“Design thinking draws on logic, imagination, intuition and systemic reasoning to explore the possibilities of what could be and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer).
A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution-focused and action-oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination. Design thinking is linked to an improved future and seeks to build ideas up—unlike critical thinking, which breaks them down.
Design thinking informs human-centered innovation and begins with developing an understanding of customers’ or users’ unmet or unarticulated needs”
— Linda Naiman, Founder of Creativity at Work.
What is Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action-oriented towards creating a preferred future. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer).
“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
– Tim Brown CEO, IDEO
What is User Experience (UX) Design?
User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.
“User Experience Design” is often used interchangeably with terms such as “User Interface Design” and “Usability”. However, while Usability and User Interface Design are important aspects of UX Design, they are subsets of it – UX design covers a vast array of other areas, too. A UX designer is concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function. It is a story that begins before the device is even in the user’s hands.
“The process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product”Le
LET’S LOOK AT 3 business benefits of the design thinking process:
1.Nurtures customer-centric product innovation
Design thinking forces UX pros, developers and others involved in innovation to focus on the people they’re designing for in the first place: the end users and customers.
“At IBM, we define design as the intent behind an outcome,” writes Lara Hanlon, software product designer at IBM, in a recent SiliconRepublic article. “We use design thinking to form intent by developing understanding and empathy for our users.”
Design thinking is helping IBM accelerate the pace of innovation while boosting value for users. Adds Hanlon –
“When you use design thinking, your users are your North Star. They are the premise for every action you take. You will measure your success based on the value you bring to them, actively involve them in your work to help you understand the problem, and get feedback on ideas along the way.”
According to Jennifer Kilian, digital vice president of McKinsey Digital Labs, adopting the design thinking principle of putting the customer first is important because
“if you solve for their needs first, you’ll always win.”
2. Removes pain points in the customer journey
As a human-centered framework, the design thinking process starts with empathy.
“Elicit stories from the people you talk to, and always ask ‘Why?’ to uncover deeper meaning,” says a Stanford guide on design thinking. Observing, listening and engaging with customers is key step to the process.
With empathy, product developers can walk in their customer’s shoes and discover obstacles in the customer journey. According to Ryan Hart, principal analyst at Forrester, companies like General Electric and IBM have been able to eliminate customer pain points by adopting design thinking.
“When you look at GE’s old DNA, it was very much about ‘How do we make money?’ and it was built on a highly siloed, very traditional manufacturing model,”
Hart said at a Forrester Customer Experience Marketing event in Sydney earlier this year.
“In 2010, GE did an internal audit and found out that it was releasing hundreds of products across multiple business lines every year, but had zero consistent user-experience strategies and was losing touch with its customers.” By identifying and fixing pain points, GE improved the customer experience and saved costs. “For them to pivot and add design thinking into the DNA equation was a big step, but the effects were felt immediately,”
“In fact, in the first year, the company realized $15 million could be saved in development costs alone.”
3. Informs what not to do
When it comes to better products and more seamless customer experiences, simpler is often better.
“Many products built on an emotional value proposition are simpler than competitors’ offerings,” writes Jon Kolko, vice president of design at the education tech company Blackboard, in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “This restraint grows out of deliberate decisions about what the product should do and, just as important, what it should not do. By removing features, a company offers customers a clear, simple experience.”
Design thinking can help business leaders practice necessary restraint. That’s because a critical step in design thinking is clearly defining “the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context,” according to the Stanford University Institute of Design. This focuses the process, helping identify which features and experiences should be dropped.
The latter steps in the design thinking process—ideation, prototyping and testing—help further validate the features, processes and experiences that customers are looking for.
How Design Thinking Applies in Practice
So you’re not Amazon or Uber. But you do design products with the customers in mind. Adomavicius (Aurimas Adomavicius, president and co-founder of Devbridge Group) shared an example of where design thinking leads to better customer experience outcomes. He cited a bank application creation process. Historically, organizations would build applications and software like this by completing a lengthy requirements process. A business analyst then drafts probably a 100-page document that defines the market opportunity, the requirements, the functional needs and so on. Next, someone draws out the different fields necessary for the application and then someone designs the interface, builds the interface, integrates it, tests it and then brings it to market.
And herein lies the problem, according to Adomavicius: only then would an actual user get to see the finished product, which in this case is an online banking experience that the bank was looking to launch. “In design thinking, you would start by having a team emphasize with the end customer/end-users, and actually design and define the solution based on the customer needs versus a business analyst that is talking to stakeholders and internal stakeholders at the bank at the company,” Adomavicius said.
“So, if you look at the different stages of design thinking, they go from emphasizing with the end-user, defined requirements, ideate over those requirements of how to actually do the execution of the requirements, prototype those and then test.”
Stages of Design Thinking
The design thinking process comprises six stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement. The process flow is not necessarily linear—some stages may be repeated or revisited.
A big part of the design thinking process is the ability to empathize with the people for whom you want to create value. This stage involves gathering data about your customers by ethnographic methods such as experience mapping instead of traditional methods such as surveys and focus groups. These traditional methods are not considered reliable or useful in the early innovation process because people are not necessarily good at recognizing and giving voice to their latent needs.
Once you have complete knowledge about your customer, use the information to discover where their problems exist. While narrowing down on the problem(s), identify opportunities for innovation.
This stage involves generating creative ideas to address issues that have been defined in the previous stage. It is recommended that team members get together to tease out their individual ideas and then share them with each other, thus allowing a remixing and expansion of ideas. Some ideas are tested for feasibility in the next few stages.
To test if the chosen idea(s) work, a real prototype is created. By inviting feedback on the prototype, an impact versus feasibility study can be done for each idea. Thus, new ideas are treated as hypotheses that are to be tested instead of assuming that they will work using estimates made with existing data.
Ask customers for their feedback on your prototype. Answers to questions like “Does this solution meet the needs of the customer?” and “Has this solution improved the way that customers feel or think?” will determine what improvements or variations are required.
In this stage, the solution is converted into reality and is delivered to customers. This final step is crucial because true innovation can only take place if the implementation of the solution is done properly.
Some Benefits of having a Design Thinking Approach
Helps in tackling creative challenges: Design thinking gives you an opportunity to take a look at problems from a completely different perspective. The process of design thinking allows you to look at an existing issue in a company using creativity. The entire process will involve some serious brainstorming and the formulation of fresh ideas, which can expand the learner’s knowledge. By putting design thinking approach to use, professionals are able to collaborate with one another to get feedback, which thereby helps in creating an invaluable experience to end clients.
Helps in effectively meeting client requirements: As design thinking involves prototyping, all the products at the MVP stage will go through multiple rounds of testing and customer feedback for assured quality. By embracing the design thinking approach, you will most likely meet client expectations as they were directly involved in the design and development process.
Expand your knowledge with design thinking: The design process goes through multiple evaluations. The process does not stop even after the deliverable is complete. Companies continue to measure the results based on the feedback received and ensure that the customer is having the best experience using the product. By involving oneself in such a process, the design thinkers constantly improve their understanding of their customers, and as a result, they will be able to figure out certain aspects such as what tools should be used, how to close the weak gaps in the deliverable and so on.
Avoid These Common Mistakes with Design Thinking
So if you’re ready to start moulding design thinking strategies into your organizations, avoid these common pitfalls:
Don’t go by the book – You can’t look at the fundamental ways of applying design thinking while still operating in a very much linear, or waterfall fashion, Adomavicius said. For instance, we oftentimes run into executives, or even teams, in departments who say, “We have $5 million dollars, so we have one attempt to get this right and if all else fails, everyone’s heads will roll.” According to Adomavicius, this is akin to “anti-design thinking.” “Because to make it the premise that you have a single attempt to get something right implies a linear fashion of design and requirements gathering.”
Don’t insert design thinking as a formulaic process that embeds itself in current processes and in individual departments rather than looking at the whole picture structurally. Ideally, Hallstrup said, an organization collaborates with designers to see which touchpoints are missing a customer-centric approach, assess the company’s culture and capabilities and start implementing internal change to support external products and services in a way that’s sustainable and scalable in a time frame that spans years, not months.
Don’t feel you need to create a level of “certainty” at one stage before proceeding to the next – It’s important to recognize, Guzman said, that most progress happens by fluidly moving and continuously collaborating between the steps. “By over-investing in building fidelity vs. just quickly prototyping an idea so it can fail quickly,” Guzman said, “brands run the risk of perceiving collaboration as a drawback rather than a strength, and ultimately, not making enough time for the whole process to actually play out.”
Don’t look at design as a creative services group and have them designing marketing materials, user interfaces for websites and apps or employee communications. According to Kanazawa, design thinking should be a discipline built into all operations in order to bring customer and human insights into anything from products to manufacturing operations, sales engagement approaches and onboarding and developing employees.
If we take a closer look at a business, we will come to a realization that the lines between product/services and user environments are blurring. If companies can bring out an integrated customer experience, it will open up opportunities to build new businesses.
Design thinking is not just a trend that will fade away in a month. It is definitely gaining some serious traction, not just in product companies, but also in other fields such as education and science.