Design Thinking vs. Agile: Innovation Processes Compared

Thomas Etter
April 12, 2022

Design Thinking vs. Agile: Innovation Processes Compared

When comparing design thinking vs. agile, agile involves improving the product after its launch. However, it’s worth considering a third option: design sprints.
Design thinking and agile are two of the most popular innovation and development processes right now.
Both design thinking and agile can help create products that need little or no modification after launch. However, agile may be best for products that require continual revision and improvement throughout their lifecycle.
In this article, we examine design thinking vs. agile and why design sprints may be better for companies with little or no development experience or budget.
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What Is Design Thinking?

The aim of design thinking is to create products that address identified end-user needs.
When deciding whether to use design thinking vs. agile, consider that design thinking exercises generally result in a finished product which may need a few minor modifications once completed. Design thinking is usually the better option for physical products, from toys to forklift trucks, but it can also help improve websites and apps.
Leading companies using design thinking include Samsung, Nike, Microsoft, and Apple.

The Design Thinking Process

There are five stages in the design thinking process:
  1. Empathize: Product development teams must first understand the challenges their target users face on a personal level. They need to see the world through their eyes.
  1. Define: Design teams then create case study-like problem statements about the gap between the current end-user experience and their ideal experience.
  1. Ideate: This is the brainstorming part of the design thinking process. The facilitator encourages team members to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve the problems described in the problem statements. The emphasis at this stage is on the quantity of ideas, not quality. Out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged.
  1. Prototype: The team then creates prototypes from ideas generated during the previous phase. Prototypes can range from something as simple as a written summary of a proposed product to a scaled-down model with limited functionality.
  1. Testing: Real-life target users test the prototypes and give their feedback on each one to the team. Weaker ideas will be discarded as the process advances to focus on the strongest potential solutions.
Although there are five stages, the process is not step-by-step. Design thinking is an iterative process, meaning that the team may decide to jump back to an earlier stage at any time. This might happen when, for example, a new usability issue is found at the testing stage. The team could then choose to return to the “ideate” stage to look for ways to solve it.

What Is Agile?

Agile development begins with the creation of a product that is improved continuously during its lifetime. It ends when that product is retired, replaced, or withdrawn from use.
Leading companies that use agile include IBM, Lego, Cisco, Barclays, and Sony.
There are many variations on how to run an agile project. Here, we’ll focus on the most popular one, scrum.

Creating a New Product

From a design thinking vs agile perspective, the first goal in scrum agile is to create a working product or piece of software as opposed to a finished product. From then on, the product undergoes a continuous cycle of improvement based on user research and what a company’s competitors are doing.
The process relies on user stories to succeed. User stories describe:
  • Individual features of a current product as seen from the perspective of the user
  • The ways in which those features do not meet customer needs or expectations
The project manager creates a roadmap from these user stories detailing how each identified issue should be addressed. They then assemble a team whose people have the right skills to come up with solutions.
The manager splits their team members into smaller groups to carry out sprints, four-week periods where teams solve a part of the project. Teams report regularly to their managers so they can monitor the overall progress of the project.
At the end of each sprint, teams then share the progress they’ve made as well as any prototypes they may have created.
Other stakeholders contribute at the end of each sprint too. These may include investors who are being asked to fund the project and marketing teams who need to know the unique selling point of a product to help them sell it to end-users.
The feedback at the end of each sprint cycle then sets the direction for follow-up sprints. The sprint process repeats itself until the project manager gets the final sign-off from the client.

Maintaining an Existing Product

After a product has been launched, agile teams constantly evaluate users’ experiences to look for improvements.
Among other metrics, they consider:
  • Churn ratio: the percentage of customers canceling their subscriptions
  • Customer service monitoring: analyzing the problems most encountered by customers
  • Competitors’ products: studying the features and functionality competitors are adding to their products
  • Sentiment analysis: measuring customer feelings towards a company and its products through natural language processing analysis of social media comments, incoming emails, chatbot exchanges, and so on

Other Agile Approaches

Agile methodology was first developed to meet the needs of software development teams. Its value and principles were first described in the Agile Manifesto released in 2001.
Its uses have since extended well beyond software development. Popular variations on the agile approach include:
  • Kanban: Companies use Kanban to identify bottlenecks in their processes to improve workflows.
  • Lean: Its end goal is the consistent delivery of value to customers by eliminating inefficient processes and reducing waste.
  • Lean startup: Lean startup prioritizes experimentation and improving business models by learning the lessons from “failing fast”.

Design Thinking vs. Agile vs. Design Sprints

When considering design thinking vs agile, remember that they share much in common.
They’re both iterative approaches to problem-solving. They rely on refining prototypes based on feedback from users and other stakeholders. They take around 12 weeks to complete on average.
However, coming up with innovative solutions and products costs a lot of money. To increase the chances of success and lower development costs, many companies use design sprints instead.
Design sprints take five days to get from understanding what end-users want to a minimum viable product (MVP). They can also be used to identify shortcomings in existing products.
With Innoveto’s design sprint service, you and your team will fully understand how customers view your products or services and where they can improve through our 7DAYS INSIGHTS service. Using the Pliik™ app, we’re able to monitor multiple channels of communication to gauge customers’ feelings about your company and its products or services.
Those insights then feed the speed creation process during which your team and ours develop four or five concrete proposals. On the final day, we test the prototypes created from the proposals of actual users so that you can clearly see which idea to take forward.
To find out more, call us at +41 43 205 21 73, email us at, or fill out our contact form.

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