With the rapid pace of digital change forcing brands to move products to market at breakneck speed, businesses require a process for the continuous generation of ideas — one rooted in customer empathy and focused on addressing customer jobs to be done. Many businesses have adopted design thinking to continuously create products in a customer-centric way. But too often, businesses are not use design thinking properly. The fault lies not with design thinking, but with businesses failing to complement design thinking with proper implementation product development processes.

Design Thinking Defined

Design thinking at its simplest is defined as creative or design-led ways of solving business problems. Businesses use design thinking is a process for solving complex, open-ended problems that don’t have a “right” answer. Popularized by IDEO, design thinking, as it is traditionally taught, encompasses five core steps:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

Through design thinking, businesses identify the right problem to solve, create and consider many options, refine selected directions, pick a solution, and prototype one. They employ tools such as customer personas and journey maps along the way.

The Problem with Design Thinking

Design thinking sounds good on paper. But by and large, businesses are not using design thinking to innovate with breakthrough products. Adopters of design thinking are learning two difficult lessons:

  • Design thinking does not equal innovation.
  • Prototypes validated by customers are not enough to develop successful products.

Design thinking, while a critical component of ongoing product development, is not sufficient. Brands need to combine design thinking with a delivery capability to move from ideation and observation to making and scaling.

Make no mistake: when done well, design thinking produces ideas for solving problems rooted in customer empathy. That insight helps a business create a prototype that can be tested by real customers. But unfortunately, the creator of the prototype (usually marketing) then tosses the idea over the wall to another department (usually information technology) for product development — which is where problems arise. For instance, marketing and IT usually report into different teams with different agendas. Marketing and IT usually lack a process for working together to implement the prototype properly. As a result, a failure to integrate the resources required to develop the product can undercut even the most customer-centric prototype.

A Different Approach

At Moonshot, we believe that businesses can succeed by combining design thinking with the iterative product development approaches of lean innovation. With our clients, we combine design thinking with lean innovation in a continuous process:

  • Designing the minimum lovable product, or a prototype that creates maximum customer love with the least amount of effort and expense.
  • Lean innovation: moving from ideas to digital products in a continuous process that requires designers and product developers to collaborate from inception to completion.

Put another way, we combine design thinking with lean innovation to design and develop products through a unified process. We build cross-functional teams that not only design together but implement together. That way, people from different departments think and work together.


We are inspired by the widely adopted process from Nordstrom Innovation Labs that combines design thinking, lean startup, and agile methods. Additionally, businesses such as Fjord highlight design culture as a critical component to making design thinking stick. A business need not train its engineers and strategists to become product designers to embrace design culture. They do need to think in terms of open-ended problem solving, though, which encourages the adoption of a design culture. For businesses such as Fjord, ideas come to life when the design teams adopt an operational and cultural shift. In fact, wedding design thinking with product development also results in designers thinking more like product developers.

A Roadmap to Success

Businesses can adopt a more integrated approach to design thinking with minimal disruption to how they operate. The key is to employ a methodology that identifies a roadmap to success. Moonshot has adopted the Google Ventures Sprint methodology to create a five-step process to successful design and product development. Our approach takes the guesswork out of design and development by building collaboration between the key stakeholders such as marketing and technology. Consequently, clients achieve outcomes such as:

  • Better return on investment in new ideas.
  • More efficient use of resources.
  • Development of products aligned with the goals of the business.
  • Improved velocity, or products that get to market faster.

Businesses that have properly integrated design thinking with product development know they are succeeding when their marketing and operations teams naturally work as integrated teams from inception to development. But getting to that point requires a willingness to think about design thinking differently. Contact us. We know how to get started.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product