makes everything about the user, and this is the way it should be. A team that practices design thinking is not going to stick with an irrelevant solution and deliver a useless product.
Design thinking also enables startups to discover the unmet needs of the target groups. It uncovers problems of the users, i.e. pain points, in interaction with the product/service. Startups can take advantage of this knowledge and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Design thinking creates a framework for successful innovation and sets the foundation for developing revolutionary solutions. User is the answer to every question and design thinking embeds this concept in all of the processes.

Design thinking is not a sequential process but we can identify three main steps that can be considered the essence of this method.




Understanding the problem and finding the needs of the users is the first step in practicing design thinking for startups. Study the users and deepen your understanding of their behaviors and their needs. How does this product/service make them feel? What are the pain points?
The goal here is seeing the problem from the users’ point of view and trying to get into their mindsets.




After you have acquired a deep understanding of what the problem is and for whom you are designing, you can start with designing solutions. Holding brainstorming sessions and investigating new ideas is what this second step would look like. Your ideas should be economically feasible and technologically possible to develop.
You might have to go back to the first step at times and see if the problem is real enough for the users and whether they could afford the solution.




Now it is time to make stuff happen! This third step entails making prototypes and testing them in real-world situations and with real users.
Testing should go beyond the focus groups and interviews. The key here is observation. You should watch the people interact with your solution and find out how they feel about it.

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ARDOXSO Weekly Blog currently has 5 members at its editorial board and publishes about 250 articles annually on ARDOXSO blog.

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