What Is IBM Design Thinking and How Can You Use It in Your Business?

Posted on February 29, 2024 | Updated on April 17, 2024

IBM design thinking is not a new concept. However, it’s still making waves in many industries due to its benefits and unorthodox ways of creating and delivering innovative products to consumers. Discover what it is and how you can apply it to your business.

Persons sitting at a table and collaborating on a project

What is IBM Design Thinking?

Design thinking is the approach to creating user-centric products and services. It involves a constant, multi-layer process from asking consumers what they want and need, defining clear goals, brainstorming using different perspectives and quickly testing prototypes to find and correct errors.

Creative thinking and collaboration are at the heart of design thinking. Instead of focusing solely on product specifications and technical information, companies use design thinking to identify how consumers can improve their experience with the help of an innovative and user-centric product or service.

IBM developed its own process to help its organization bring high-value products and services to consumers as quickly and effectively as possible. The company teaches other organizations and individuals how to adopt and apply design thinking to their projects and processes. In addition, IBM recognizes how large organizations can use design thinking at the speed and scale needed for modern enterprises.

Phases of Design Thinking

Users are the most essential component of design thinking. They are the driving force behind creative thinking and thoughtful consideration that leads to breakthroughs and innovative products. Here are the phases you can expect to see if you wish to apply design thinking to your projects.


As a business owner or creative, it’s essential to understand what your customers or clients want or need. Engaging and communicating with them will equip you and your team to develop better solutions to existing problems. Simply imagining users’ demands from your perspective brings one-sided ideas that only address one or a few issues in their consumer journey.


Empathizing with end users is critical in jumpstarting the design thinking process. As you understand clients and consumers better, you can clearly define their problems and generate ideas to formulate solutions. Recognizing pain points, user challenges and opportunities can guide your team and help them focus on the correct problems.


Innovation comes from ideating and coming up with multiple solutions to a problem. Exploring different possibilities can help your team break away from linear processes that often fail to see the bigger picture of product design and development. Many designers see things from their perspective and expect users to think, feel and do things the same way. Actual user experience says otherwise, as people will always seek different ways to make things easier, faster and more fitting to their needs.


Design thinking enables designers to constantly develop products and services by creating multiple prototypes until a project is finalized. You can make physical or digital prototypes to visualize how the end product will look and function. It’s also an opportunity to communicate and understand concepts that can be helpful in the later stages of the design process. Asking and working on feedback from intended users will help you pinpoint areas for improvement and work on flaws that can negatively impact the end user experience.


Continuous and repeated testing helps refine new products and services. Your team must ensure that every model you make undergoes rigorous testing, observation and analysis. This process helps validate ideas and develop new ones to help effective iteration and deployment. Focusing on feedback during the testing phase will also allow you to design better solutions to user problems.

Idea board with sticky notes

IBM Design Thinking Principles

Design thinking always promotes asking questions and keeping an open mind about possibilities. Understanding your users’ needs will help you find breakthrough solutions for their problems. Knowing those principles will ensure you can scale and speed up your process to match your team and company’s growth. 

Here are some design thinking principles that guide organizations to success.

  • User outcomes: Design thinking allows teams and organizations to prioritize users’ needs. Anticipating what consumers want, how they feel about a product and what they will use it for helps designers ideate, iterate and create valuable outcomes for people.
  • Restless reinvention: With design thinking, the creation process is never done. Instead of adopting a linear approach to creating a product or service, teams and companies use a circular model to help them reinvent their offerings. This process ensures continuous improvement by treating a project as a work in progress.
  • Diverse empowered teams: Bringing together team members with different backgrounds helps establish creative ways to tackle unique problems. Design thinking uses diversity to find breakthrough solutions by relying on every member’s specific skills, perspectives and thought processes. 

How to Apply IBM Design Thinking to Your Business

Whether you’re establishing a new business or looking to reform your team, adopting the tenets of design thinking can help you become more in tune with your clients. Here are several ways you can incorporate the user-centered approach into your work.

  1. Define the user problem and view it from their perspective instead of relying on purely business-centric models.
  2. User surveys, interviews and other user-based research to pinpoint pain points, problems and opportunities.
  3. Form teams from diverse backgrounds and involve every member in brainstorming solutions and ideation.
  4. Gather feedback from users to validate ideas and develop solutions to new challenges.
  5. Treat your projects as a work in progress and keep iterating until your product is ready for testing.
  6. Repeatedly test your prototypes and introduce changes to best suit users and satisfy their needs.
  7. Remember to focus on users, their needs and behavior instead of creating products with just technical specifications and functions in mind.
A pen resting on an open notebook with written notes

Benefits of Adopting the IBM Design Thinking

As expected, a progressive design approach has advantages for any organization willing to embrace its principles. Consider the following benefits to your company or personal design process due to design thinking.

  • Generate ideas quicker: Meeting with intended users can help teams generate ideas and get to prototyping more quickly than relying on assumptions. Since design thinking is a user-centered approach, teams can brainstorm, ideate, iterate and test with better results.
  • Bring products and services to market faster: IBM design thinking can boost productivity by creating prototypes and testing them for failure. Designers, engineers and other team members can identify solutions to critical problems using this process and bring products to market quickly.
  • Improves team dynamics: Design thinking brings together people with different skills and backgrounds to help arrive at a functional solution for user needs. This collaboration aspect of the process values every team member and brings them closer by aligning their goals and improving their communication skills and mindset.
  • Provide value to end customers: Satisfying customers by giving them highly effective and valuable end products is at the core of design thinking. IBM design thinking removes defects earlier in the design process by constantly pushing the boundaries of functionality and failure.

IBM Design Thinking: A User-First Approach

Many strategies can bring success to an organization. Design thinking prefers to put the users first and work around them to bring meaningful solutions to their everyday problems. Adopting this user-first approach in your projects is a worthwhile endeavor that can reap benefits in the long run.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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