The Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking for Small Business Owners: A Simple, Actionable Approach

Banke Ajayi
2 min readMay 1, 2023



Juggling the demands of daily operations, marketing, and sales as a small business owner can be a daunting task. But what if there was a strategy that could help you better understand your customers and create innovative solutions tailored to their needs? Design thinking is your answer.

Design thinking is a powerful, user-centred approach to problem-solving that can transform your business and enhance customer satisfaction. In this guide, we will simplify the design thinking process into five easy-to-understand stages and provide actionable tips for incorporating these principles into your small business.

Stage 1: Empathy

Empathy is about stepping into your customers’ shoes to fully comprehend their needs, desires, and challenges.

Action Steps:

  1. Conduct interviews or surveys with your customers to gain insights.
  2. Observe your customers as they interact with your products or services.
  3. Develop customer personas based on your findings.

Stage 2: Define

Once you’ve gathered information, it’s time to identify the problem you’re attempting to address. Concentrate on a specific issue that affects your customers.

Action Steps:

  1. Identify patterns or trends from your customer research.
  2. Craft a problem statement that articulates the central issue.
  3. Ensure the problem is pertinent to your target audience.

Stage 3: Ideate

In the ideation phase, come up with as many solutions as possible without imposing limits. Encourage creativity and teamwork.

Action Steps:

  1. Organise a brainstorming session with your team.
  2. Employ techniques like mind mapping or SCAMPER to generate ideas.
  3. Reduce the list of ideas to the most feasible options.

Stage 4: Prototype

Transform your ideas into tangible solutions via prototyping. This step enables you to detect issues and improvements before full-scale implementation.

Action Steps:

  1. Develop a low-cost, rudimentary version of your solution.
  2. Share your prototype with a small group of customers to obtain feedback.
  3. Revise your prototype based on the feedback received.

Stage 5: Test

In this final phase, assess your refined prototype with a broader audience to validate its efficacy.

Action Steps:

  1. Implement your solution on a small scale to monitor its performance.
  2. Gather feedback from customers and analyse the results.
  3. Adjust and refine your solution as necessary.

Tips for Implementing Design Thinking

  1. Build a culture of innovation: Encourage your team to think creatively and take risks.
  2. Foster cross-functional collaboration: Engage employees from various departments in the design thinking process.
  3. Facilitate workshops: Organise design thinking workshops to help your team practice and apply these principles.


Design thinking is an invaluable tool that can help your small business flourish. By concentrating on understanding customer needs, empathising with target audiences, and developing innovative solutions, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing customer satisfaction and driving business success. Remember, the key is to keep it simple, take action, and learn from your customers.