Design thinking is a powerful approach to design-led innovation that encourages those developing or improving products or services to consider fully the user's needs, wants, likes and dislikes, rather than simply designing a product and marketing it. Designers are encouraged to act like anthropologists, carefully observing end users in order to discern how they use products and services and to understand what they might want or need.
Beyond observing what users do and say, designers are encouraged to pay attention to what they do not do and what they do not say. This requires designers to practice empathic thinking, placing themselves directly in the shoes of users, especially extreme users, those who demand the most functionality and performance out of products and services. Observation coupled with empathy leads to insight.
Design-led innovation is an organized approach to innovation that is as powerful as it is fungible, and it is increasingly employed in business innovation, product innovation, service innovation, and management innovation.
Design-led innovation encourages one to understand that innovation occurs over time. It encourages trial by accepting that error is often its likely outcome, and it encourages team members to listen deeply and thoughtfully to colleagues, build on the ideas of others, and to collaborate across disciplines.
Design-led innovation is not group thinking, even though it encourages group collaboration. Design-led innovation does require flexibility and integrative thinking, but it also requires a framework, rule, and deadlines. Successful design innovators employ a mental matrix throughout the design thinking process to exploit the advantages of integrative thinking while staying on task. At its most basic, a mental matrix should include clear goals, a definite beginning, middle, and end point for a project, and a rough schedule.