Design process

Design Thinking Examples: Five Real Stories


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No other area of design requires such deep immersion in the client's world as UI/UX design. To create a user-friendly and practical product, it is necessary to understand the customers’ pains, needs, and expectations. This is what design thinking is all about.

Design thinking is a unique client-centered approach that helps businesses create innovative ideas using a human point of view instead of raw historical data. For example, our recent client, HandPrinter, based their project on a goal that is very important - to encourage people to protect the environment - which helped them become a company with an inimitable vision and no analogs around the globe. Interested in how they did it? Please, read further in our case study.

With the help of design thinking, you can help your clients solve their problems and create benefits for your business. Of course, in theory, using this approach seems just a piece of cake. But what about real life? I guess you are wondering if it is possible to efficiently apply design thinking in your business.

In this article, we will discuss five design thinking examples of real companies that actively use this approach as a part of their corporate strategy. So, get ready for your dose of inspiration!

Examples of companies that use design thinking

To show how resulting the design thinking can be we won't have to dig through the whole internet. What's more, I bet that you have not only heard about companies we're going to talk about but even use their products regularly!

Anyways, without further ado, let's analyze some cases when companies revolutionized the market using design thinking.


Design thinking in Airbnb
Image credit: cubicgarden.com

The first design thinking case study is Airbnb, cloud software for vacation rentals. The creators of Airbnb, designers Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia met at the university, moved together to San Francisco, and rented a nice spacious apartment there for two. In 2007, there was a design conference in the city and that’s why the prices for rooms in hotels went up a lot. That’s the time when two friends came up with a simple business idea: they bought several air mattresses and hosted colleagues in their flat. To find guests, they created airbedandbreakfast.com.

The idea was good and Brian and Joe wanted to continue developing it. They used the empathy method they studied at design school and asked themselves:

  • What do people do when they travel?
  • How can they quickly and easily learn the way from the airport to their home?
  • How can you recommend your favorite place on the next street to have dinner?

Answering these questions gave Chesky and Gebbia useful ideas on how to update the website. From that point with the help of the app, the user could rent apartments, order breakfast, and also communicate with the host like with a friend (ask them for advice or recommendation).

With design thinking, they solved the problem of distrust between the host and the guest: the ability to leave the feedback from both sides broke that barrier.

How to apply design thinking? Airbnb example
Feedback for the host. Image credit: airhostsforum.com
Solving the problem of distrust with design thinking method
Feedback for the guest. Image credit: reviewtrackers.com

Now every design team at Airbnb has a leader whose first priority is to represent the customer and their needs.

Sasha Lubomirsky, head of User Research at Airbnb says: “When you understand the problem, the solution is way more straightforward. If you understand the problem, the ideas follow!”

These words prove the importance of design thinking for Airbnb.


Netflix design thinking
Image credit: xd.adobe.com

According to Forbes, back in 2001, Netflix founder Reed Hastings spent $10 million a year on streaming technology research. This fact alone shows how customer-centric Netflix has been from its very beginning.

In the same article, the author points out that Netflix's design thinking can be boiled down to four rules:

1. Think Big - Netflix was not afraid to destroy its existing successful DVD delivery business and follow the technological advance.

2. Start small - the company did not rush headlong into the implementation of a new product, but waited for the right moment.

3. Fail quickly - Early streaming attempts were abandoned.

4. Scale Fast - Netflix has been able to grow rapidly by moving to the original content.

Many of us are familiar with all the advantages of the Netflix platform and its human-centered UX design:

  • Card design (you can interact with each card: pick it, bring closer, flip over, etc.)
Human-centered design of Netflix
Image credit: Netflix
  • AI-powered recommendations (based on your view history Netflix personalize the experience for you)
Using design thinking to create a successful SaaS product
Image credit: Netflix

But Netflix's design thinking goes beyond digital design. It covers the entire process of user interaction with the system.

Image credit: Unsplash

Making the customer a top priority and continually thinking about what would be better for them helped Netflix to not only reshape the video rental industry but also let Netflix become an essential part of how to relax correctly. Because let's be real, there's "Chill" and there's "Netflix and Chill".


Image credit: blogs.gartner.com

More than 75 million people in 600 cities in 65 countries around the world use Uber, and for many, it has become the most familiar mode of transportation. The main reason for the success of this online ride-hailing taxi app is its unique business model that Uber managed to develop using a design thinking approach.

Putting themselves into their customers’ shoes allowed Uber’s team to define that the most critical issue that influences the client’s final impression is the need to wait. That is why Uber has given a lot of attention to this issue.

Let’s take a look at how with the help of a design thinking approach Uber managed to develop the user experience that helps to cope with the problem of waiting and makes this application impossible to give up.

  • Eliminate inaction. The first thing that Uber’s design team did great is coping with inaction with the help of interactive elements. In the example below, you may see how Uber uses animations that entertain and inform the passenger while they are waiting for the car.
Uber interactive design
Image credit: iphonehacks.com
  • Make all operations clear and transparent. Uber deliberately demonstrates some aspects of the work of the service. It helps users see that the company makes a lot of effort to improve the experience of their customers. Thanks to this, people value the product more and feel more satisfied.
does Uber use design thinking?

The screenshot from Uberpool shows how the app calculates arrival time. This information gives the user an understanding of what is going on without overloading the reader with technical details.

  • Show the goal. Most of all people want to know how much time is left before they reach the goal. The closer the reward, the faster the user wants to get it. That’s why Uber explains each step when the customer is waiting for the car, making people feel like they are getting closer and closer to their goal.
Uber: engaging UX design

There is no doubt that Uber's success is largely due to the fact that the company uses design thinking to improve user experience. With the help of this customer-centric approach the idea to replace cabby blokes with ordinary and trustworthy people owning their own cars resulted in a usable and convenient app we all love so much.


IBM design thinking
Image credit: design-thinking-association.org

Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, recently told: “There’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience” and these words make a big difference.

IBM design has gone through many stages in its development ("good design is good business"), and now the company provides design services and invests $100 million in implementing principles of design thinking in their organization.

In 2014, IBM used design thinking when creating Bluemix (now IBM Cloud), a cloud platform for application development. IBM’s main goal was to help developers in big companies create cloud applications much faster.

Researching their target audience allowed IBM to create an easy-to-use and functional platform that attracted more than 1 000 000 developers.

Here are three main points why all these developers fall in love with Bluemix:

  • Choice. Bluemix allows to build a consistent application that can run both on and off premise. It helps to reduce the cost and time developers spend on setting up infrastructure
  • Extensive catalog with tools. Bluemix offers almost 150 tools and services that propels you months ahead in development (e.g. Internet of Things for secure data collection, Watson for cognitive computing services, etc.)
the use of design thinking for IBM's Bluemix
Image credit: balena.io

Methodology. Using the DevOps tool chain allows to easily scale your projects.

That’s how identifying pains and needs of the target audience allowed IBM create a platform that helps developers quickly build applications.


Intuit: design thinking example

Intuit is a global platform that helps its customers cope with financial issues (accounting, tax preparation, etc.).

Back in 2006, Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit decided that his accounting software company has to be more innovative. Inspired by an article about design thinking written by Roger Martin, Cook started thinking about how this approach can help to develop and improve his product.

First of all, Intuit’s team identified the problem. Most people hate spreadsheet-based personal finance tracking solutions, and they stop using them as soon as they start. The research of competitors helped to realize that existing solutions are suitable for professional accountants but difficult to use for an average person. Although there is a need for financial planning for individuals or small businesses as well.

The solution was to create an easy-to-use and consistent UX. When Intuit introduced its software to help people control their finances, there were 46 similar products on the market. At the beginning of the journey, they joked that at that moment they had the "47th mover advantage."

The basic version of Intuit offered only a third of all available features, but with a great design. Instead of spreadsheets, the program displays familiar images with check receipts on them.

Image credit: quickbooks.intuit.com

Because of its extremely intuitive design, Intuit immediately became the market leader in personal finance software.

the use of design thinking by Intuit
Image credit: quickbooks.intuit.com

As a result, Intuit has shown software companies that good design is something every industry should care about. You can use empathy to create well-designed software that can both solve business problems and serve people.

Think of people and they will think about you

To make a successful product you need to put user needs at the center of your efforts focusing on designing usable, delightful, and efficient experiences. Design thinking helps you to understand real people’s needs and problems and uncovers ways of improving user experiences.

So, don’t hesitate to make design thinking a part of your company culture. It will promote creating products that deeply resonate with your customers — ultimately driving engagement and growth.

And if you need help in creating products that show how much you care about your customers, come to Eleken for a human-centered UI/UX design.

Kateryna Mayka


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