When the term Design Thinking gets thrown about, it tends to be a misunderstanding that it is a visual or creative approach to a problem. While there are indeed visual elements involved in Design Thinking, the process isn’t just about aesthetics and doesn’t just center around creativity. Design Thinking is a process; it is an all-encompassing action, a fresh approach to gain perspective involving innovation from groups of diverse backgrounds and skillsets.

Though there are many different renditions of Design Thinking, the key components are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. When we empathize, we learn about the audience. Defining, allows us to construct points of view that focuses on the audience’s needs. Ideation helps us brainstorm solutions and collaborate with varied teams, gaining new perspectives. Prototyping then helps us to represent multiple ideas that we then use to test for feedback.

How does this relate to banking?

Well, we can start at the top of the chain. When we think of operations of a financial institution, there are defined hierarchies. Most orders, direction, and daily practices come from executives and get controlled by management. Usually, these groups of individuals don’t tend to see what goes on in the “trenches” of day-to-day activity. There isn’t much customer or user focus on this end of the spectrum. Empathy for the audience often gets missed at this level. This point is especially crucial when we talk about marketing. More often than not, and surely not intentionally, bank marketers are not able to see the whole picture of their institution. Most of their focus comes from the top and is about shareholders, competition, increasing loan and deposit numbers, and managing budgets. There isn’t much thought given to the shifting paradigm of their customer/member base, diversity of users, how new things get introduced to the market, or for that matter, WHAT gets introduced.

This is where Design Thinking comes in. Imagine creating products or services based on empathy—defining what users want or need—a company-wide culture and direction based on testing and input from diverse teams (including customers). These teams are where all individuals contribute with an equal voice, iterating ideas together, creating solutions based on what the collective group inputs. Workflows like these help bring to market relevant products and services based on inclusive company culture—working from the inside out.

Taking a Design Thinking approach is like adopting a holistic plan that will incorporate all of the successes the higher-ups require but, most importantly, will help institutions stay relevant, reduce risk, compete in the vast ever-changing financial segment, and offer products that society needs and wants – all while learning and strengthening the company core.

Read more about Design Thinking.