Nine ‘Design-Thinking’ Tips For Growing A Successful Business

Business Success is a continuous work in progress and many factors, including the founder, play a role. Can Design-Thinking help? Design-Thinking is about thinking every part of the business from a user’s or a consumer’s perspective. What tips can the Design-thinking process provide?


It is important to understand the needs, desires, fears, wants, and limitations of customers. To understand them, we need to observe them in detail. The more we observe them, sooner we begin to think from their shoes. As we began to think from their perspective, slowly we would become one of them. We are them and they are us. If you become them, you would be making business decisions from your consumer’s perspective or user’s perspective and your business would grow rapidly.

STARBUCKS -Jerry and Gordon, the original founders of Starbucks, had so much knowledge about coffee and were so much passionate about it. They brewed their own coffee. They themselves were the users -they understood the frustrations of not being able to locate a good coffee source, they could understand the pain of other gourmet coffee lovers.

-Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO had observed nearly 500 espresso bars in Milan and Verona. He took notes, photographs, and videos. He video graphed baristas in action. He also observed menus, interior decor, and espresso making techniques. He observed customers and noted their local habits, behaviour and their ‘jobs to be done’ within particular contexts. He developed the taste palette for various coffees. He brewed his own coffee. He roasted the coffee. He became the user himself. It was one of the main reasons behind Starbucks’ success.

USAA -The USAA offers banking, investing, and insurance to people and families who serve or served, in the U.S Military. One of the reasons for the organization’s success is their employees and their culture. The company has asked every employee to walk in the customer’s shoes, think everything from the customer’s perspective and empathize with them.

Bill Taylor writes “The USAA employees are trained to see the world through the eyes of a soldier on active duty in Iraq who needs to wire money to a sick parent, or who needs to finance a car or house. That kind of personal identification between employees and customers is what gives USAA the drive to not just provide great service but to unleash big innovations


“A product for everybody is a product for nobody”

The first and foremost factor for business success is to try registering our brand’s name into a consumer’s mind. The ways to enter their mind is to focus on a niche market.

Focus on a particular need of a particular segment of customers, work on it, make your product or service distinctive and dominate the niche market. Smaller the segment, it is easier for the entire company to focus their resources and meet the customer needs, wants and desires. Once you become a leader in the niche market, you could grow your market.

-Amazon initially focussed on avid readers. They focussed on books.

-Starbucks initially focussed on Coffee Connaisseurs. They sold only coffee beans. They focussed only on good quality Arabica beans.

-Wal-mart focussed on towns which had a population less than 5000.

-Marcus Sheridan’s ‘River-pool’ is specialised in fibreglass swimming pools. A few years back, they were selling other bathroom products like tanning beds, pool tables, and hotbeds along with the swimming pools. They had invested and built nice retail stores in prominent locations. Unfortunately, their sales did not pick up as expected. Based on their user research, they dropped all other products and focussed only on fibreglass swimming pools. They closed offline retail stores and focussed only on online sales. The company turned around the corner.

The lack of focus leads to wastage of time, energy and money as it would be spread across multiple strategies and multiple marketing channels.


A business’s sole purpose is to solve a consumer’s problem.

Nobody is interested in your product or service. Everyone is interested in themselves. They are not interested in your product’s benefits but how it would solve their problem.

-In the 1970s, many coffee lovers were unhappy with the available coffee options as it was made from inferior Robusta beans. Moreover, they were becoming health conscious and wanted to brew their own coffee at home. Starbucks opened their first store in Seattle to solve this problem.

-In the 1960s, Kmart and other bigger retailers were not going to towns below 50,000 population. Other medium-size brands like Gibson did not go to towns below 12,000 population. Nobody was ready to provide products at discounted prices to the people living in small towns. Sam Walton stepped in to solve their problems and opened discounting stores called ‘Wal-mart’ in towns where the population was even less than 5000.

-By 2006, Michael Sheridan was selling many bathroom products along with Fibreglass swimming pools. But sales were not as expected. His research showed that many customers wanted to explore the fibreglass swimming pools but had some fears. They had a variety of questions as each had a unique problem. Michael thought about it. He began answering their questions through blog and videos.

Will a fibreglass pool increase the value of my home?

What are the best and worst types of swimming pools and why?

Five ways to keep your pool algae free during the August heat?

Underground and Aboveground pools: Costs and Advantages?

He began to solve their problems. Within six months, ‘River-Pool’ became a nationwide brand.


One of the striking aspects of Vision statements of ‘Great Brands’ was that their statements were written or designed around their customer’s or consumer’s needs, desires. They have framed their ambitions around their customers.

“The vision statements of those brands were not about profits to their company or to being number one in the field or being the best creative organization or being the best company in particular technology. They understood that the brand exists because of the customer and their only purpose is to win the customers, not just serve them”.

Amazon’s Vision is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and one of their main strengths of work culture is Customer obsession — start with the customer and work backwards.

Zappos Vision — very best customer service — provide excellent customer experience. One of their core values is to ‘Deliver WOW Through Service’.

Starbucks Vision — “To inspire and nurture the human spirit-One Person, One Cup, and One Neighborhood at a time”.


Despite being an authentic quality coffee with Italian style beverage experience, Starbucks would have remained a very small niche player or would have vanished from the market if it had not invested in consumer education.

“A brand has to build relationships in order to extend the loyal customer base. One of the ways to build relationships is not to talk about our product or service but talk about what is best for the customer, teach them the best practices for the customer”.

The Starbucks original founders were passionate about the coffee and their mission was not to earn profits but to educate customers about the joy of world-class coffee, about the way of roasting & brewing the coffee and about maximizing the quality of the coffee. They never aspired to build a business empire. They loved to spend hours with anyone who had a genuine interest in learning about the world’s greatest coffees. They allayed the fears the customers had regarding coffee.

The vital role of Baristas inside the stores was not to sell the beans but to help consumers make decisions on beans, grinding, coffee making and the making of espressos.

River Pool -Michael Sheridan’s ‘River-pool’ brand picked up sales once they began teaching their customers everything about Fibreglass pools. They became Wikipedia of Fibreglass pools.

“To mean something to customers, you should assume intelligence and sophistication and inform those who are eager to learn. If you do, what may seem to be a niche market could very well appeal to far more people than you imagine” -Howard Schultz


Is there something remarkable, unusual, extraordinary, or worthy of attention in your product or service that would get people talking and draw them in? Can the product do something that no other product in that category would do? or nobody in that category had pointed out?

Blendtec -Till 2006, despite having good quality products, Blendtec was struggling to sell and had poor brand awareness. Then, one day, their marketing director found out their blender’s inner remarkability? He asked his people to grind hard objects in the blender in front of the camera and post it online. They ground marbles, iPhone and many other crazy objects. Blendtec’s brand awareness grew by approximately 800%.


Starbucks is not about coffee but about the experience. The Baristas greet everyone cheerfully. While making coffee, they converse enthusiastically with every customer. There is also a wonderful camaraderie between the customers even though they didn’t know each other well except in the context of that coffee bar. The store is designed to enhance the quality of everything the customers see, touch, hear, smell and taste. Particular attention was given to ‘Aroma’ as it plays a vital role in the Store experience. The coffee place is designed to meet the needs of various types of customers who visit the store at different timings. In the morning, office-goers who would be always in a hurry, visit the store and they would be served as quick as possible. In the early afternoon, mothers with children and retired folks lingered around to enjoy and relax. In the evenings, the store is a neighbourhood’s gathering place.

The coffee place offered comfort, community and a sense of extended family to the customers. It is an extension of their home-A home away from home.


It is agreed that we should sell the experience a product/service provides rather than the benefits and the best way to communicate is through a story by mapping out the intended experience of the use of the product — the story that you and your business want your customers to experience.

Stories provide humanness to our product or service.

A crucial law to remember — It’s not about us, it’s about them. Your product or service or your company is not the hero of the story. Your customer is the hero. People don’t care about your product or your service. They care about themselves.

-One of the Blendtec’s promotional video is not about the product but about a smoothie store owner. The video shows how her job was made easier now and how she could grind & blend easily and how she could spend time on various other things these days and how her relationships with her relatives & friends were getting better and importantly how she could provide incredibly tasty & nutritious food to her customers, that too on time. It was about how her life and her business was transformed by ‘Blendtec’ product.

-Red Bull is one of the best storytelling brands. They focus on customers who do amazing things, who are into extreme, action sports and share their inspiring stories to the world. The mainstream media rarely cover those stories. Red Bull’s stories revolve around its audience passions, interests and their favourite athletes.


In 1987, NIKE’s ad agency made a new TV spot celebrating Nike’s early role in founding the jogging craze. The videos had the visual image of tracks where NIKE started, clips of famous runners, with a voice-over “It all started here” followed by “Fitness revolution that changed America”.

Nike’s founder Phil Knight was upset. He felt that the ad celebrated Nike Products, not the customers.

Ad agency came out with revised ads showing all kind of athletes doing what athletes do. Every athlete spoke with EMOTION about what they do, what EMOTIONAL rewards they gain and why they do in their own EMOTIONAL words, followed by “Just Do It”.

The ad was not about sneakers, superior performance or breakthrough innovation of Nike products. It was about Emotional rewards about “Just doing it” and it motivated many to take it up.

-In the year 1997, Pampers was losing the market share to Huggies, despite having a better product. Their promotional benefit of ‘dryness’ was not grabbing the consumer’s attention. Their research showed that young mothers were worried about their ward’s health and development. To tap those emotions, Pampers modified their marketing content by showing how the comfort, fit and texture of new Pampers help in providing a sound sleep to babies. They targeted the emotional element.

Reference: Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee, Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim, ‘The Everything Store’ by Brad Stone, Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Playing to Win by AG Lafley, Videos from

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or