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6 Design Thinking Soft Skill Benefits

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

How you can improve your soft skills through the everyday use of Design Thinking

Skills and benefits typically associated with Design Thinking applications, include improving your capability to problem solve, be creative, think critically, collaborate, effective communication, visual communication, build strong relationships and to enhance effective decision-making in turbulent times or with imperfect information.

Design Thinking is used to transition digital, lead and manage innovations, speed up innovation pipelines, improve the customer journey, UX / UI, create delightful customer experiences, design the customer path to purchase, design or develop new experiences / services / products, or to create new revenue streams or to find new markets & customers.

What about the "other" soft skill benefits for the team?

Teams are engaging in Design Thinking practices and no one is talking about the "other" soft skill benefits these team members are receiving, as a result of applying Design Thinking practices in their daily working life.

Soft skills are increasingly more important in the workplace.

You can pay for professional development of soft skills or you can apply Design Thinking practices in your workplace.

Get the benefits of Design Thinking and the benefits of the "other soft skills".

Let's take a closer look at six benefits of Design Thinking

Benefit #1 - Curiosity

Curiosity is a desire to know. Curiosity is fundamental throughout the process and in particular within the Discovery phase of the Design Thinking. The Design Thinking process is an approach with four distinct phases and they are:

1) Discover,

2) Define

3) Design and

4) Deliver

In the Discover phase (phase 1) Design Thinkers believe that it is important to demonstrate curiosity with the objective of identifying and understanding all of the various perspectives from each stakeholder group.

When in the discovery phase of the Design Thinking process, team members get an opportunity to practice and enhance their curiosity skills. They do this through learning, as they undertake Discoveries. The team focus is on:

  • a desire to know more about their target audience

  • a desire to learn from different types of people

  • a desire to learn different perspectives within each target segment

  • a desire to learn more about their target audience's challenges, opinions, and ideas.

When the team are curious, they asks questions of others to learn more about them. Design Thinkers are always asking questions, researching, listening, and developing novel ways to learn more about the people of concern.

Applications of curiosity include:

  • Observing people in their natural habitat (e.g. ethnography)

  • Desk research and analysis (e.g. looking for patterns, trends, and external forces)

  • Data analytics and segmentation analysis on the basis of behaviours

  • In-depth interviews

  • Focus groups

  • Card sorting

  • Polls or surveys

Benefit #2 - Diversity & Inclusion

Design Thinkers apply diversity and inclusion into the process, as they want to include as many perspectives as possible when undertaking research, conducting a discovery or an ideation session, validating an idea or selecting their own team. Diversity and inclusion are the hallmarks of Design Thinking. Design Thinkers see the power in including a mix of people with divergent views, experiences, and backgrounds.

Design Thinking practice gives team members the opportunity to enhance their diversity and inclusion skills. Teams practice diversity and inclusion, firstly, when selecting their team and secondly when undertaking the practice of Design Thinking.

When undertaking Design Thinking, one of the first tasks is to assemble your team. When doing so you are looking for a diverse cross-disciplinary group of people with different ways of looking at the world, different experiences and different sets of knowledge and skills. The more diverse your team is, research shows the better they will perform.

Divergent perspectives are called for in the Discovery (phase 1) and Design (phase 3) phases of the Design Thinking process. In the Discovery phase, teams set out to identify all of the relevant stakeholders and a wide range of perspectives across each stakeholder group. The purpose is to hear and understand as many viewpoints as possible so that all sides of the debate are heard and understood.

In the Design phase of the Design Thinking process, the objective is to produce as many ideas as possible. No idea is silly. No idea is judged. Every idea is worthy. It is through ideation that often synergy occurs. This means the eventual ideas that go through are a culmination of many ideas from a diverse group of people. In the Design phase of the Design Thinking process, ideas that go through to prototyping and validation are tested with their target audience. The plan is to collect as many different viewpoints as possible to either squash the idea or to validate the idea. The eventual ideas are co-designed with the target audience, as a result of the feedback loops from the various groups of people within the target audience. Only ideas validated with the target audience move through to the next phase of the Design Thinking process.

Benefit #3 - Empathy

The notion that the Design Thinking process begins with empathy is a fallacy. In practice, Design Thinking begins with curiosity, diversity, and inclusion, which are contributing factors to the practice of empathy. Teams practice empathetic leadership through each phase of the Design Thinking process. Why people think empathy comes first is often because that is what they see. They see an Empathy Map. An Empathy Map is an outcome.

In the Discovery phase (phase 1) of the Design Thinking process curiosity, diversity, inclusion, and empathy are practiced. The result of this practice is an Empathy Map.

The Empathy Map is an outcome that is shared in the Define phase (phase 2) of the Design Thinking process. The Empathy Map is other stakeholders and with decision makers.

In the Define phase of the Design Thinking process, the team use visual maps (e.g. an Empathy Map) to structure their findings and to define each persona. A Persona is created for each different segment or group of people. Each Persona will have their own Empathy Map showing how the Persona feels or thinks, what bothers them, what motivates them and who influences them. Sometimes Empathy Maps are combined with Personas, or Experience Maps, or Context Maps, or Service Blueprints or Behavioural Maps. These maps are the results of practicing curiosity, diversity, inclusion, and empathy with relevant stakeholders.

The practice of cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy enables the team to enhance their own empathy leadership skills. Through the practice of Design Thinking, members of the team learn about and consider someone else’s position (cognitive empathy), their unique context and their feelings (emotional empathy), and the team express those thoughts and feelings to others in the form of an Empathy Map (compassionate empathy). The team learn empathy by doing.

The practice of Design Thinking increases the empathy skillset and capabilities across the team and for each individual within the team. Research tells us that the practice of empathy benefits the team and the organisation, as it contributes to positive and collaborative relationships, improved engagement within the team and across the organisation, as well as developing or enhancing a positive working culture.

Benefit #4 - Confidence

Design Thinking improves the confidence of its users through the use of maps and tools in the Design Thinking Toolkit. Individuals and the team aren’t spending time pondering where to begin or figuring out the best way to structure and display their findings, instead they follow a guide confidently. The guide gives them clarity and empowers them with confidence to move forward. With a clear mind, empowered with confidence, the team can effectively collaborate, engage, display their findings, facilitate and discussions about their findings, as well as deciding how to move forward.

Each map is a guide. The maps are flexible enough for the team to personalise each map for each unique business scenario. The team decides which map they will use to guide them.

For example, in the following Table you’ll see three different popular Empathy Map structures. When applying Design Thinking practices, the team decide which headings go onto their empathy map. The headings depend on individual business scenarios, the objective of the project, the findings from the Discovery phase of the project, and which guide (Empathy Map) they choose to display their findings.

Here are 3 examples of headings that are commonly used on an Empathy Map.








says and does



thinks and feels

is influenced by



is motivated by


is bothered by



Confidence builds within individuals, as well as the team through the consistent use of maps and tools. The team has a range of maps and tools in the Design Thinking Toolkit to select from. We call these maps confidence builders. This is because with experience, the team learn when to use which map and how to personalise each map for their particular project. The more experienced users of Design Thinking will have a large toolkit, whereas new teams to Design Thinking will have a smaller toolkit.

In Design Thinking there is no right or wrong way. There are several ways to do anything. To a novice of Design Thinking, it maybe confronting to have several maps, tools, and guides to choose from. Eventually, the novice Design Thinker begins to embrace the Design Thinking mindset and build their own confidence as they gain experience using the tools and maps as a guide.

Those new to Design Thinking as well as those with substantive experience see the benefits of using maps in the structure they provide. Design Thinking users have confidence in using shared terminology, confidence in knowing where to display what, confidence that the maps guide them, help them to structure, and craft their message.

The maps are visual communication tools, which Design Thinkers share with stakeholders and decision makers. Examples of ten popular guides in the Toolkit include:

1. AEIOU Framework

2. Behavioural Map

3. Context Map

4. Empathy Map

5. Five Ws

6. Journey and Experience Map

7. Persona

8. Reframing Matrix

9. Service Blueprint Map

10. User Experience Map

Benefit #5 - Fear of Failure

Often people are stalled by the fear of failure, which is compounded by the perceived degree of risk a person is prepared to take. Design Thinkers are all about reducing risk. The tools help reduce risk. They provide a guideline and a template for sharing information. The approach to Design Thinking itself is iterative. The iterative approach to Design Thinking helps those team members who are perfectionists, fear failure and are not often risk takers.

Design Thinking lays on foundations of continuous learning.

In the Design Thinking process, the Design phase (phase 3) is an iterative collection of design sprints. The team ideate and produce new ideas. The team analyse these ideas. The team design solutions, experiment, develop prototypes, test them, analyse the results from the feedback. The team will run through part of or the entire process over and over again until an idea is tested and validated successfully. The Design phase is typically the longest phase within the Design Thinking process.

The focus of the Design phase (phase 3) is to move forward. In this phase you'll hear sayings like, “squash the idea” or “kill the idea” or “fail fast” to describe the objective of this phase. The phase is iterative and co-designed because it relies on the target audience’s feedback. For an idea to be validated the target audience must consider the idea as valuable, highly necessary, and be willing to take action as a result (e.g. pay for it). If the idea is squashed or killed or if it fails, this provides an opportunity for learning what didn’t work, as well as learning what might work.

Team members who fear failure will start to become more confident with failure as they see failure as an opportunity to learn and as an integral part of the Design Thinking process. Perfectionists start to learn that "nothing is perfect" and that there is always room for improvement, and that improvement is part of an iterative process within the Design Thinking process and mindset.

Those who fear failure soon learn that when an idea is squashed or killed off this reduces the risk of bringing an idea that isn’t going to work through to the Delivery phase (phase 4). This is a key advantage that Design Thinking has over traditional approaches.

Addressing fear of failure, perfectionism and risk reduction, it is important to understand that most ideas won’t work and that most ideas are not successful. The purpose of the Design phase (phase 3) is to keep moving and to reduce risk. You reduce the risk by experimenting and learning as you go. You learn as you ideate, analyse ideas, design solutions, develop prototypes, test them, and analyse the results. The idea is to squash the idea or to validate the idea. The objective is to minimize risk by identifying which ideas won’t work or won’t be successful before they are implemented.

Benefit #6 - Happiness

When a team successfully delivers on an idea (phase 4), they are euphoric. Happiness spills from the team. The team will often celebrate this milestone. A high-performing team will celebrate all their wins along the way. Design thinking is a people centric process that considers all of the people within the process, as well as the people in the team delivering on an idea. Everyone’s happiness is of concern.

Design Thinking practitioners don’t take failure personally. They see failure as part of the process. Failure is a learning opportunity. Not taking failure personally contributes to happiness outcomes. When people’s attitude towards failure changes to one of opportunity, an opportunity to learn, then how they see themselves also changes. Seeing failure as an opportunity helps to build personal resilience, keeps people moving, and increases happiness outcomes.

Design Thinkers have growth mindsets, which also contributes to happiness outcomes. Design Thinkers understand what they don’t know they can learn. They are not limited by existing capabilities, as they know they can learn new capabilities. Understanding that you don’t need to know everything, that you can learn and grow as you go, helps to reduce stress, and keeps the team moving. The ability to know you can learn new capabilities contributes to happiness outcomes.

The process of Design Thinking (Discover, Define, Design, and Deliver) sees higher rates of successful implementations in the Deliver phase (phase 4) than with other approaches. Successful implementations lead to increased happiness outcomes. Other approaches use the term, “collaboration.” Design Thinking is a collaborative practice, which sees higher levels of engagement, relationship strengthening, transparency, empathy, and team building, all contributing factors to happiness at work outcomes.

Design Thinking helps strengthen your "human" soft skills

Contributing to happiness are the individuals within teams, who learn not to take things personally, they learn, practice, and strengthen their curiosity, diversity, and inclusion. Each team member is a leader and each member leads with empathy. The process of Design Thinking is empathetic. Design Thinking is an approach that builds individual and team empathy capabilities and skills sets. The team and individuals throughout the process build their confidence. They use tools as guides. They reduce their risks by experimenting, testing, validating, co-designing, and learning from their experiences. Design Thinkers tend to stall less, their fear of failure decreases with time and so does anyone who suffers from perfectionism, as the process is iterative. Design Thinkers see failure as an opportunity to learn. They don't fear failure. They embrace failure and this mindset helps to contribute to happiness outcomes in the workplace. Teams tend to move through the process faster and happier.

If you are interested in applying Design Thinking applications in your workplace contact us

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