Design Thinking to innovate

When Pfizer noticed that their product, Nicorette, was declining in sales, they were faced with the choice: close the product or try to be innovative. They chose the second path. Pfizer formed a team that began obsessed with their customers. They were so obsessed to the point of interviewing, understanding and even following their clients at home and during their social life! Only at that point, after sharing so much with their clients, were they able to really understand them, what they wanted and how they perceived their problem.

Design Thinking PostIt Cristiano Bellucci

With this information, they generated a multitude of ideas. Some were not relevant to Pfizer’s business and were discarded. Others were promising, but it was hard to know in advance which idea would help their customers the most. They began to experiment, with small local investments, to understand the reaction of users. After a few quick attempts, with little money invested, they found the solution that customers loved. This solution generated profits. What Pfizer has adopted is Design Thinking to innovate, starting from a problem that customers had, generating lots of ideas, testing them and choosing the best one, the one that users loved.

What is Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a methodology that allows you to generate innovative solutions focusing on users. Design Thinking starts from a problem, analyses users, generates multiple solutions and creates prototypes to test with users.

You do the work, at the end you will have produced something you can be proud of.Jeanne Liedtka

Why do we use Design Thinking

Many people are analytical and think that innovating or designing new products and services is not their thing. Others are very creative and end up generating brilliant ideas, which remain brilliant ideas. Design Thinking defines steps to better understand users, generate ideas and then test them with users to see if they really work. This way we can design and test, using an affordable budget. Design Thinking is therefore designed for all of us who want to innovate, whether they are big ideas or small significant improvements. Design Thinking strives to make the innovation process procedural. In reality, this process can follow the various phases in order and can also re-iterated in some phases.

Design Thinking Notebook Cristiano Bellucci

Design Thinking – the 4 phases

Design Thinking consists of 4 phases which correspond to 4 key questions.

  • What is?
  • What if?
  • What wows?
  • What works?

These 4 questions retrace the path of analysing the problem and the users, generating as many ideas as possible, choosing the ideas that can surprise and make users happy and verifying what actually works.

What is?

The first phase, what is, is used to analyse the problem to be solved. In this phase, we have to understand the current situation, what problems there are and who are the users we want to address. Also in this initial phase, we clarify some points of how we are going to work: what we want to do, what results we expect and what metrics we will use to measure the success of the idea and work plan.

With this information, we can move on to the next stage.

What if?

This is the phase where we let our imagination and creativity run free. This phase aims to generate as many ideas as possible, from the most abstruse to the most banal. At this stage, quantity plays an important role. We can start by reviewing the analysis we made in the previous phase, What is. We review what users want, what problems they have, and the limitations of existing solutions. From this point, let’s take some time and start writing down as many ideas as possible. Just put a word or a small phrase for each idea. Ideas need to be high-level, not detailed. And there must be many. Then let’s take them all, review them calmly, add details and see if we like them. Let’s group similar ideas. In the end, we take the best 3 ideas and take them to the next stage.

What wows?

After selecting the best ideas, let’s take them one at a time and try to analyse them more critically. Let’s consider what assumptions our ideas are based on. Let’s try to reason and understand if the hypotheses can then be successful with customers. If we are unsure, we leave the hypotheses open for discussion in the next stage. The objective of this phase is to choose the most credible idea that will please the users the most and will be most successful. Only the best idea moves on to the next stage.

What works?

In the last step, what works, we make a prototype of the best idea we have and test it in the real world. We exhibit our prototype to customers and see what they think. Let’s hear if they are really surprised by our idea. Let’s see if they ultimately buy or not. And this concludes the iteration of Design Thinking. Either our idea is successful or we have to get there and learn what doesn’t work and how to improve it. To find our new winning idea.

Design Thinking Notes Cristiano Bellucci

Experiences with Design Thinking

I regularly use Design Thinking as a method to generate new ideas for products and services or to improve what already exists. There are many iterations and methodologies that we can merge into the process.

Some of the keys to having successful Design Thinking sessions are generating as many ideas as possible in the What if phase. The goal is to generate about 100-200 ideas in a relatively short time, for example, 15-30 minutes. This is possible if we are a group of people and we work independently. For example, if we are 10 people and each one generates 20 ideas, we are already at 200 ideas.

The number of people and the fact that they have different characters or professions helps a lot. Having experts in sales, customer relations, marketing and product helps to have different points of view and generate more ideas.

I work in the IT world where most people are logical and analytical. Design Thinking is meant for this kind of people. It is a process that helps to understand and analyse problems, customers and solutions and consequently generate successful ideas. Having creative people who think differently in the team also helps to generate ideas. In any case, Design Thinking is useful for both creative and logical people.

Design Thinking generates many ideas. Users tell us whether these ideas work or not. If the first idea we had does not please users, let’s roll up our sleeves again, learn what did not work and improve it. Let’s go through the Design Thinking stage again. Let’s create a new prototype and show it to users.

Design Thinking in action!

Now it’s your turn to put Design Thinking into action! Take a problem you want to solve. You can use 2 approaches. The first approach: think about a problem and generate as many ideas as possible. The second approach: go through all the steps, generate ideas and test the best one.

Were there any particularly difficult phases? Have you involved other people who provided their point of view? Were you able to generate many ideas? Were you able to create the best one and show it to users? What feedback did you get?

Already with this action you have analysed problems and users, created new ideas, exposed your ideas to users and taken their feedback.


Design Thinking is a methodology for generating new ideas. It can help you revitalize existing products or services. It helps you explore new opportunities and create new businesses.

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