Design Thinking for Startups - Are You Design Driven?

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This presentation provides some best practices and tools to help small business entrepreneurs and startup founders in creating a culture of innovation. Whether you're working on a web 2.0, iPhone or a physical gadget, these simple practices are universally applicable. ***Note**** I will be running a webinar in October 2009 to expand on the points mentioned in this presentation, study design thinking use cases and stories and answer questions. Please leave a comment and follow the discussion, or follow @amirkhella on twitter to get notified about the webinar.


  • Design Thinking for Startups Amir Khella @amirkhella
  • What is Design? Its the process by which an artifact is brought into existence. Design is art that people use - Ellen Lupton
  • What is design thinking? Its a mindset of combining creative and analytical thinking and applying it toward solving a specic problem.
  • Bad denition. "Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the building up of ideas." - Wikipedia
  • Good denition. A process of creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained. - Charles Burnette
  • Design thinking combines CREATIVE and ANALYTICAL thinking.
  • Its both abductive and deductive.
  • Being deductive means using past knowledge to solve current problems.
  • Being abductive means imagining and visualizing a future that should yet exist.
  • Yesterday Today Tomorrow Experiences Imagination Patterns Possibilities Stories Stories Observations Uncertainty
  • Then, whats innovation?
  • Its a byproduct of design thinking.
  • Its being comfortable going forward in a state of uncertainty
  • Its believing that the best solution is yet to be found.
  • Its the willingness to fail early and fail often.
  • Unfortunately, thats not what we learn in school.
  • School Life Real Life Mistakes are learning Mistakes are punished. experiences. Failure is not tolerated. Failure breeds success. Given the questions; nd Ask great questions; nd the the right answers. best answers. Intuition and imagination Knowledge and certainty create potential for using foster condence. knowledge.
  • What makes a good design thinker?
  • An observing eye and a constant sense of wonder.
  • An empathetic attitude toward peoples behavior and habits.
  • A questioning mindset that goes beyond the obvious.
  • Patience to remain in problem space until the right questions are identied.
  • A holistic approach to problem solving.
  • The willingness to experiment and build.
  • A passion for collaboration.
  • So, how does a startup integrate design thinking into its process?
  • 1. Understand that design thinking is not just the designers role; its everyones role.
  • Design is not about products; its about people. Think beyond tasks; Their lives. Their challenges. Their dreams. The users journey starts long before they click that button.
  • 2. Understand and dene the problem youre trying to solve. Take the time to ask a lot of annoying WHY questions. And dont move to the solution space too soon.
  • Create a story. Our brains are hardwired for stories. If we like them, we remember them forever. Like a good movie, design should tell a good story.
  • Communicate your story, and ask people to tell you what they heard and what they think. * Dont be afraid that someone will steal your story; its very likely that many people had that idea before you, and did nothing about it.
  • Sketch you ideas. You dont need to know how to draw in order to sketch. As long as your sketches capture your ideas, it doesnt matter if they dont look good.
  • Create quick and crude prototypes Prototypes create conversations. They are ALIVE! The sooner they work, the sooner you realize what your product needs to be.
  • 3. Rene your prototype until it becomes like a movie trailer for your product. It will always remind you of your story. And dont worry about it being too functional or good looking.
  • Create a design-friendly environment
  • Remove walls between people. And encourage frequent conversations.
  • Create design walls. Imprint designs in the back of everyones mind Photo courtesy of
  • 4. Run a weekly or monthly brainstorming meeting to encourage wild ideas. The best way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas. And the best time to get good ideas may be when you dont need them.
  • 5. Encourage your team to think visually. Ask them to carry sketchbooks and to freely express their ideas on whiteboards.
  • Visit a design agency for a day Design agencies typically create great design environments.
  • 6. Become your own best competition. Dont get too comfortable with success. A design is NEVER done. Its never good enough. Solve harder problems than your competition does.
  • Dene and embrace constraints as part of the creative process. The main difference between a rocket and a bomb is that the former is a controlled explosion.
  • Create a character for your product What will your product be if it were a car? a phone? a shoe? Who will your product be if it were a movie star? a political gure? Describe your products in human-like adjectives.
  • 7. Hire T-shaped individuals. They tend to be professional in one area, but are skilled in many other areas. They are highly intuitive. And they work as bridges between disciplines.
  • Discourage rigid roles. Leave these roles to enterprises. Everyone should be a product caretaker.
  • Encourage cross-training. Give your designers business training and your developers design training. Invite outsiders to come and talk about what they do, even if its nothing related to what your team is working on.
  • If possible, elect a CDO role (Chief Design Ofcer) Let people in your company understand that design is as valuable as technology and business.
  • Anyone can be a designer Anyone can be a good design thinker
  • The most inspiring quote from a founder Ive worked with. This looks exciting and scary. Lets do it!
  • Where to go from here? Follow me on Twitter: @amirkhella I tweet links, quick insights and advice about Design Thinking for Startups Visit my blog: I write short posts about design, business and life Sign up for an upcoming webinar Get one-on-one design advice about your product and business Amir Khella User Experience Guru