“Good design is good business” is a phrase coined by Thomas John Watson Jr., Chairman and CEO of IBM from 1952—1971, but more recently you may have heard about the importance of ‘strategic design thinking’ or ‘building a design thinking business culture.’

What do those statements mean exactly? And how can you use design thinking in your business or daily working life? Our latest WBI Breakfast covered those questions and more, with an insightful exploration of the topic.

An eager audience gathered at Fleet Street to hear from a panel of experts. Chaired by Lara Hanlon, Designer in Residence at IBM Design, a conversation between Samantha Davies from online banking service Monzo and Zoë Stanton, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Uscreates (based at Vox Studios) proved engaging and thought provoking.

What is design thinking?

Lara spends her time at IBM Design helping to create a culture of design alongside a global team of designers. As an advocate for creating sustainable futures by design, Lara lectures part-time at the Institute of Art Design + Technology, specialising in Design Thinking, User Experience (UX) and UI module delivery.

“we’ve seen a huge shift in how we consume content lately, we’ve moved from paper to screens which brings with it a lot of challenges. Added to that we don’t seem to have as much attention, as we use devices that take up so much of our time” she says. And that’s where design thinking steps in, “it seeks to solve problems in a creative way and bridge the gaps between how we used to do something and how we could do it better in the future.”

Zoë said: “for me design thinking is a different and often (but not always) a better way of solving problems,” and Samantha agreed adding that “design thinking is about the creative process, but also using empathy and experimentation to find the best solution to problems.”

Zoë’s role at Uscreates is to lead the business to be the 'go to' service design agency in health, wellbeing and public services. She has over 15 years’ experience designing, directing and delivering positive change across the public, private and third sector.

She explained: “We are always looking for opportunities to use design thinking, the latest example being applying it to childhood obesity. There’s lots going on but it’s a huge problem and we’re looking for new ways to solve it. First, we worked to understand it and then to try and develop solutions, one of which is a new healthy, affordable food delivery service, MakeKit, to help families cook and eat healthy food together.”

Although that might seem like a big problem to try and take on, that’s the power of design thinking and it doesn’t have to be a quick fix or instantly make a huge change. The panel agreed that even smaller shifts in thinking can begin to create bigger ones further down the line, design thinking is just about taking those first steps to come at the problem from a different angle to begin with.

Is Design Thinking good business?WBI Breakfast Fleet Street

Is design thinking good business?

The panel discussed if this way of problem solving could be applied to business, and whether it was ultimately beneficial. The short answer, of course, “yes and yes”, but each had a different take on what that might look like for the sectors they are currently involved in.

Samantha has been specialising in user research and design strategy for the last 8 years. Now working for Monzo Bank, she conducts research to understand people – their motivations, behaviours and pain points – then uses her findings to guide design and product teams towards a shared, people-centred vision.

She said: “Design thinking is absolutely good business, but it’s also important how we do it. At Monzo we offer as it as a service to our clients, solving tricky challenges and problems. For clients, the value of design thinking is starting to sink in and they can see how valuable it is. But it can’t just be plugged in, it has to come from the top and filter in throughout the team.”

Samantha described the different user research projects conducted at Monzo; transformation projects and innovation projects. Both have their purpose, but Monzo are always looking to push boundaries and innovate. “Rather than simply move the needle within the same frame of thinking, if you start from scratch, you can completely change the frame itself,” Samantha says.

Collaboration through Design ThinkingWBI Breakfast Fleet Street

Monzo’s latest new service ‘pots’ has been designed to help customers funnel their money into different sections of their account, so they can save and set money aside. It stops people having to set up numerous accounts, sometimes even with different banks. It’s quick to create, allowing them to still have an overview of their entire account. This idea came from the company’s forum, where customers can tell the company what they’d like to see as a feature. “It’s 2018 and people don’t know where all their money is — that’s crazy” says Samantha. “We formed this idea from insight and qualitative data from customers. The interaction we have with our customers is what makes Monzo a little different.”

“The product strategy at Monzo at the moment is going through an interesting time,” says Samantha. The company is about to hit its third birthday, and with over half a million customers, they recently moved from a simple top-up cash card onto a current account. Design thinking drives decisions like this, and Samantha is proud of Monzo’s ability to listen to its customers and provide helpful solutions to the issues they face with banking: “we’re designing for our future customers as well as using historical data. We are doing something differently.”


A useful tool that design thinking regularly employs is storytelling. Storytelling is an essential activity for sharing experiences, explaining values, and deciding on solutions through verbal and visual accounts. “It’s really great at helping businesses thinking about their future state – then they can go off to decide on the technical aspects and how they will support that vision,” says Zoë.

“I believe everyone is creative,” adds Lara. “Large corporations can sometimes struggle to believe in the importance of storytelling and can tend to avoid it, but it’s a great way to get them to buy into an idea and support it. It’s the why behind the project or product development.”

“Businesses don’t always like the idea of storytelling because it sounds fluffy, but it really works. We might have big data, but it’s the stories that help people solve the problem or understand it better. They inspire change,” Zoë agrees.

Samantha reminds us: “You can tell stories through numbers too – it doesn’t just have to be through creative story boards. It’s a narrative.

The idea is that storytelling allows you to tap into the emotions going on behind the issue. Accessing how people feel about a product or what they think of how they use a service is vital to understanding how it can be improved.

Samantha explains: “human emotion brings a project it to life and it drives people. The only thing that can make people change their minds about something is their emotions, not data or info, that’s been proven over and over again. Listen to what people have to say. It’s about context. You can get stuck focusing on the product, but how are they using in the real world, alongside other things? That changes things.”

Watch the discussion on Design Thinking here:


One of the most powerful aspects of design thinking, the panel agree, is that it tends to lead naturally to collaborative working and helps develop a culture around working to solve problems as a team. Lara highlighted: “It’s about interaction and bringing in information from lots of different and varied sources to make sure it’s fresh and new.”

Discussing the culture Design Thinking encouragesWBI Fleet Street

“It’s also about building a culture – not just new services and products. You bring diverse groups of people together – and that’s always a unique way of working. It’s about bouncing off each other and bringing everyone’s ideas together to work through them.” She acknowledges however: “the culture takes time though, you can’t just plug it in.”

Samantha described the culture at Monzo: “It really helps design thinking thrive. There’s no blame culture – as an individual you can bring an idea to the table. We learn from our mistakes and use them for improvement. As cheesy as it sounds, you’re working with friends.” She adds: “There’s curiosity – I don’t have all the answers and I won’t pretend I do, we explore everything together.”

Zoë said: “some of the ideas you come up with are perhaps not that different initially, but at Uscreates we try various things and test, try again and potentially fail to make sure we’re pushing boundaries.” It’s not always about success but discovering new ideas and possibilities in the mistakes.

Lara suggested small changes using video call to change things up and bring teams together: “Some of the engineers working on a project we were conducting had never seen each other in 15 years! As humans, we thrive on interaction, so we tried a video call and using Mural (a digital interactive whiteboard). It totally flipped the game – people started working differently.” This is just one example of a small change that can make a big difference in collaboration. Samantha and Zoë agreed that making little shifts like that over time can help bigger ones seem less dauting and help everyone stay on board.

Design Thinking is creative problem solvingWBI Breakfast Fleet Street

To round up the discussion, the panel opened up for questions from the floor. Here’s some useful tips and advice that got uncovered during this portion of the breakfast:


Samantha — “The development of tech has meant a lot of people are offering the same thing – so now it needs to be about making people want to come back for more. Make sure you’re using design thinking to be different and stand out, but more importantly solve people’s problems or ease pain points.”

Zoë — “When you’re thinking of prototyping a product you can do it quite cheaply. Draw it out, use stickers as buttons, role play to see what a customer might come up against when using it. Initially cost shouldn’t be an issue. Try out as many ideas as you think have legs before you refine anything.”

Samantha — “Think what is that we’re actually trying to change? Because there might be a lot of things, but you can’t do it all. Try to choose two or three and make smaller changes to begin with.”


Lara — AI won’t have as big an impact on design thinking as some think because AI’s built on algorithms and tech, so you can’t swap it in because design thinking is about creativity, empathy, new thoughts and ideas. AI can’t replace that human skill. I feel pretty strongly about that.”

Samantha – “AI is enhancing experiences we already have and things we already do. We should think of it as potentially another trick we can integrate into the solution. I don’t see it impacting in a negative way.”


Lara – Make sure that the team understands each other, especially if you’re working remotely or across the world (body language is important in communication, so it’s a challenge). Use time wisely so everyone can talk to one another and build on it. Be strategic not just concentrating on delivering all the time.

Samantha — “Customers don’t often know what they want so I look at what they do. People aren’t designers, we are, we have to figure out their problems and what could solve them.”

Zoë — “Trust your intuition. You know your customers quite well already, so lead the way. Make a creative leap and put something out there. Then safely grow and test.”

Lara — “Try something different. Run the meeting differently, answering the phone differently – do one thing, and then learn from it. At least you’ll know. Try, test, do it again.”

Zoë — “Focus on the why, not the what.”

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Books and further reading:

Our panel shared their favourite resources for when they need a little inspiration or want to stay on top of the latest developments in the design world…

A global design company, IDEO always has insightful, well written pieces to expand your knowledge.

Written by the CEO of IDEO, this book challenges the notion that brilliant ideas come only from the minds of geniuses, and fully formed at that. It celebrates the collaborative approach to design thinking and using methods that match a client’s needs.

Filled with useful information, tools and links to other interesting pieces, this is a great place to explore and get inspired.

Slow Reader is intended to inspire readers well beyond the design field, serving as a vehicle for reflection, imagination and further investigation of "slower" approaches to living.

This is a podcast series that teaches you to be more productive and creative, but not by speeding up, but by quite the opposite – slowing down.

This website and eBook publisher offers editorial content and professional resources for web developers and web designers. Founded by Sven Lennartz and Vitaly Friedman as part of the German-based Smashing Media AG, it also runs web design Smashing Conferences in Europe and North America.

This is an online peer-written journal that aims to push the boundaries of design thinking and improve how companies think about

Jared is one of the most knowledgeable people on User Experience (UX) and frequently gives talks on the subject. He’s the CEO and founding principal of User Interface Engineering (UIE), the largest UX consulting and research organisation of its kind in the world.

The panel also recommended checking out the books he has written:

Jared also regularly writes for another resource the panel like to use:

The site covers a range of topics from politics to creativity, but it’s all from experts in the field.

There are a variety of TED Talks on the subject too:

The panel agreed that it’s also a good idea to sign up to the mailing lists of companies or tools you like and who regularly write on the topic of design. Most also have a blog to expand on thoughts or share articles written by experts and thought leaders. Some of their favourites are: