Design Thinking: Critical Skills through Business Simulations


Continuing our series on the Critical Skillsets that simulation-based learning helps to instill in business learners, today we turn to Design Thinking: the set of principles once reserved for traditional design that are now widely recognized as an important tool for effective problem-solving across numerous business functions.

The Value of Design Thinking in Business

Every business faces complexity and, as a result, has a number of tools in its pocket to help minimize, mitigate, or overcome the challenges it faces on a daily basis. Today, many would argue that one of these tools should be design thinking. Design thinking, the set of processes and methodologies originally reserved for traditional design work (think: UX/UI design), is now being applied in many businesses as a broader approach to technological and strategic problem-solving firm-wide. Design thinking employs a responsive, process-driven, human-first approach that, as many companies are learning, proves useful in a business’ day-to-day operations.

Design thinking can be used in business as a strategy for innovation, product development, operations management, as well as general project management. Innovation giants like Google and Apple, which no doubt have their roots in traditional UX design, have been using design thinking firm-wide for some time now, applying its methodologies to business functions outside of design-related operations.

So what exactly does design thinking entail, and how is it different than traditional problem-solving?

What is Design Thinking?

Traditional problem solving is a more linear and structured approach to describing and resolving an issue. It takes a set of data and works off of that same data to come up with a solution. In contrast, design thinking is a flexible approach of coming up with a custom-tailored solution based on continuous data input. In design thinking, the steps to resolve the problem come through a creative, continuous, and interative process.

In this way, design thinking, as applied to business, encompasses both a general mindset and specific approach to problem-solving. It relies on a human-centered approach focused on building empathy with users, an emphasis on prototyping, as well as a tolerance for failure and reframing.

“Design thinking combines creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained. It’s a mindset focused on solutions and not the problem.”


Design thinking includes the following key values:

  1. Human-centered

If you don’t understand the person who will be using the thing you’re trying to create, it simply won’t work. This principle starts with empathy and focuses on research to really understand people—clients, customers, and users.

2. Creative and fun

Creating an open, playful atmosphere is critical to fueling creativity. It allows you to frame the problem in a new way, look at it from different perspectives, and consider a variety of solutions.

3. Iterative

Once you’ve come up with a solution or product, it’s important to keep challenging and reframing the problem. Test, iterate, test, and test again. Early rounds of testing and feedback help to ensure you are delivering solutions that people will love.

Source: UX Collective

4. Collaborative

People with diverse perspectives work together, creating multidisciplinary teams that encourage different viewpoints and client co-creation. Working in a flat hierarchy.

5. Prototype driven

A prototype can be used to communicate and test your data. Whether it’s a sample product or an idea drawn on paper, creating tangible representations of your solutions allows for sharing and gathering feedback. Source: Accenture

“Design thinking can and does work for all types of organizations, big and small. Yes, it can be challenging to implement at a more established company where process and systems run amuck, but the benefits outweigh the process of cutting through all the red tape. And for entrepreneurs or small business owners, a design thinking culture is yours to create and lead.”


How Business Simulations can be used to instill Design Thinking Skills

At its heart, design thinking is all about understanding users’ needs and developing solutions in a way that is at once creative and systematic. Expanding this mindset to needs and solutions across all business functions, however, can improve ROI on projects of all kinds. As such, design thinking is becoming a critical skill that employers look for in new hires and hope to instill and develop in current employees. This means that business educators, from business school professors to L&D trainers, are also looking for teaching materials and tools that emphasize or compliment a design thinking approach. One way to do this? Business simulation games and simulation-based learning.

Business simulations provide an ideal learning environment for learners to practice design thinking principles. Taking the student out of a traditional lecture or written assignment, simulations place learners in a simulated, multifaceted, dynamic environment where problems arise and must be responded to in real-time. In this way, simulations can help foster the design thinking process, as team members work together to create solutions.

In Simulation-Based Learning, teams can be encouraged to:

  • Emphasize solution creation over problem solving
  • Input and incorporate feedback often
  • Apply a non-linear, collaborative, and iterative process to learning
  • Work through challenges with a creative and fun mindset in a competitive, no-risk environment
  • Focus on the end–result, whether that is the strategic goals of the simulated company or the happiness of the simulated customer


As design thinking continues to become an important way for businesses to become more innovative, responsive, and effective at dealing with complexity, business educators will have to look for ways to instill design thinking skills in their students. Simulation-based learning creates a uniquely realistic learning environment where design thinking skills can be encouraged and refined as learners navigate the game’s challenges in creative and responsive ways.


If you would like to learn more about simulation-based learning and how we can help you improve learning outcomes, contact us today.