Sounding the Alarm on Declining Sales: How Design Thinking Saved a Fire Safety Company — Design Thinking Case study

Shah Mohammed
15 min readMay 4, 2024

In the fiercely competitive world of fire safety, where every second counts, one small manufacturer found itself grappling with a slow-burning crisis. With a 15-year history of providing cost-effective fire alarms, the company has carved out a niche in the market, offering reliable products at affordable prices. However, as time passed, the once-steady flames of success began to dwindle. Sales figures started to decline, and the company’s market reach seemed to be slipping through its fingers like smoke.

Determined to reignite growth and secure its position in the industry, the manufacturer sought ways to improve its sales and pull the market towards its products. But with a limited budget and a brand reach that barely flickered, the challenges seemed insurmountable. That is, until the company discovered the transformative power of design thinking — a creative problem-solving approach that would soon prove to be the spark they needed to set their business ablaze with success.

The Design Thinking Process

I. Research

1.1 Problem Statement

  • The fire alarm manufacturer has been experiencing declining sales despite offering cost-effective products for office buildings and industrial settings.
  • The company faced a brand perception issue, with larger clients considering their products to be of cheaper quality due to their low prices.
  • The company’s limited size and budget have hindered its ability to build brand reach and acquire sales from bigger MNCs.

1.2 Secondary Research

Industry Analysis

  • Conducted a thorough analysis of the fire alarm industry, including market size, growth rate, and key trends.
  • Identified major competitors, their market share, and their product offerings.

Customer Segmentation

  • Researched the different customer segments in the office building and industrial settings market.
  • Analyzed the buying behaviour, preferences, and decision-making factors of each segment.

Brand Perception

  • Investigated the factors contributing to the perception of the company’s products as cheaper quality.
  • Explored the impact of price on brand perception in the fire alarm industry.

1.3 Primary Research

Stakeholder Interviews

  • Conducted in-depth interviews with the company’s management, sales team, and key employees.
  • Gathered insights on the company’s history, product offerings, target market, and competitive landscape.
  • Identified internal challenges and opportunities for improvement.

Customer Interviews

  • Interviewed a diverse range of existing and potential customers, including office building managers, industrial facility owners, and MNC decision-makers.
  • Explored their fire alarm needs, preferences, and perceptions of the company’s products and brand.
  • Identified key factors influencing their purchasing decisions and brand loyalty.

User Observations

  • Conducted on-site observations of how fire alarms are used and maintained in office buildings and industrial settings.
  • Observed user interactions with the company’s products and those of competitors.
  • Documented pain points, challenges, and opportunities for improvement.

1.4 Data Synthesis

Affinity Mapping

  • Organized the qualitative data gathered from interviews and observations into themes and patterns.
  • Identified key insights and opportunity areas for the company.

Quantitative Analysis

  • Analyzed the quantitative data collected from secondary research and customer interviews.
  • Identified trends, market gaps, and potential target segments for the company.

The research phase provides a solid foundation for understanding the company’s challenges, target market, and opportunities for growth.

II. Research Insights

Based on the comprehensive research conducted in the previous phase, several key insights have emerged that will guide the ideation and solution development process for the fire alarm manufacturer.

2.1 Brand Perception and Pricing Strategy

  • The company’s cost-effective pricing strategy has inadvertently led to a perception of lower quality among larger clients, particularly MNCs.
  • The association between low prices and cheaper quality is deeply ingrained in the minds of decision-makers, making it challenging for the company to attract bigger clients.
  • The company’s limited budget and reach have further contributed to the perception of being a small, unreliable player in the market.
  • Insight: To improve brand perception, the company needs to reposition itself by emphasizing its expertise, product quality, and customer service, rather than solely relying on cost-effectiveness as a selling point.

2.2 Customer Priorities and Decision-Making Factors

  • Office building managers and industrial facility owners prioritize reliability, safety, and after-sales support when selecting fire alarm products.
  • While cost is a consideration, customers are willing to invest in products that offer peace of mind and long-term value.
  • Customers also value brands that demonstrate a deep understanding of their specific needs and offer customized solutions.
  • Insight: The company should focus on highlighting its product reliability, safety features, and exceptional after-sales support to align with customer priorities and differentiate itself from competitors.

2.3 Market Gaps and Opportunities

  • The research revealed a gap in the market for fire alarm solutions tailored specifically to the needs of small and medium-sized office buildings and industrial facilities.
  • Many competitors focus on serving larger enterprises, leaving an untapped segment of customers with unique requirements and budgetary constraints.
  • There is also an opportunity to leverage emerging technologies, such as IoT and cloud-based monitoring, to offer innovative and cost-effective fire alarm solutions.
  • Insight: By targeting the underserved small and medium-sized customer segment and incorporating innovative technologies, the company can carve out a niche in the market and differentiate itself from competitors.

2.4 Customer Engagement and Brand Building

  • The research highlighted the importance of customer engagement and brand building in the fire alarm industry.
  • Customers value brands that actively engage with them, provide educational content, and demonstrate thought leadership in fire safety.
  • Building strong relationships with key influencers, such as fire safety consultants and industry associations, can help enhance the company’s credibility and reach.
  • Insight: The company should invest in customer engagement initiatives, such as educational webinars, case studies, and thought leadership content, to build brand awareness and establish itself as a trusted expert in the industry.

2.5 Internal Capabilities and Challenges

  • The stakeholder interviews revealed internal challenges, such as limited resources, outdated marketing strategies, and a lack of market research capabilities.
  • However, the company possesses a strong technical expertise and a dedicated team committed to delivering high-quality fire alarm solutions.
  • Insight: To overcome internal challenges and leverage its strengths, the company needs to optimize its resources, invest in targeted marketing initiatives, and foster a culture of innovation and customer-centricity.

These research insights provide a clear direction for the company to reposition its brand, target the right customer segments, and differentiate itself in the competitive fire alarm market. The next step is to use these insights to generate ideas and develop solutions that address the identified challenges and opportunities.

III. Ideate

In the ideate phase, we will generate a wide range of ideas and potential solutions based on the research insights gathered in the previous phases. The goal is to think creatively and explore innovative approaches to address the company’s challenges and seize the identified opportunities.

3.1 Brand Repositioning

  • Develop a new brand identity that emphasizes the company’s expertise, product quality, and customer service.
  • Create a brand story that highlights the company’s history, values, and commitment to fire safety.
  • Redesign the company’s logo, website, and marketing materials to reflect the new brand positioning.
  • Implement a content marketing strategy that showcases the company’s thought leadership and educational resources.


  • Create a series of videos featuring customer testimonials and case studies that demonstrate the reliability and effectiveness of the company’s fire alarm solutions.
  • Develop a blog and social media presence that provides valuable fire safety tips, industry news, and product updates.
  • Partner with fire safety organizations and participate in industry events to enhance the company’s credibility and reach.

3.2 Product Innovation

  • Leverage emerging technologies, such as IoT and cloud-based monitoring, to develop innovative fire alarm solutions.
  • Explore opportunities to integrate fire alarm systems with other building management systems for enhanced functionality and user experience.
  • Develop customizable fire alarm solutions that cater to the specific needs of small and medium-sized office buildings and industrial facilities.


  • Create a modular fire alarm system that allows customers to easily scale and adapt their solutions as their needs change.
  • Develop a mobile app that enables remote monitoring, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems.
  • Introduce a subscription-based model that includes regular system updates, maintenance, and customer support.

3.3 Customer Segmentation and Targeting

  • Focus on targeting the underserved small and medium-sized office building and industrial facility segment.
  • Develop targeted marketing campaigns that address the specific pain points and requirements of this customer segment.
  • Create customer personas to better understand the needs, preferences, and decision-making process of key decision-makers.


  • Develop a “Fire Safety Starter Kit” that includes essential fire alarm components and educational resources tailored for small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Create a referral program that incentivizes existing customers to recommend the company’s solutions to other businesses in their network.
  • Partner with local fire departments and safety organizations to offer fire safety training and assessments to small and medium-sized businesses.

3.4 Customer Engagement and Education

  • Develop a comprehensive customer engagement strategy that focuses on building long-term relationships and fostering brand loyalty.
  • Create educational content, such as webinars, e-books, and tutorials, that helps customers understand the importance of fire safety and how to effectively use and maintain fire alarm systems.
  • Establish a customer community platform where users can share experiences, ask questions, and provide feedback.


  • Host regular “Fire Safety Awareness” events in partnership with local businesses and community organizations.
  • Develop a certification program that recognizes businesses that have implemented best practices in fire safety using the company’s solutions.
  • Create a customer success team that proactively reaches out to customers to provide support, gather feedback, and identify opportunities for improvement.

3.5 Strategic Partnerships

  • Explore strategic partnerships with complementary businesses, such as fire safety equipment manufacturers, building management system providers, and insurance companies.
  • Leverage these partnerships to expand the company’s market reach, enhance its product offerings, and provide additional value to customers.


  • Partner with a leading fire safety equipment manufacturer to develop integrated solutions that combine the company’s fire alarm systems with other fire safety products.
  • Collaborate with building management system providers to offer seamless integration and enhanced functionality for customers.
  • Establish partnerships with insurance companies to offer discounted premiums for businesses that implement the company’s fire alarm solutions.

These ideas provide a starting point for developing comprehensive solutions that address the company’s challenges and opportunities. The next step is to evaluate and prioritize these ideas based on their feasibility, impact, and alignment with the company’s goals and resources.

IV. Prototype, Test, and Iterate

4.1 Prototype Development

The team selected the top ideas from the ideate phase, focusing on brand repositioning, IoT-enabled fire alarm systems, customizable solutions for small and medium-sized businesses, and a customer engagement platform. They developed a range of prototypes to bring these ideas to life:

  • Brand Identity: The team created mood boards, color palettes, and font combinations to explore different visual directions for the rebranded identity. They also drafted sample website layouts, brochures, and social media posts to showcase the new brand messaging and tone.
  • IoT-Enabled Fire Alarm System: The team developed a functional software demo that simulated the user interface and key features of the proposed IoT-enabled fire alarm system. They also created 3D renderings and physical mockups of the sensors and control panels to demonstrate the system’s hardware components.
  • Customizable Solutions: The team created a series of product configurator wireframes that allowed users to select and combine different fire alarm components based on their specific needs and budgets. They also developed a pricing calculator that provided transparent and flexible pricing options for small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Customer Engagement Platform: The team designed a clickable prototype of the customer engagement platform, including the educational resource library, community forum, and certification program. They also created storyboards and user flow diagrams to illustrate how customers would interact with the platform and access its various features.

4.2 User Testing

To gather feedback on the prototypes, the team conducted a series of user testing sessions with a diverse group of target customers, including office building managers, industrial facility owners, and safety compliance officers. The sessions included:

  • Brand Identity: Participants were shown the mood boards, color palettes, and sample marketing materials and asked to provide feedback on the perceived brand personality, credibility, and differentiation. The team also conducted A/B tests to compare the effectiveness of different visual designs and messaging approaches.
  • IoT-Enabled Fire Alarm System: Participants interacted with the software demo and physical mockups, providing feedback on the system’s ease of use, functionality, and perceived value. The team also asked participants to rate their likelihood of adopting such a system and gathered insights on potential barriers to adoption.
  • Customizable Solutions: Participants used the product configurator wireframes and pricing calculator to create personalized fire alarm solutions for their businesses. The team observed their interactions and gathered feedback on the clarity, flexibility, and perceived value of the customization options.
  • Customer Engagement Platform: Participants navigated the clickable prototype of the customer engagement platform, providing feedback on the usability, relevance, and comprehensiveness of the educational resources, community forum, and certification program. The team also conducted surveys to gauge participants’ interest in engaging with such a platform and their preferred modes of interaction.

4.3 Iteration and Refinement

Based on the user testing feedback, the team identified several key insights and areas for improvement:

  • Brand Identity: Participants responded positively to the new brand visuals and messaging, perceiving the company as more professional, innovative, and customer-centric. However, some participants noted that the color palette could be more vibrant and the website layout more intuitive.
  • IoT-Enabled Fire Alarm System: Participants appreciated the real-time monitoring and remote management capabilities of the IoT-enabled system. However, they raised concerns about the system’s compatibility with existing fire safety infrastructure and the potential for false alarms.
  • Customizable Solutions: Participants valued the flexibility and transparency of the customization options, but some found the product configurator wireframes overwhelming and suggested simplifying the user interface and providing more guidance on recommended configurations.
  • Customer Engagement Platform: Participants expressed strong interest in the educational resources and certification program, viewing them as valuable differentiators. However, they suggested expanding the community forum to include more user-generated content and expert Q&A sessions.

Based on these insights, the team refined the prototypes, incorporating user suggestions and addressing identified pain points. They simplified the product configurator interface, developed compatibility guidelines for the IoT-enabled system, and expanded the community forum features. They conducted additional rounds of user testing with the updated prototypes, validating the effectiveness of the improvements and gathering further feedback for future iterations.

V. Implementation and Scaling

With the final solutions validated through prototyping and user testing, the company is now ready to implement and scale these initiatives. The implementation phase involves translating the refined prototypes into fully functional solutions and integrating them into the company’s operations, while the scaling phase focuses on expanding the reach and impact of these solutions to drive sustainable growth.

5.1 Implementation Planning

  • Developed a comprehensive implementation roadmap that outlined the key milestones, timelines, and dependencies for each solution.
  • Assigned cross-functional implementation teams with clear roles and responsibilities, including representatives from product development, marketing, sales, customer service, and IT.
  • Established key performance indicators (KPIs) and success metrics to track the progress and impact of each solution, such as brand awareness, customer acquisition, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction.
  • Allocated the necessary budget, resources, and personnel to support the implementation efforts, considering both upfront investments and ongoing operational costs.

5.2 Brand Relaunch

  • Finalized the new brand identity, including the logo, color palette, typography, and visual assets, based on the refined prototypes and user feedback.
  • Developed a comprehensive brand guidelines document that outlines the brand’s positioning, messaging, tone, and visual standards to ensure consistency across all touchpoints.
  • Updated the company’s website, marketing collateral, and social media presence to reflect the new brand identity and messaging.
  • Planned and executed a multi-channel brand relaunch campaign, including PR, advertising, content marketing, and events, to generate buzz and awareness among target customers and industry influencers.

5.3 IoT-Enabled Fire Alarm System Launch

  • Collaborate with hardware and software development partners to finalize the design, specifications, and manufacturing processes for the IoT-enabled fire alarm system components.
  • Developed a comprehensive user manual, installation guide, and support documentation to ensure smooth onboarding and usage of the new system.
  • Conducted extensive quality assurance and safety testing to validate the system’s performance, reliability, and compliance with industry standards and regulations.
  • Launched a targeted sales and marketing campaign to promote the IoT-enabled fire alarm system to both existing and new customers, highlighting its advanced features, benefits, and competitive advantages.

5.4 Customizable Solutions Rollout

  • Integrated the refined product configurator and pricing calculator into the company’s website and sales processes, ensuring a seamless and intuitive user experience.
  • Trained the sales and customer service teams on the customizable solution offerings, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to effectively guide customers through the configuration and purchasing process.
  • Developed a library of pre-configured solution templates and case studies to showcase the flexibility and impact of the customizable offerings for different business sizes and industries.
  • Partnered with industry associations, trade shows, and influencers to promote customizable solutions and generate leads from small and medium-sized businesses.

5.5 Customer Engagement Platform Deployment

  • Developed and launched the customer engagement platform, including the educational resource library, community forum, and certification program, based on the refined prototypes and user feedback.
  • Integrated the platform with the company’s existing customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation systems to enable personalized communication and engagement.
  • Recruited and trained a dedicated customer success team to moderate the community forum, develop and curate educational content, and support customers throughout their learning and certification journey.
  • Promoted the customer engagement platform through email campaigns, social media, and customer newsletters, encouraging users to explore the resources, participate in the community, and enroll in the certification program.

5.6 Strategic Partnership Execution

  • Finalized partnership agreements with fire safety equipment manufacturers, building management system providers, and insurance companies, outlining the terms, scope, and mutual benefits of the collaborations.
  • Developed joint solution offerings, such as integrated fire safety systems, smart building solutions, and risk assessment services, that leverage the strengths and capabilities of each partner.
  • Co-created marketing and sales enablement materials, such as brochures, case studies, and webinars, to promote the joint offerings to target customers and drive adoption.
  • Established regular communication and coordination channels with partners to ensure smooth collaboration, timely issue resolution, and continuous improvement of the joint offerings.

5.7 Scaling and Continuous Improvement

  • Monitored and analyzed the KPIs and success metrics established during the implementation planning phase to track the performance and impact of each solution.
  • Gathered ongoing customer feedback and market insights through surveys, interviews, and analytics to identify areas for improvement and opportunities for further innovation.
  • Continuously optimized and refined the implemented solutions based on the data and feedback collected, leveraging agile development methodologies and rapid experimentation.
  • Scaled successful solutions to new customer segments, geographies, and industry verticals, adapting the offerings and go-to-market strategies as needed to address specific market needs and dynamics.
  • Fostered a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organization, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, knowledge sharing, and employee-driven innovation.

By executing a well-planned and data-driven implementation and scaling phase, the fire alarm manufacturer successfully brought its innovative solutions to market, drove customer adoption and loyalty, and established a strong competitive position in the industry.

In conclusion, this design thinking case study demonstrates how a struggling fire alarm manufacturer leveraged a user-centric, iterative approach to address its challenges and drive sustainable growth. By empathizing with customers, identifying key insights, ideating innovative solutions, prototyping and testing, and finally implementing and scaling the most promising ideas, the company was able to successfully reposition its brand, launch differentiated offerings, and establish a strong competitive position in the market.

The case study highlights the power of design thinking in tackling complex business problems and driving meaningful change. By putting the user at the centre of the innovation process, the fire alarm manufacturer was able to uncover deep insights, generate creative solutions, and validate their impact through rapid experimentation and continuous improvement.

Note: This design thinking case study is a fictional example created to demonstrate the potential impact and application of design thinking methodology in a business context. While the challenges, solutions, and outcomes presented in this case study are hypothetical, they are based on real-world scenarios and best practices observed in various industries. The purpose of this fictional case study is to illustrate the power of design thinking in driving innovation, solving complex problems, and creating value for organizations and their customers.