5 Ways Design Thinking Advances Workplace Problem Solving

While the term “design thinking” may be mistaken as an exercise for designers only, after recently completing IDEO’s Hello Design Thinking course, I learned that design thinking is a process that should be practiced by everyone at an organization. IDEO defines design thinking as a process for creative problem solving, and here are the five ways that this mindset can transform and advance a workplace.

1. Design thinking unlocks creativity in every employee, and in turn, improves the overall idea creation process.

David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, believes that everyone at an organization has creative potential, and with the right process in place, everyone can tap into this creativity to develop bigger ideas and collaborate more with one another.

2. Design thinking inspires new ways of thinking by observing what people really need.

The first step of design thinking is to seek inspiration by observing people and the problems that they are facing. When a team observes the actual people facing a specific problem, the team is then able to explore new ways of thinking, which leads to designing better products and services for this group of people. While observing, it’s important to look for and identify patterns, passions, adaptions, body language, and the unexpected. These observations allow the team to then better understand who they are designing for.

3. Design thinking encourages the development of bigger ideas.

The second step of design thinking focuses on pushing past obvious solutions in order to generate multiple out-of-the-box ideas. Developing a variety of concepts helps the team consider many solutions to a problem instead of just executing the first thing that comes to mind. One ideation method that IDEO encourages is a Mash-Up, which involves bringing unexpected concepts together to spark unique ideas and test them in a creative setting.

4. Design thinking makes these big ideas tangible.

After generating a list of ideas, the next step of the design thinking process is to work together to create rough representations of the ideas by sketching, building prototypes, and moving the idea forward. Any idea can be made tangible through a prototype, but during this phase, the goal is to build something that allows the team to receive feedback from a test group. The prototype should be a fast and loose idea that allows the team to communicate it to others to then create a better version of the initial concept.

5. Design thinking communicates the idea through a personalized story.

Crafting a personalized story about the idea inspires others towards action and helps others connect with the concept. Instead of only sharing business statistics to sell the idea, telling a compelling story often resonates with the audience better. When telling a story, incorporating personalization, emotion, anecdotes, and a call to action will help drive the point home. Not every story will resonate with everyone, but expressing enthusiasm, empathy, and energy when telling the story will help the idea come to life.

Learning and adopting this design thinking process will help take workplace problem solving to the next level by increasing collaboration and advanced ideation. Like any new process, design thinking takes practice and time to implement, but is well worth the effort.

3 Differences Between Design and Art

I’ve studied and practiced design for about six years now, and throughout the course of my young career, I’ve often heard these comments when sharing my work with others: “you’re so artsy” or “it’s so pretty” or “what a work of art.” While these are certainly nice compliments—believe it or not—I usually find myself disagreeing with them.

I don’t consider myself to be an artist. I consider myself to be a designer, and here are three reasons why there is a distinct difference between the two.

1. Art is beautiful, expressive, and imaginative. Design is strategic and functional.

This might be why when it comes to making crafts that I see on Pinterest, I often fail miserably, even though I feel like I should have an advantage as a designer. Throughout my years of schooling, I was never trained to create beautiful crafts. I was trained to design strategic and functional pieces. And because of this, I like being involved with the entire process of a project—from identifying the business problem to conducting user research to designing to testing outcomes—I like to understand as much as I can in order to produce the best possible outcome for the user.

However, don’t get me wrong, even though design shouldn’t necessarily be beautiful or expressive, the final product should still look good. But, if the design process is strategicand involved design principles and user research from the start, the aesthetically-pleasing component of the project should already exist since it was user-focused the entire time.

2. Art is a subjective expression of the artist’s talent. Design is an objective solution to a user’s problem.

While artists love to hear how talented they are, I am much more interested to hear that my work helped solve a business problem. This speaks more to the skill that I’ve learned and developed over the years instead of referencing a talent—something that often comes naturally to someone.

This might be why the phrase “I don’t like it” is the worst possible feedback a client can provide a designer. Designers want constructive and objective feedback. And because of this, I don’t care if the client “doesn’t like it.” I care if the work solves the user’s problem. It’s important for both the designer and the client to remember that design work is for the user, not necessarily the subjective client. A more helpful statement would be “based on my understanding of our user, I think this would be a better solution.” Now you’ve got my attention. And better yet, we’re both focused on the real goal of the project.

And this goes for designers, too. Instead of voicing subjective opinions when pitching my design work, I take my opinion out of it and talk about the solution that my design brings to the table. The client doesn’t care about my feelings about the design piece. The client cares about how the piece is going to solve a business problem and drive revenue. So, if you’re the client and you ask a designer why he/she chose a certain color or typeface, and you receive a “because I like it” answer, I give you full permission to challenge this response and ask for something smarter.

3. Art can be interpreted differently across different audiences. Design should be consistently interpreted by different users.

Design is about strategic principles—such as hierarchy, white space, repetition with variation, and typographic grids—and the goal of a design project is to communicate a consistent message and accomplish a specific task. Art, on the other hand, speaks differently to many people with no real end “task” in mind. You could look at a piece of art for an hour and have more questions than answers. Design answers your questions.

While designing to accomplish a specific task may sound straight-forward, there is a gray area between a design’s intention and interpretation. Intention can be based on assumptions about the user—and this is okay to start here—but the validation of the assumptions will take this from an intention to a consistent interpretation. Intention can also be based on the user’s context, and this can vary the ending interpretation if users have varying contexts. A good designer understands the differences between these terms and applies this research to the end piece so it’s more consistent for multiple users.

How to remember the differences between art and design:

So, clients and designers—before discussing your next design project, here are some points to remember:

  • Understand the intended strategy and function of the design before speaking
  • Check your opinion at the door. Provide objective feedback instead
  • Focus on the user, the business problem, and the solution

Who Can I Actually Email? How to Build a Segmentation Strategy

Email marketing is by far one of the absolute best investments that a business can make. This is because email is a direct 1:1 relationship with your contacts used to deliver personalized value, and in return, drive revenue for your business. Rather than creating unwanted interruptions like traditional marketing methods, email marketing allows you to capture and retain your contacts’ attention, which goes well beyond any initial sale.

So who can I actually email?

Let’s first start with the basics: do you have 100% permission to email this person? This is a gray area for many businesses, so here are a few scenarios and corresponding tips to help you answer this question:

  • Scenario: You meet a person at a company event or a trade show. You talk about your company’s services and you exchange business cards when saying goodbye. When returning to the office, you add this person to the CRM and opt them into receiving your weekly newsletter.
  • Advice: Although it is a good idea to add this connection to your CRM, you cannot sign up this person to receive your newsletter unless he/she provided verbal consent at the event. Instead, follow up with this lead by phone rather than signing this person up to receive email marketing campaigns. While on the phone, you should mention specific value delivered in your company’s email marketing efforts and ask for permission to opt this person in to receive these.
  • Scenario: A lead completes a contact form on your website and requests that one of your sales representatives contact him/her. Upon submitting the form, this lead is automatically added to your CRM and subscribed to your weekly newsletter.
  • Advice: Again, it is a good idea to add this connection to your CRM; however, this person still never provided consent for you to change his/her subscription preferences. If you would like all of your contact forms to automatically sign leads up for your newsletter, be sure to include a notation on the contact form or provide the lead with an opportunity to check a box to voluntarily opt-in.

While the advice above might seem to be too strict or conservative, these tactics ensure that your email marketing contacts definitely provided consent and are actually interested in receiving your emails. And if you have contacts who are actually interested in receiving your emails, you will have better performing emails and happier subscribers. Remember, it’s all about enhancing that 1:1 relationship with your contacts.

How to Build an Email Segmentation Strategy

Okay, so now you have a clean list of email contacts waiting to receive your campaigns. So, why is it important to not blast every single email out to all of your subscribers? Well first, you’ll have higher opt-out rates as you continue to do this. And second, you need to get personal. Delivering relevant content to subscribers goes a long way and is proven to increase your open and click rates, conversion, and retention.

Now, personalization is much more than inserting a user’s first name in the email copy. It’s about developing a strategy to deliver content that is specific to the user based on behavior patterns and what you know about your audience. You can then send the right message to the right user at the right time.

Next, you can start creating segments within your marketing automation platform. Here are a few examples of segments that might be helpful for your business:

  • Segment based on subscription preferences (example: subscribed to our weekly newsletter, upcoming event updates, etc.)
  • Specific engagement with your emails or your website (example: clicked this email and also visited this landing page within the last 30 days)
  • Current stage in your sales cycle (example: viewed pricing, is a new opportunity, received a proposal, attended a demo, etc.)
  • Location, company size, job title, or industry (example: all contacts with X job title at manufacturing companies in Ohio with less than 50 employees)

Now Let’s Start Driving More Revenue

Okay, so now you have your list of interested contacts as well as segments created within your email marketing platform. A good next step is for your marketing department to work directly with your sales representatives to create email marketing campaigns that focus on providing value and driving revenue.


Let’s say your website generates a lead for one of your company’s service areas and this lead also opts-in to receive future emails upon submitting the form.

  • Your sales representative contacts this lead and makes a note in CRM that the lead is interested in your services but is not ready to purchase for about 6 more months.
  • Although this lead is just trying to collect more information at this point, this is a great opportunity to enter the lead into an email marketing drip campaign.
  • You can work within your marketing automation platform to set up personalized emails that are sent to this lead over the 6 month period in order to provide consistent value and stay top-of-mind while the lead is evaluating options.
  • It’s a good idea to provide your sales representative with access to your marketing automation platform so he/she can see how this lead is engaging with these email marketing campaigns before following up with the lead.

While these types of emails aren’t the only kind that drive revenue for your business, they can certainly help create a better internal process and strategy that delivers more value to your contacts.

Overall, email marketing should be much more than just sending out a general, weekly newsletter. It’s about learning more about your audience, enhancing a relationship, and delivering value based on a user’s preferences. Remember this before clicking send on that next campaign.

3 Ways Growth-Driven Web Design Will Improve Your Business

Well, two years have gone by, and it’s probably time to redesign the website. The site looks outdated, it’s not generating qualified leads, and the information on it is no longer accurate. Does this sound familiar? This approach has always seemed to make sense to businesses, and for years, this is how a website redesign was approached. However, there is a much better, smarter process for businesses to pursue instead, and that’s growth-driven web design.

Growth-driven design is a process that reduces the headaches of traditional web design and maximizes the results of a website. It’s a new way of thinking that can be implemented by any organization to help generate revenue, convert leads, and provide a better user experience that is driven by data, not opinions.

But before we jump into more about growth-driven web design, let’s look at a few reasons why traditional web design has hurt so many businesses:

  • Traditional web design is very risky. It involves a significant upfront investment from an organization, it requires a shift of resources, and demands an extensive amount of time.
  • It can never be everything your organization actually needs. When the new website is finally launched after months and months of work, there is no way to tell that it is the absolute best result for your organization. This is because the redesign was dictated by internal opinions not data from users.
  • Traditional web design is based on assumptions. Websites are often static for two to three years without constant optimization or attention. When it finally comes time to take a look at rethinking the website after years go by, it’s difficult to determine what went wrong.

So, how is growth-driven design any different? Implementing this new process helps organizations avoid complete website redesigns every few years and instead, emphasizes the necessity of continual evaluation, testing, and optimization of a current website. Here are three ways that growth-driven design will change your business:

1. Growth-driven web design will help drive and evolve the strategy of your business.

A well-researched strategy is the single most important part of a website. But what does a strategy truly involve? To start, it takes developing a clear understanding of your business objectives and how you are working to achieve these with the website specifically.

To determine these goals, everyone at your organization needs to be on the same page. These goals should include revenue for specific areas of your company, customer lifetime value, and where your business is moving (or trying to move). After these are determined, clearly outlined, and shared with the entire business, then it’s time to discuss what you are doing today to achieve these goals and what the results have been.

Next, it’s essential to understand your users and target market. Creating fictional representations of your organization’s ideal customers will help increase empathy, form a common language, and evaluate ideas. To do this, you should talk to as many people in as many departments at your organization as possible to gather different perspectives on your target market. Then, compile a clear list of these individuals and pair these with your goals.

These personas and goals should be constantly evolving, not visited just once or twice a year. As you gather more data, use it to improve.

2. Implementing growth-driven web design will produce a better user experience.

Developing a clear and actionable understanding of how users are behaving before, during, and after engaging on your website is critical to the success of your organization. So, how do you gather this information?

To start, using Google Analytics will give you a great perspective on user behavior with access to page views, bounce rates, traffic patterns, devices used, time on pages, etc. While this data is extremely valuable for the optimization of your website, it’s also important to remember that data from Google Analytics is anonymous. Using a marketing automation platform, such as Act-On, will allow you to take a more in-depth look at behaviors of specific users or accounts including page visits, engagement with content or emails, and lead scores. This data helps you understand both what needs to be improved upon as well as what’s working really well on your website.

You can also take this a step further and unlock even more customer insights by using a tool like User Testing or Hotjar. These programs allow you to view videos of your users’ experiences on your website to determine which areas on your website are confusing, which convert really well, or which don’t engage a user. These tools also allow you to create conversion funnels to discover opportunities for improvement and prevent users from leaving your site.

3. Growth-driven web design will generate more qualified leads for your organization.

Now, I’m not talking about a few leads here and there. I’m talking about optimizing every single page on your website from a content, design, SEO, user experience, and code perspective to generate more organic traffic and qualified leads than ever before. Every page on your website should have a way to capture user information, whether it’s a contact form, email subscribe popover, content download, video turnstile, etc.

As an example, before implementing growth-driven design tactics on ERC’s website, our site generated a significant amount of leads; however, we only converted about 12% of this potential business. The majority of these leads never returned our phone calls or responded when we sent them additional information. This stood out to me as an opportunity for the website to not generate more leads, but instead generate more qualified leads.

After implementing growth-driven design tactics on ERC’s website about a month ago, every single page on our website is now optimized based on user data and keyword research. In these past few weeks, we have generated more qualified leads in all of our service areas than ever before, and we can say this because these leads have actually returned our follow-up communications, converted into revenue for our organization, and even returned to our website to purchase additional services.

An organization’s growth-driven design process needs to be constantly evolving in order to experience continued success over time. Consistently optimizing a website is often a significant behavior change because it is a process that needs to be executed weekly. It involves many internal conversations, analysis of user data, and continued research. This certainly takes a significant amount of time, but the time is extremely well spent.