BlackBerry, once a staple of the smartphone industry, was just recently removed from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This came as no surprise, given that its peak market share has dropped to 0.2%. So what went wrong? Why did BlackBerry fail? And could it have been prevented with a better design thinking process? In this blog post, we’ll explore four ways that design thinking could have saved BlackBerry from failing. We’ll look at customer needs and feedback, product planning and testing, innovation cycles, and more. All of which are key components of a successful design thinking process. Let’s dive in and explore how BlackBerry might have been able to navigate its way out of the downturn.

Why Did BlackBerry Fail?


Globally, BlackBerry has been experiencing a steep decline. Gartner reported in February 2017 that just 210,000 devices with its operating system were sold in the fourth quarter of 2016. That was much worse than in Q4 2015, which itself wasn’t great—with fewer than 907,000 devices sold and a 0.2% market share.

There are many probable reasons why BlackBerry failed – a combination of poor decisions, lack of innovation, and possibly, outdated technology. Of course, it is impossible to pinpoint and provide an exact answer to “why did BlackBerry fail”. Possibly, one of the most important was its lack of design thinking. BlackBerry may not have used design thinking when they created their new line of smartphones, the Z10 and Q10. It may have not taken enough time to understand its customers and what they wanted from a smartphone. Instead, they may rely too heavily on focus groups and market research, which only gives you surface-level insights.

If this was the case, without truly understanding its customers, BlackBerry possibly could not create products that met their needs. And this may have resulted in the Z10 and Q10 being failures. Design thinking possibly could have helped BlackBerry avoid this mistake by helping them create products that people wanted to use.

How Design Thinking Could Have Eliminated the Question – Why Did BlackBerry Fail?

When BlackBerry was first released in 1999, it was a game-changer. It was the first smartphone on the market and changed the way people communicate. However, BlackBerry failed to keep up with the competition and eventually went bankrupt. If BlackBerry had used design thinking, they may have been able to avoid this fate.

Here are 4 ways in which Design Thinking could have eliminated the question – why did BlackBerry fail?

#1 – Focusing on the customer experience:

BlackBerry was known for its strong focus on security and enterprise customers, but it may have failed to anticipate the needs of consumers. Design thinking could have helped them to create a more user-friendly interface and design better products for their target market.

Focusing on the customer experience as a design thinking principle could have saved BlackBerry from failure. Why did BlackBerry fail? One of the possible reasons is that it missed listening to its customers and didn’t keep up with market trends. And maybe, instead, they relied too heavily on their past success when developing new products. 

By utilizing the design thinking principle of focusing on the customer experience, BlackBerry could have mitigated this problem. This would have been achieved by understanding what users wanted in an updated product or service and responding accordingly. Additionally, it would have given them insight into emerging trends in technology before competitors had a chance to respond, allowing them to stay ahead of the competition rather than being left behind. 

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that puts the user first. It can be used to identify user needs and develop solutions that meet those needs. In the case of BlackBerry, design thinking could have helped them understand what users wanted from a smartphone and develop a product that met those needs.

#2 – Being open to change:

BlackBerry was, possibly, slow to adapt to the changing market, and clung to its legacy products for too long. Design thinking encourages iteration and experimentation, which could have helped BlackBerry to embrace new technologies and stay relevant.

By being open to change as a design thinking principle, BlackBerry could have avoided certain pitfalls and ensured its success for much longer. One answer to why did BlackBerry fail is that they were arguably not willing or able to adapt to changing markets and technologies quickly enough. When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, BlackBerry had already been producing devices with physical keyboards – an outdated technology at the time. Had they embraced the idea of touchscreen interfaces earlier on, they could have remained competitive against their competitors and kept up with consumer trends.

Furthermore, by using design thinking principles such as prototyping, iteration and experimentation more proactively throughout their product development process, BlackBerry could have been ready. Ready to respond to new customer needs faster while understanding potential risks associated with any changes. This could have given it early feedback on how customers feel about its products so that adjustments can be made before mass production begins.

Lastly, investing more in research & development (R&D) initiatives related to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), or Internet of Things (IoT) technology could have allowed them to create innovative features for its existing products. This may have created a demand for these products from consumers again. And may have prevented it from falling behind other companies that did invest in R&D during this period – when the mobile phone industry was evolving rapidly.

#3 – Simplifying complexity:

BlackBerry’s products, it might be said, were often complex and difficult to use. Possibly, this was partly due to the company’s focus on security features. Design thinking could have helped them to simplify their products and make them more accessible to a wider range of users.


The mobile phone giant BlackBerry famously failed to stay competitive in the increasingly crowded smartphone market. Why did Blackberry fail? Another possible reason was its complexity which worked against it when competing with simpler, user-friendly products such as Apple’s iPhones and Android devices (Actix released a study in 2013 revealing BlackBerry users consume 50% less data than Android users. Presumably, this means BlackBerry users spend less time browsing the web, watching videos, and uploading images)

If BlackBerry had applied the design thinking principle of simplifying complexity, it could have saved them from failure. By taking a customer-centric approach and focusing on designing products that are easier to use, they would likely have been able to appeal more extensively to consumers over rival brands. Additionally, reducing product complexity and making the technology easier to use would have allowed the company an increased opportunity to improve other features without sacrificing usability. Simplifying complexity is therefore key if companies want their products and services to stand out in competitive markets.

#4 – Improving decision-making and customer loyalty via storytelling:

Storytelling as a design thinking principle could have saved BlackBerry from failure. It could have allowed its decision-makers to better understand the user experience to innovate new products, services, and features that would be more attractive to customers. 

By understanding users’ needs through stories, which are easier for people to relate to than facts or numbers alone, Blackberry’s executives could have created solutions that were tailored specifically for their customer base. This might have allowed them to remain competitive with other mobile phone companies who had adopted modern technologies such as touch screens and app stores much earlier on than Blackberry did.

In addition, using storytelling techniques when marketing and advertising their products could have helped create an emotional connection between customers and the brand. This in turn may have been able to prevent some customers from defecting away during peak competition times.

Read more: business storytelling examples

So What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving. It is a way of thinking that emphasizes creative solutions to problems, and it is often used in business and design contexts. Design thinking has its origins in the field of design, but it has been adapted for use in other fields such as business, education, and government.

Design thinking is often used to generate new ideas or to find innovative solutions to problems. It is a process that can be used to solve complex problems or to create new products or services. Design thinking is an iterative process that typically involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test

Empathize: The first step in design thinking is to empathize with the user. This step involves understanding the user’s needs and wants. It is important to understand the user’s point of view and to put yourself in their shoes.

Define: The second step is to define the problem. This step involves identifying the problem that needs to be solved. Once the problem has been identified, it is important to clearly define it. This will help you to better understand the problem and come up with more creative solutions.

Ideate: The third step is to ideate or generate ideas. This step involves coming up with lots of ideas for potential solutions to the problem. Brainstorming with others can be helpful at this stage. It is important not to judge or criticize ideas at this stage, but simply to generate lots of ideas.

Prototype: The fourth step is to prototype or create a model of the solution. This step involves creating a physical model or prototype of the idea that has been generated. This helps to test the idea and to get feedback from users. Once the prototype is complete, it can be tested and further refined until it is ready for implementation.
A prototype, bear in mind, is meant to be a rough estimate. It is also focused on helping the company be agile and fast.

Test: The fifth and final step is to test the solution. This step involves testing the solution with users to evaluate its effectiveness. It is important to get feedback from users at this stage, as this will help refine the solution and ensure that it meets the user’s needs. DT prescribes testing prototypes as early as possible and as often as possible.

Read more: What is the importance of design thinking?


Design Thinking is a powerful tool that helps companies avoid failure. In the case of BlackBerry, if they had embraced Design Thinking they could have avoided major issues with their products and marketing strategies. Design Thinking would have allowed them to focus on understanding customer needs while creating innovative solutions tailored to those customers’ needs. By using Design Thinking, BlackBerry could have saved itself from its eventual demise and set itself up for success in the long run.

About the author

Anuradha is a passionate Design Thinking practitioner with 10+ years of industry experience. She has dived into the field of Design and Design Thinking, where she is trained to design experiences. She is the Founding Partner and Design lead at Humane Design and Innovation (HDI) Consulting. Her professional career spans various roles in Advisory, UX Design, Service Design, Engineering Design, Design integration, and Training. She was the lead designer of the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG. She has designed multiple digital experiences by conducting strategic UX workshops and design experiences that add functional and emotional value. To her friends & peers, she is the Bonding Agent of the team and always a go-to person. She is an avid reader, blogger & painting enthusiast.

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