Design Thinking Demystified: Unlocking the Potential of SMEs

Many misconceptions prevent small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from exploring Design Thinking and innovation. Innovation is often seen as a privilege reserved for large companies with substantial resources. Another common belief is that innovation must disrupt everything and create a new paradigm, which is not true. Innovation can involve a small change as long as it serves a purpose. It’s essential to remember that innovation is not an invention; it’s a change that finds its market or audience. Thus, SMEs can also remain competitive by adopting approaches tailored to their specific challenges and realities. Design Thinking is one such approach. In this article, we will explore how Design Thinking can be a secret asset for SMEs, helping them stimulate innovation and ensure their long-term survival in a competitive market.

Introduction to Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a human-centered problem-solving approach that has gained popularity across various industries. It involves a deep understanding of the user’s perspective, identifying unmet needs, and creating innovative solutions to address those needs. The approach is iterative and collaborative, with a focus on experimentation and learning.

Design Thinking is based on three pillars : Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability.

Desirability involves creating solutions that meet the user’s needs and are desirable to them. Feasibility refers to creating solutions that can be implemented with the available resources and technology. Viability entails creating solutions that are financially sustainable and offer a return on investment.

By applying Design Thinking, businesses of any size can create products and services that truly resonate with their customers, while also being technically and financially feasible.

Why Design Thinking is a competitive advantage for SMEs?

Design Thinking is a powerful competitive advantage for SMEs, as it enables them to create innovative solutions that meet the user’s needs and stay relevant in a rapidly changing market. By focusing on the user’s perspective, SMEs can differentiate themselves from their competitors and offer products or services that truly resonate with their target audience.

Reduce costs, mitigate risks

SMEs can improve their profitability, mitigate risks, and accelerate the innovation process. By adopting a multidisciplinary, non-hierarchical, iterative approach and developing Minimal Viable Products (MVPs), the magic can happen. Ideally, involve your customers, suppliers, and partners to access real (as opposed to hypothetical) information about their true needs, preferences, and challenges. This leads to faster iterations, better results, and a reduced risk of the solution not finding its market.

*An MVP is a basic version of a product that focuses on the critical element of the solution. It should be testable quickly and at low cost. The more solidly the assumptions are validated, the more elaborate the MVPs will become. This helps to mitigate risks before investing significant resources in developing a functional prototype or launching on a large scale.

Fosters a sense of ownership & improve buy-in

Interdisciplinary and cross-functional collaboration enable companies to leverage the expertise of diverse disciplines and departments, leading to more innovative solutions, better products, and an engaged workforce.

One of the primary benefits of co-creation is that it promotes a sense of ownership among employees. When team members are involved in the creation process, they feel more invested in the outcome and are more likely to be committed to the project’s success. This can lead to increased morale, higher job satisfaction, and better retention rates.

Interdisciplinary and cross-functional collaboration bring together experts from different fields, allowing for a comprehensive approach to problem-solving. By combining different perspectives, SMEs can develop more innovative solutions that take into account various factors, from technical feasibility to market demand. This approach can result in better products and services, enhanced efficiency, and increased profitability.

Constraints are not the devil, but rather the “source” of innovation

As previously discussed, involving stakeholders in the innovation process is crucial for accelerating innovation and ensuring successful implementation, but its benefits extend beyond these outcomes. By engaging internal stakeholders early in the process, companies can share constraints, turn them into opportunities for innovation, and foster respect and collaboration among team members. Ignoring constraints can result in a powerful boomerang effect, coming back at the worst possible moment and leading to significant costs and setbacks.

How to implement Design Thinking in your SME

Implementing Design Thinking in your SME can be a challenging but rewarding process that requires a shift in mindset and culture. To encourage creativity, experimentation, and learning, key stakeholders should be involved in co-creating solutions from the early stages, and key activities should start in parallel. Design Thinking is not a one-time project, but a continuous process of discovery, ideation, and iteration. Here are some key steps to implementing Design Thinking in your SME:


Type of projects

  • Focus on real projects
  • Projects can vary in scope, from incremental improvements to a small or a big innovation.
  • Projects can include developing a new business model, creating a product, designing a new service, or improving a process, among other possibilities

Main Ingredients

  • Foster co-creativity
  • Respect all team members and provide opportunities for everyone to share their ideas
  • Foster active listening because innovation can come from anyone, regardless of their position or department
  • Encourage interdisciplinary and cross-functional collaboration to bring diverse perspectives to the table
  • View failure as a learning opportunity and not a means of blame or negative outcome
  • Recognize that constraints can actually spark innovation and should be seen as a source of inspiration
Design thinking flow

Phase 1 | Understand: Start with empathy & Define the problem

Empathy is at the heart of Design Thinking. Start by understanding the needs of your customers and stakeholders. Conduct interviews, surveys, and observations to gain insights into their needs, wants, and pain points.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the needs of your customers, define the problem you are trying to solve. Be specific and focus on the needs of the user.

Phase 2 | Design: Ideate, develop MVPs, Test and Iterate

Organize brainstorming sessions with interdisciplinary teams to gather ideas from diverse perspectives

Develop Minimal Viable Products (MVPs)

Test your MVPs with users and stakeholders to collect feedback and make decisions such as:

  1. Persevere, as your assumptions have been validated during testing.
  2. Iterate or pivot until you have a solution that meets the needs of your users and stakeholders.
  3. Abandon the idea if your assumptions are clearly never validated.

Phase 3-4 | Deliver and Deploy

Implement your solution and deploy it across your organization. Monitor its success and make adjustments as needed.

Phase 5 | Finally: Learn and share

By embracing a culture of learning and improvement, organizations can adapt to changing circumstances, innovate and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market. Learning should be a continuous process, and insights should be shared across the organization to foster a culture of innovation and growth.

In Conclusion…it is your turn to act

In conclusion, Design Thinking is a powerful methodology that SMEs can leverage to cultivate a culture of innovation and remain ahead of the competition. By understanding the user’s perspective, identifying unmet needs, and developing solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable, SMEs can create products or services that satisfy their customers’ needs while also promoting sustainability and mitigating risks. As a result, Design Thinking can be a key differentiator for SMEs looking to achieve long-term success and growth.

To understand and assess changes

How changes will impact you and to what extent.

To be a step ahead

By being proactive, you can differentiate your solutions both radically and faster.

To discover Opportunities

Not only will it open new markets but also it will empower your team (to project in the future,  commitment, co-creation,  gain in confidence,...)


Together, you are stronger

Nowadays, partnership (privat & public), project build with cross-functional team, and co-creation with top and down people are the winning solutions.