Design for Growth

How can design thinking be applied in small and medium sized organisations to add perspective, inspire creative ideas and lead to innovative solutions?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a practice which combines empathy, creativity, and rationality to guide the creation of innovative solutions to real world problems. By championing a people-centred approach, design thinking aims to uncover unspoken human needs and connect this with what is feasible. As a process, this can be seen through the Design Councils double diamond framework which contains four key stages:

Discover - research and empathise to identify user needs and opportunities.

Define - interpret findings and narrow down on the challenges to address.

Develop - generate, iterate, and evaluate ideas.

Deliver - prototype, test assumptions, and refine solutions.

In reality this is not a linear process. It requires constant diverging (creating choices) and converging (making choices), and a willingness to re-evaluate what you know at every stage. At Edge, this process is a common thread through our work as a means of helping organisations to challenge the status quo.

Is design not just for creatives?

As a 2020 graduate of Northumbria Universities Design for Industry course, I have often heard it said that design is only for people who see themselves as creative. Since working at Edge, I have had the opportunity to disprove this assumption and the pleasure of seeing the positive impact design thinking can have on organisations when the right people are involved.

My colleague and I recently had the opportunity to further disprove this through our Design for Growth seminar at the Grow Tees Valley business conference. In attendance, were a range of ages, backgrounds, and disciplines, from college students to managing directors. The participants were mostly unfamiliar with design thinking tools and processes before the session.

In teams of up to ten, we gave each group a simple paper coffee filter and presented them with the following challenge: This is not a coffee filter. What is it?

 Starting with their coffee filter and a choice of who to design for, each group went through the process of empathising with their target user, defining what their users’ challenges are, creating ideas of how they could overcome the challenges and finally using the coffee filter to prototype their solution.

The groups created a variety of solutions including a folding fidget device to help tackle social anxiety with conversational prompts, and environmentally friendly disposable sleeve covers to stop children from wiping their food all over their clothes.

Granted, processes like this can often feel alien at first, but if these groups can produce such great and varied solutions with a coffee filter, two activities, and less than 40 minutes, what is stopping you?

What is the value of design thinking?

 Design thinking is proven to improve customer experience, increase revenue growth, accelerate time to market and drive social change. Of course, that does not mean every design process will lead to success, by nature all innovation processes are risky and uncertain. However, by encouraging quick, cheap, and smart failures, design thinking can also help to reduce this risk.

In the 5 months that I have worked at Edge I have already started to witness the impact design thinking can have on organisations. From small business re-imagining their concept in a way that better suits their users and investor needs, to cross-sector organisations co-designing a framework future collaboration, the feedback has carried a consistent message: the process helps people to view a problem from a new perspective.

In my opinion the potential to better imagine the perspective of another person is huge, and that is what makes my work so exciting.

Where does people meet process?

 It can sometimes seem contradictory talking about innovation while also talking about a structured process. After all, how can the act of creating something entirely new rely on a process which already exists?

The answer is that as much as we talk about processes and tools, design thinking relies on flexibility to adapt the plan based on the circumstance. The value of tools and processes used lies in the mindsets behind them. Seeking new perspectives and ideas, aiming to understand a challenge as fully as possible before trying to solve it and taking action so that fear of failure does not prevent progress.

That said the tools and processes are especially useful when this way of working is unfamiliar. New ways of working require behavioural change, which can be difficult without structure. Tools such as ‘personas’, ‘value proposition canvases’ and ‘journey maps’ are great for making ambiguous processes more tangible and providing guidance to ensure the human needs are considered in detail.

Design for Growth…

 At Edge, we believe that supporting organisations to incorporate design-led thinking tools and processes into their businesses will create a positive impact and growth within the Tees Valley. However, we also acknowledge that while large businesses often have large budgets to invest in design, training, and expert facilitation, this is not the case for smaller organisations.

As part of the Grow Tees Valley programme, Teesside University has commissioned Edge Innovation to deliver design thinking support to local businesses. Design for Growth is focused on the development of design thinking knowledge and the application of specific tools and mindsets to develop innovative solutions, products and services.

From November 2022 to March 2023, selected small to medium sized organisations from the Tees Valley will be able to participate in a series of workshops and business support activities to shape their future products or services.

The support activities, delivered by Edge, will consist of:

  • A series of cohort-based design workshops, which will provide more detail on each stage of the design process: discover, define, develop, and deliver. Providing processes and activities to help you to develop a greater understanding of your users’ needs and how to use this to develop your proposition.
  • The opportunity to receive coaching in-between each workshop. Coaching for SMEs to review their current offering and supported through the implementation of design led processes on a 1 to 1 basis.

The programme is free to join and will include a minimum of 12 hours support delivered by Edge.

Want to know more?

For more details on the Design for Growth programme, please check out our website:

Design for Growth

Thanks for reading,


Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.