chevron_left Back to insights

Design Thinking and BI: a practical guide for getting started



Reading time

5 minutes


Stefano Moi


In this article, you discover how we can help you apply Design Thinking principles in data projects as a user-centric method for delivering business value. Why? Let's take a common situation as a starting point.

The success of any software application hinges on end-user satisfaction and user adoption rates. But when it comes to data projects, we typically see data teams focus on technical delivery aspects. Building a proper understanding of the people who will be using the Business Intelligence tools is often forgotten. In addition, BI projects often encounter setbacks due to a lack of clear goals or a loss of focus of users during the project (“why are we doing this again?”). Consequently, people are often stuck with BI tools that do not meet their needs and wants, which can lead to user frustration and dissatisfaction.

Why BI projects might need Design Thinking

In all types of IT projects, User Experience is becoming increasingly important. This is also true for BI projects for two big reasons

  • Firstly, there is an overload of technological solutions for most data problems.
    • Very often, these solutions are quite expensive to implement and complex to use. In addition, software vendors are continuously unleashing new features on their users. Therefore, it is very important for organizations to learn to understand their users and their needs to make the right investment choices when selecting and implementing a tool.
  • Second, many BI users must process large amounts of data and quite often they still need to perform a lot of manual steps before they can obtain the desired insights.
    • We notice that it is often difficult for non-technical users to concretize their requirements, let alone their latent needs that they are not completely aware of. Consequently, they often receive solutions that do not quite meet their requirements and lead to dissatisfaction.

So, it would be a great advantage if we could properly translate the goals, wishes and ways of working of users into requirements for a BI solution before selecting and implementing a BI tool. Design Thinking is the way to go (if you ask The Value Hub).

Applying Design Thinking in BI projects

In the Design Thinking Process, we will involve different users who will each provide input from their individual perspectives. Although the Design Thinking is an iterative and not always linear process, there are several steps you can take in the context of BI projects. In each step, we apply different techniques in a workshop format to help users share their known and latent needs for the future reports. 

1. Sketch

In a first workshop, we ask a group of users to draw up their ideas on a piece of paper. This allows them to see their own ideas from the perspective of an outsider, as it were. On top of that, it also helps others to better understand your ideas.

Once an idea is put on paper, it is also easier for the group to continue working together and further refine their ideas. In our experience, this technique boosts involvement of the workshop participants while quickly leading to concrete ideas. 

2. Wireframe

In a next step, we will join and structure the ideas in a wireframe. A wireframe provides an overview of the expected contents, components and functionalities of the report. In this step, the future User Interface elements will start to appear. For BI projects, we typically combine the Sketch and Wireframe steps in one single workshop.

3. Storyboarding

During the following Design Thinking workshop, we map the user journey through storyboarding. We see that developers often focus on how an application works, but often miss to capture how users work with the application. In this step we will tell a double story. On the one hand, there is the story of how people will be using their reports in their day-to-day workflow. On the other hand, it's about how they should be able to achieve the goals they have determined themselves.

Some questions that you should be asking are:

  • “What do you need to do with the data that you’ll be getting?”
  • “Which questions do you need to answer?”
  • “Which insights do you need in order to know if you should take action?”
  • “What possible actions might you be taking?”

Next, you can map the users’ input to a storyboard that shows the several screens a user will see when he’s interacting with the report. In this step, the focus is on the ‘flow’ that should closely follow the natural way of working of the involved users. 


4. Prototyping

In this step, we see the future reports come to life as a prototype. In BI context this means that we’ll create a first interactive “application”. This application focusses on how users will be working with the tool and how the tool could allow users to gain their desired insights more efficiently.

Important sidenote: we’re not aiming to deliver a visually pleasing application, a technically perfect solution, or show real data.

Instead, we want to allow users to test the prototype application. Depending on the feedback we receive from users, we can perform adjustments to the prototype or move forward towards the technical development of the actual application.

4 Benefits of Design Thinking in BI projects

  • Focus on creating value, not implementing features
    • By using Design Thinking as a requirement gathering method, we can elicit both obvious and less obvious user needs. And we can do that without thinking in terms of technological limitations or possibilities. We can then focus on selecting and/or implementing the BI platform that will get the job done.
  • User Adoption By Design
    • By involving users in designing their future solution, they will help us assure that the future reports will satisfy their needs. On top of that, they will be getting reports that they might recognize, as they will be based on the wireframes that they have elaborated themselves. 
  • Real life testing scenarios
    • The storyboarding technique allows us to elaborate usage scenarios of the future application. This will help us to perform realistic end-to-end test scenarios in the later stages of development. 
  • Efficiency of the development process
    • Through the Design Thinking Process, we’re able to capture the requirements, priorities, and possible risks for our future solution early on. This will allow us to better organize the development process and deliver value as quickly as possible.

In a nutshell

By applying Design Thinking Principles in BI projects, organizations can ensure that the end result of the project aligns with the needs and goals of the users. This way, the value of the solution to-be is already clear before any development has started. In this article, you now know how Design Thinking principles can be used in various contexts as a user-centric. It's used to bridge the gap between technical experts and business users to tackle any kind of problem.

Curious how our experts can help you design the solution to your problems? We’re here to listen to your challenge!

about the author

Stefano Moi

Stefano Moi is Sales Manager, Digital Coach and Technology & AI Strategist at The Value Hub. As Sales Manager, he focusses on building and maintaining relationships with values customers, strategic partners and the daily sales and marketing coordination. In his role as Digital Coach and Technology & AI Strategist, he helps and advises organizations towards a digital product mindset and guides them through the opportunities of AI and innovation. He loves inspiring others and translates that passion (and his knowledge) to relevant use cases and advise as a Keynote and Guest speaker on various business innovation topics.

Discover other insights