Businesses worldwide are touting the potential of design thinking for solving problems and facilitating innovation. Is design thinking right for your business? Alyssa Ilov, PNC-Certified Women’s Business Advocate and director of Design Thinking & Innovation Programs at PNC, sheds some light.

INSIGHTS: What is design thinking and why are companies like PNC adopting it?

ILOV: Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving that addresses customers’ core needs by applying empathy, critical thinking and creativity. It requires us to challenge assumptions and reframe problems so we can identify better solutions. Instead of asking, “How can we design a better alarm clock?”, a design thinker may ask, “How can we design a better way for people to wake up in the morning?” While the first question relies on existing knowledge and experience (and presumes the solution is a clock), the second pushes us to explore further.

Business leaders are adopting design thinking for two primary reasons: to keep pace with evolving customer needs, and to differentiate themselves through innovative products and services. Rather than suggesting solutions that mimic the past, they’re exploring what customers may want in the future.

INSIGHTS: How does PNC practice design thinking and how does it ultimately benefit customers?

ILOV: Design thinking helps PNC understand our customers so we can deliver what they want, rather than what we think we should provide. We understand and design for how a customer wants to engage with us – for example, online, over the phone or at the branch — while keeping in mind the high-level experience they’ve come to expect through interactions with companies such as Uber, Netflix, Nordstrom and Amazon.

INSIGHTS: What design thinking principles can business leaders adopt even if they don’t have a dedicated innovation team?

ILOV: Some research into design thinking can reveal processes and tools to guide your efforts, but here are some basics:

  • Build empathy for your customers. Address each situation based on their interests and preferences rather than your own opinions and biases.
  • Map out your user’s journey, including how and when they interact with your product or service, and what they may be thinking and feeling during and between those experiences. Look for opportunities to elevate their experience.
  • Test your ideas early and often. Soliciting customer feedback throughout a project’s development, perhaps sharing concept posters, paper prototypes or storyboards, can help you stay on track toward the right solution.
  • Consider the impact the proposed change, product or service, will have not only on your business but also on your customer. How much will it lift customer engagement? Is it worth the time and effort? This need not be a deep market analysis; even a quick gut check can help you prioritize new ideas for delighting your customers.