Design Thinking for Small Businesses - Spring2 Innovation

Design Thinking for Small Businesses

October 27, 2020

Understanding Customers

A colleague a few years ago facilitated a session for us on building/growing our business faster. She began by asking, “How would you help your clients solve their challenges?” Naturally, our answer was to use Design Thinking, but we hadn’t considered applying it to our own business. So, we took a look at our end-clients and built out personas using the first phase of Design Thinking. We then went out and spoke with end clients, asking what they liked and didn’t like in the process and working with us. We asked them to help us develop prototypes which we then tested with more of our clients.

We continue to use Design Thinking within our business by re-evaluating who our end-clients are, as well as re-evaluating who we want them to be – especially as major changes occur. Looking at how their behavior has shifted as a result of the change and understand what their new needs are.

We regularly review who our clients/personas are and who we want them to be. An annual evaluation of our clients would be ideal, but in practice it ends up being closer to every two years or so. We refine our personas and/or discover that we have more personas than we thought each time we repeat this exercise. As the business has expanded and the number of business lines increase, the total scope of different clients has also expanded. As a business grows and shifts over time, strong discipline is required to ensure that your business continuously recognizes and understands your current clients, as well as the ones you want to have in the future. Many organizations wait until they are forced to reevaluate their clients’ needs. Waiting until it’s too late or making decisions when you feel backed into a corner can cause other areas of the business to suffer. We need to develop discipline around how we analyze clients and how frequently.

As you talk to your customers, we recommend you ask:

  • What do your customers like and don’t like in the process of working with you;
  • What would make them not be your customer anymore;
  • How could you do more for them and with them;
  • To develop prototypes and work to test prototypes with more of your clients.


This may sound simple, but it’s easy to forget that directly asking your clients what they want, and need is the most straightforward path towards providing innovative services. We frequently jump to solution mode; however, Design Thinking is about applying process to how we determine what the true challenges are and then working with our clients to ensure we are developing solutions with them that meet their needs.

We dive deeper into understanding our end-clients in our 1-day Design Thinking training, our ½ Empathy course, and our immersive certification. To learn more about how we can help your business please contact