Marta Peral Ribeiro

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

The Design Thinking in Companies

As a collaborative approach, Design Thinking gains prominence in Portuguese companies. The focus is always the same: the human being. How can a 5-step process bring people together and present solutions to customers?

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

The Design Thinking in Companies

As a collaborative approach, Design Thinking gains prominence in Portuguese companies. The focus is always the same: the human being. How can a 5-step process bring people together and present solutions to customers?

The context

As far as we know, most companies often look for solutions and create new products  and services prioritizing business – and struggling to emerge among the competitors.

With Design Thinking the approach is different: it is intended to solve problems in a creative way, putting human beings and their needs at the center of the issue.

In fact, many professionals, particularly in the field of Marketing, know that this is precisely a trend on the rise:  improving the user experience.

And here are some examples of products that have not been thought of from the consumer’s point of view:

homem abrindo uma garrafa

homem abrindo uma lata

porta fechada

Taking this last example, known as “The Norman Door”, who has never experienced a certain frustration at the time of pulling a door that, after all, needs to be pushed?

When the focus of usability is placed on users, the purpose of placing handles on both sides of the door is questioned, allowing to reconstruct the idea, this time with a handle only on the side that should be pulled:


For users it is synonymous with satisfaction, because things are tailored to their needs and therefore make sense.

In spite of its name, Design Thinking is something practical and a philosophy that is not only for designers: it is for those who need solutions, regardless of the business area.

Another feature is that it is a job that involves a team: with multiple views within the same topic, the probability of finding a more innovative solution is much higher.

The steps of the process

design thinking

1. Create empathy

At first, it is important to understand who the clients are and what they need, putting yourself in their place:  what is important to them? What are their expectations? What verbs or expressions do they often use when communicating? What is their social environment?

By asking the right questions, with active listening and genuine interest in the client, the team can even identify a need not yet captured by the market.

The closer you are to your customers, knowing their activity and habits closely, the more enriching the process will be.

2. Define the problem

After evaluating the results of searches made in the first stage, there are words or actions referred to by customers/users: is there a common denominator among them? If so, that should be the problem.

At this stage, it is appropriate to identify the right problem in order to address the real need.

In other words, it is irrelevant to spend energy solving a problem if, after all, it is not the crux of the matter.

3. Idealize

mural com post-its

Also known by the name “Idear” (Ideate), this step presupposes brainstorming, in which team members share ideas without limits to solve the problem. Ideas can be recorded in post-its, in the form of mindmaps, tables, among other resources.

There are digital tools like the Miro App with templates to organize ideas.

4. Build a prototype

mesa de trabalho com brinquedos

This is when a sketch, a model, a drawing, slides or other features that represent the final product in concrete are presented. In essence, this prototype (or prototypes, if you want to find out more ideas) serves to answer the question: is it possible to put this idea into real life?

However, while it is tempting to take some time to develop the prototype, it is better to  present something less elaborate that can be tested – and thus, its feasibility is quickly verified – than to create a perfect  prototype that subsequently does not work.

5. Testing

Has the customer problem been solved? This is the most pressing issue in the last stage of Design Thinking.

After trying the solution with the customer or user, its applicability is evaluated. It is necessary, of course, to listen. If they do not like the idea, it’s best to assimilate what worked or and what needs to be improved and go back a little bit to redesign the solution until it solves the initial problem.

Trial and error is part of the process as well as retrying. With experience, the team will be quicker to detect gaps up to the prototype stage, minimizing risks in the testing phase.

Relevance to brands

Adopting Design Thinking as a strategy to find solutions for customers brings several advantages to the company, namely:

  • Recognition of limitations of a product or service in terms of usability;
  • Increased analytical and response capability;
  • Development of better solutions, projects and business models;
  • Enrichment of content that becomes closer to the user;
  • Brand differentiation in the market;
  • Valuing employees and their ideas;
  • Improved communication within the team, as everyone is involved;
  • Culture of empathy and innovation in the company;
  • Productivity for the company due to the motivation of the team;
  • Increased sales, because customers are satisfied;
  • Risk mitigation when launching a new product or service.

Where to start?


Investing in design thinking training is essential to cultivate the spirit of innovation with a focus on individuals, allowing the team to learn in detail how to use this methodology and adapt it to the reality of the company.

“In Rome, be Roman”

To truly understand their audience, it is necessary to get involved in their context: to attend the places they frequent, to know their habits, to participate in the communities where they are on social networks, to read what they comment, to have an active social listening.

Analyze available data

Companies that already have a sizeable customer base can leverage the data they already have to complement their knowledge of them, discovering their preferences, activities and dissatisfactions.

Bet on brainstorming to innovate

The result of different visions, thanks to the sharing of ideas that arise in a multidisciplinary team in the idealization phase, is fertile ground to design new products, customize services and adopt a new style of customer service, among other possibilities.  The whole process is in favor of business efficiency.

Define metrics for each stage

Assigning numbers to the phases of the process helps to achieve objectives, as they guide the team. For example, define that in the first stage 50 interviews will be made with customers, or that the limit of ideas resulting from brainstorming is 10 and that 2 prototypes will be prepared.

Ask standard questions

On the other hand, standard questions can also be formulated instead of numbers, which will streamline the methodology in such a way that each process will be better compared to the previous one and, in turn, adjust the objectives of the business and the public.

Feedback from customers and business partners

Inviting other stakeholders, including partners and customers, to participate in the process is an added value for relevant opinions to emerge and to predict the success of an idea.

Design Thinking in the company’s DNA

From leaders to new company members, all human resources must be imbued with a culture of empathy and collaboration.

What about the challenges?

Many professionals and companies have already adopted Design Thinking, but the fact is that specialists and more experience in the subject continue scarce, as this area has not yet been totally explored.

In addition, many companies need more time to be able to integrate all the stages of the process, or to use it permanently to make the most of their possibilities.

On the other hand, there may be technological or organizational limitations that make it difficult to integrate this tool into a company – especially if it is based on a rigid structure.

The full application of Design Thinking in an organization requires time, human resources, collaboration, flexibility, creativity and a lot of empathy.

Por all the reasons mentioned, the simpler and more intuitive its implementation, the better for the company.

Portuguese brands that have adopted Design Thinking

NOW – No Office Work

The old Coworklisboa, NOW is a shared workspace in Lisbon, which was born of a Facebook community whose members debated about the lack of a place to work together. It was thanks to the empathy that was generated between them and the participation of all that it was possible to conceive this space.

In its manifesto, NOW makes clear its collaborative and human-centered spirit, unambiguous characteristics of design thinkers:

“You’re unique and that’s exactly how we’re going to treat you. Like a unique human being. We don’t believe in running communities. You’re the community. We foster it in the only way that can be done: by participating.”

And on social networks they reiterate it through images of people who work together, regardless of whether they are from the same team, and with captions like “Thinking together we’ve come further”:

página do facebook da NOW

página do facebook da NOW


SIBS, the company responsible for managing the ATM Express and ATM Networks, also uses Design Thinking as an approach to solve problems, focusing on customers/users to add value in an increasingly intense technological context.

The human-centered nature pierces social networks through an empathetic and simultaneously assertive tone.

In this example, they begin by indicating what interests Portuguese consumers (the effectiveness of payment methods as a crucial factor when buying online), which reveals that there was a study – the first stage of Design Thinking. Then they reinforce the primacy they give users, sharing security tips in online payments with them.

In short, they accompany customers in their process, meet their needs and deliver what they need to ensure their best experience.

Finally, they emphasize the element of security – an indispensable feeling in the company’s relationship with the client – through keywords such as “Trust” (#SIBSistrust):

página do facebook da SIBS

In another example, it is also clear that the culture of Design Thinking is lived within the organization itself, through the appreciation of its members regardless of their gender:

página do facebook da SIBS