Product Management

6 Ways Product Managers can apply Design Thinking

Published August 29, 2018 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Tom Jager
Design Thinking for Product Managers

As a product manager, you need to deeply understand problems, issues, needs and wants of current and potential customers. The design thinking method can help you making the right, data-backed decisions during product development. Learn more about the design thinking approach to product management in this post.

Sales managers work in sales. Professors are in the education. Defining the industry for common professions like these is easy. However, what about product managers? Fundamentally speaking, are they really in the product management business?

Let’s see the ways product managers apply design thinking at design-led companies:

At its very core, the product management profession is all about problem-solving. If a product manager is given a variety of ideas for new product, they will begin analyzing the needs of the target audience and looking for ways to meet them.

So, one could say that product managers build a framework for product development that visualizes how it serves the target audience. Clearly, that has a lot to do with creativity and design, so design-focused thinking is something they could really use!

The need for this thinking is justified: design is a key differentiator of high-performing companies. In fact, design-led companies outperformed “low-design” companies by 228 percent, according to Design Management Institute:

Design-Centric-Index: DCI in comparison with S&P - Design Thinking Companys - 228% higher than non design oriented companys

Image Source: Design Management Institute

#1. Get Creative Process Going with Research

The design thinking approach begins with a brainstorming session that remains an important part until the end. For example, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are we spending enough time with the current and target customers learning what’s important to them?
  • What are the problems that the current and target customers are facing?

By understanding problems, issues, needs, and wants of your current and potential customers, you can create highly personalized solutions and can be valued by them. In other words, you should engage in thorough research of your customers.

The importance of research is highlighted by a recent Adobe research on attributes of design-led companies. According to the results of this study, these firms excelled at creating an emotional bond with customers (46% vs 32% of not design-led companies), often reinvented existing ideas, processes, and products (43% vs 27%), and spent more on innovation than competitors (41% vs 27%).

Statistic Values of "modern or advanced design practices exemplify that other companies with less mature or modern design practices do not? Design-led = 202; Not design-led = 137; Source: Forrester Consulting on behalf of Adobe, July 2016; This is a way to improve Product Managers Design Thinking

Image Source: Adobe

Step #2: Define Your Actions

Now that you’ve done your research and know exactly what you need to target with the design, you can clearly define what needs to occur during the product development process.

This is done by identifying specific actions for each member of the product development team.

Step #3: Create Prototypes

Once you’ve gathered inspiration, generated ideas, and approved them for development, it’s time to create prototypes to make these ideas more tangible.

The purpose of prototypes is to see how a product performs and allows the user to achieve their goal.

Picture: Prototyping with Pen and Paper to improve Product Managers Design Thinking.

Step #4: Build Prototypes and test them

After user testing, you’ll have a clear picture of what’s working well and what isn’t. The customers testing the prototype should receive it for free, obviously, and provide their feedback based on the questionnaire or other tools use.

Encourage them to provide as many details as possible to get a clear picture of how the product should be improved.

Learn more about why prototyping is fundamental to good design.

Step #5: Use Tools to Refine the Process

There are various design thinking tools to help you and your team to come up with the best product, including user personas, user story maps, and user testing.


These are fictional characters that represent the end user or your product. They typically include information to help you understand what your target customer’s needs and concerns might be.

For example, a user persona may contain:

  • Age
  • Personal demographics
  • Job title
  • Knowledge and skills the person uses in their job
  • Industry in which the person is working
  • Size of their company
  • Their responsibilities
  • What this person needs to do to be successful in their role
  • Their biggest work challenges
  • Recent Purchases

Remember, that personas need to be based on user research, otherwise they are a complete waste of time. You can learn more about how to write personas here.

User Story Maps

These are the tools that provide a visual representation of a user’s journey for your team to discuss. They define activities and tasks the user needs to perform to complete the journey. StoriesonBoard and Feature Map are two widely used tools for user story mapping.

These tools involve the first steps of the design thinking process we’ve described above: researching and defining actions.

Online User Tests

Online usability testing for Web products and mobile apps is a quick, reliable way of answering the question “Can my users really use the product?” Compared to traditional, in-person usability testing, conducting online usability testing has several advantages:

  • You won’t need to moderate. Moderating usability tests is a skill that requires a lot of knowledge, practice, and experience. In online usability testing, you’ll prepare tasks and questions, click a button, and then participants will get everything you’ve prepared for them, do it, click a button, and then you’ll get all the data.
  • Reduced hassle of finding participants. Finding people who qualify, are willing, and available to participate in a usability test is a tedious, time-consuming, and sometimes expensive task. Online usability testing can save you a lot of these efforts and sometimes even do all of it for you.
  • Access to broader audiences. While in-person usability testing limits you to invite research participants from the area where the test is being held, online usability testing does not have that limitation. Participants can come from anywhere. In many cases, this flexibility will be a huge advantage for you because participants will represent your true target audience better.

Step #6: Reflect

The final step is to reflect on the entire process and evaluate the performance of the product management team.


As you can see, design thinking focuses on human-centered goals because it focuses on providing deep, meaningful engagement with customers. Design-led companies are leaders in their respective industries because they succeed at building a special bond with their audiences, so why don’t you try to apply design thinking to your product development?
Not only your customers but also your team will be much more motivated by your work as you connect it to the target users in this really cool way.

Tom Jager is professional blogger. He works at A-writer. He has degree in Law and English literature. Tom has written numerous articles/online journals. You can reach him at G+ or Facebook.

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