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  • 2023YujiaHuangPhD

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Understanding the Value of Design Thinking for Strategic Business Planning and Experience Creation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Yujia Huang
Publication date2023
Number of pages251
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Design thinking is often viewed as a toolkit for constructive discussion and development at a project level and as a structure for interdisciplinary collaboration at a management level in the context of business practice. However, its application at a strategic level to translate the business mission into holistic business experiences is an underexplored avenue of research. This research study aims to understand the purpose and value of design thinking for strategic business planning and experience creation through the lens of city-based physical retailing. Although this is an academic study, answering the key research question is primarily embedded in observing business practices. The research study utilised an exploratory research methodology approach, critically analysing three comprehensive data sets through a review of scholarly articles, an exploratory workshop, and case study analysis.

The findings from the literature review supported the potential of design thinking for strategic business planning activities. A carefully designed two-day design thinking workshop was conducted, in which 40 experienced designers and professionals tested the assumptions of design thinking value through a hypothetical business planning project. To confirm the key contributions of design thinking to strategic retail planning and experience creation, 14 exploratory city-based physical retail case studies from three global contexts (UK, Japan, and China) were selected from over 150+ retail store visits. Data were collected through in-store observation, document review, interviews, and a detailed graphic review. Insights from the applied research contexts were used to generate the four design value principles and provide a deeper understanding of the strengths and limitations of this research study.

Research findings confirmed that design thinking could be adopted as an organisational innovation driving force to foster strategic business planning through a purpose-led approach. The research proposes Four Design Value Principles, which include: 1. Design for product and service innovation, 2. Design for enhanced multidimensional interactions, 3. Design for experience and atmosphere creation, and 4. Design to achieve transcendent values and impact. The design contributions at each level provide directions for business innovation and associated strategic planning activities. Furthermore, the research argues that 'experiences' are a new lens of measurement for compelling business offerings. Guide by the four design value principles, the researcher discovered that businesses should not plan the product, business experience, customer relationship, and corporate social responsibility as separate entities but orchestrate them strategically around the business core competencies and mission to achieve commercial success and higher humanity values. Therefore, the researcher proposed to use people, place, and planet as purpose-led innovation catalysts to direct the strategy planning, and transferred the four design value principles into an applicable strategic action radar chart for businesses to evaluate their strategic planning activities and encompasses a systematic consideration of holistic experience creation. Although time and resource constraints limit the further discovery of the proposed four design value principles application, it provides a new understanding on the practice of design thinking and establishes a foundation to extend the study into new areas such as measuring strategic business planning, virtual business experience creation, and design for socially responsible business practice.