blogs & Things

Using Design Thinking To Empower Digital Transformations

What Is Design Thinking?

Using Design Thinking to make sure your next Digital Transformation project is a success

Design Thinking.

It sounds like one of those fads that get spouted around by tech companies every so often but ultimately don’t mean anything… doesn’t it?

Well it might sound like that but Design Thinking actually has some ‘legs’ (so to speak) and has been making a lot of waves in recent years, in industries and sectors completely unrelated to technology (as much as any sector can be divorced from technology these days anyway).

Thousands of organisations, across a wide range of sectors, have already seen the benefits of adopting Design Thinking principles, especially when it comes to complex and nebulous projects such as Digital Transformation.


But what is Design Thinking, how can it be successfully implemented into current processes and, most importantly, can it/how will it benefit your organisation?

What Is Design Thinking?

Not sure Design Thinking is right for your organisation? Not convinced you’re ‘techy’ or creative enough for it to apply?

Well worry not as none of those are essential for the implementation of a Design Thinking led culture.


At its most simple, Design Thinking is about adopting an end-user approach to all your polices and procedures and then creating tools or solutions that best benefit said end-user.

Design Thinking has to be both a set of policies to enable them and a cultural norm within the organisation to empower it and ensure it delivers results, both practical and creative.


Design Thinking is heavily based on its origins within the tech sector, relying on the methodology and processes that are norms within there, but has evolved in recent years to embrace other sectors and other ways of thinking and working, meaning it can now be applied to any problem, in any sector (although for obvious reasons we’ll mostly be focussing on Digital Transformation).


Design Thinking is incredibly user-centric, always putting the people at the heart of any solution by seeking to understand what it is they actually need.

A Design Thinking led approach encourages designers (and their wider organisation) to consider what the end solution will be used for and more importantly… how.

Its aim is to understand real world situations as opposed to ideas that might just look good on paper, which in turn leads to a much deeper and successful user experience.

True Digital Transformation Is Tough

According to reports from 2018, over 86% of digital transformations will fail. If those numbers still hold true, then only 14% of digital transformation projects started will achieve their desired goals.


That’s ridiculously low.

Why is that though… and can Design Thinking help?


Common problems cloudThing often see from organisations attempting to digitally transform normally originate from fragmented approaches and a lack of communication between departments within an organisation.

The key to making a success of any digital transformation is bringing along the end-users, hearts and minds.

An example we’re sure many will relate to, there’s no point spending half a million on a new, cutting edge finance suite if Deborah in accounts payable is going to keep using her excel spreadsheet because she doesn’t trust or understand these ‘new fangled ideas’.


Design Thinking approaches instead ask the question… ‘who will be using this software and what do they need to better do their jobs?’

Instead of just focussing on the tech (which is still important) more attention is paid to the end-user.

Afterall, the people using the technology in a Digital Transformation are the ones who will ultimately decide its success which actually makes them more important than the tech itself in many ways.

Making Digital Transformation A Success Through Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a way of looking at problems in new ways to come up with new, user-centric solutions. To help facilitate that it’s been broken down and codified into four principles and then a further five phases.


  • The Human Rule: No matter the project (or goal) all design is basically social in nature so any solution should always be based on a user-centric point-of-view.
  • The Ambiguity Rule: Ambiguity is one of those things you just can’t avoid. That being said, experimenting at the outer edges of your knowledge and ability will always be crucial to seeing things differently.
  • The Re-design Rule: All design is re-design. The technology or environment may change but at their core, basic human needs will always remain the same. That means any designer, working on any solution, is only redesigning the method to fulfil those need sin a different (and hopefully more efficient) way.
  • The Tangibility Rule: Design ideas should always be made tangible as soon as possible to allow their creators to explain them more effectively.


Using those four principles, Design Thinking can then be further broken down into fiver discrete phases… Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype & Test. Though discrete, these phases aren’t necessarily linear and whilst stages should never be skipped, it’s quite common to skip back and forth and loop back around again as you get closer to the perfect solution.


  • Empathise: Empathy is the starting point for all Design Thinking (or should be). It’s the first phase that should be considered in the Design Thinking process and is where the designer(s) should spend time getting to really know and understand the people who’ll be using their solution. Understanding their wants, their needs, their desires. Understanding them on a deep psychological and emotional level as possible. It’s vital during this phase that designers put aside all pre-conceived assumptions and focus on gathering real insights about the end-user.
  • Define: The second phase of a Design Thinking led approach will always focus on defining the problem. All the previous finding from the empathise phase will be gathered and the designers will start to sift through and understand them. Where are the pain points? Are there any identifiable patterns? Can the issues be triaged?
    Come the end of the define phase, there should be a clearly defined problem statement and that everyone can agree on. From here, the key will be to frame that problem in a user-centred way, for instance, rather than statements that start “we need to…” the designers might say, “Accountants at XXX organisation need…”
    Once the problem has been formally scoped out, you can start to work on specific solutions… Which is phase three.


Before we move on to phase three though, something cloudThing always recommends to help with the first two phases is the creation of something we call user personas.

A user person is a made up ‘character’ that will represent the end -user of the solution during the design process.

These personas (and it’s rare when there aren’t multiple personas for even a single solution) are created based on the data collected in the empathise and define phases. It’s vital that these personas are as factual as possible, with personalities/job roles/needs based off the data collected, rather than just ‘guessing’.

The difference these personas can make to a digital transformation is truly astonishing.

Once created, any solutions can then be designed to fulfil a much wider (and detailed) set of specific wants and needs whilst considering past user experiences, attitude and bias to create a tailored solution.


  • Ideate: Once a thorough and detailed understanding of the users has been reached and the problem sufficiently defined based on user-personas then it’s time to start thinking about solutions. The third phase of Design Thinking, ideate, is the fun bit, where no idea is too outlandish or crazy. In fact, that’s the entire point; this phase has to be completely judgement free. Designers need to be able to conduct ideation sessions where as many new ideas, angles and approaches are thought of as possible.
    As the ideate phase comes to a close it’s important to narrow things down to just a few, solid ideas to move forward with
  • Prototype: The penultimate phase in a Design Thinking approach focuses on experimentation; on turning the wild ideas of the previous phase into a practical reality. To do so, prototypes are used.
    The prototype should be a scaled-down version of the end-solution that can be interacted with by all stakeholders to scout out any potential flaws or deficiencies.
    Depending on how that goes, it’s completely normal within the prototype stage for solutions to be accepted, rejected, improved or redesigned based on stakeholder feedback.
  • Test: The final phase, after prototype, is testing. However, just because it’s the final stage doesn’t mean it’s the end of the Design Thinking process.
    It would be nice if it were but real life doesn’t often work that way and it’s quite common for the results of the testing phase to lead back to one of the previous phases (hopefully not empathise… but it does happen).

The Benefits Of Design Thinking

As we said at the beginning of this article, Design Thinking can have a huge influence on the success of a Digital Transformation project, ensuring that the end solution is both fit for purpose, but also interesting/attractive enough to sway the hearts and minds of its end users.

No Digital Transformation can succeed without that.

Design Thinking comes with a lot of other benefits though, most notably:


Reduces The Time To Market: One of the biggest benefits to a Design Thinking led approach is how much more quickly an organisation can arrive at a MVP (minimum viable product).


Increased ROI/Reduced Costs: The faster you can a state of MVP, the quicker you can get a solution to market. The quicker you can get a product to market, the lower your costs and higher your ROI will be.

Design Thinking has a proven track record of empowering and accelerating Digital Transformations, to the point where a study by Forresters estimated that it can increase ROI by 85% or more.


Design Thinking Isn’t Just For Designers: One of the best things about Design Thinking is that it isn’t just for designers (or even the design industry as a whole).

As a process, Design Thinking encourages inter-departmental collaboration, group thinking and the cross pollination of ideas and processes across an entire organisation.


Design Thinking Empowers Innovation: During the empathise stage, cloudThing always seek to understand why a company has a particular process or way of doing things. The most common answer we get to why something is done a certain way is “because we’ve always done it like that”.

Design Thinking challenges pre-held assumptions and established beliefs. It’s about encouraging all the stakeholders in a solution to think outside of the box.

It should go without saying that an organisation that fosters a culture of innovation will always outperform one that doesn’t.


Design Thinking Increases Retention: It doesn’t matter if you’re a NonProfit looking to increase donor retention, Membership Organisation looking to increase member retention or you just want to improve customer loyalty; at its heart, Design Thinking is a user-centric approach and putting your users at the heart of everything you do will always increase their loyalty over the long-term

How To Implement Design Thinking, Company Wide

Hopefully by now you’ll have an inkling of the awesome power Design Thinking can have in ensuring a Digital Transformations success but… implementing it company wide can be a little daunting.

Fortunately, there’s some very easy steps that can be taken to foster a culture of collaborative Design Thinking.


Invite Everyone: No one likes a long meeting but it’s important within a Design Thinking led approach that everyone gets their say. This may lead to longer meetings in the short term but in the long term will offer a wider perspective and larger idea pool.

There’s no way to tell who’ll have the best idea unless you invite everyone!


Accept That Everyone Is Different: Not everyone in the meetings will be as creative as others. Not everyone in the meetings will be as strategic. Or technical. Or confident.

And that’s absolutely fine. In fact, it’s the whole point. Everyone will have a slightly different perspective  and reflecting those different perspectives in the end solution is what Design Thinking is all about.


Make It A Judgement Free Zone: Not everyone will be as confident as others in voicing an opinion or putting forwards an idea. To help in overcoming that barrier it’s important to establish a safety net as early as possible so that participants in the process feel confident in highlighting their ideas.

Even the wackiest, off the cuff idea can sometimes be ran with into something awesome.


Remove All Barriers To Collaboration: Design Thinking can’t take place without collaboration. Whilst the blockers stopping that will vary from organisation to organisation, removing them to allow the free flow of ideas always needs to be one of the first steps taken.


Allow Others To Shine: If you’re running one of the Design Thinking phases it’s important to give others time to share their opinions. It’s too easy to start talking and not leave space for others to add their input. Making room for that in the meeting schedules is vital.


It’s OK Not To Be Perfect: During each of the Design Thinking stages, ideas, thoughts and even prototypes will be presented, rejected and re-designed, multiple times.

Those redesigns don’t have to be perfect, just better. Fix the issues raised and then send it back for everyone’s opinions.

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