Design Thinking

Innovation is the process of creating value by applying novel solutions to meaningful problems. To be successful, an innovation process must deliver three things: superior solutions, lower risks and costs of change, and employee buy-in. Over the years, businesspeople have developed useful tactics for achieving those outcomes. But when trying to apply them, organizations frequently encounter new obstacles and trade-offs. To manage all the trade-offs, organizations need a social technology that addresses these behavioral obstacles as well as the counterproductive biases of human beings. Here, Design Thinking fits the bill.

Traditionally, customer research has been an impersonal exercise. An expert, who may well have pre-existing theories about customer preferences, reviews feedback from focus groups, surveys, and, if available, data on current behavior, and draws inferences about needs. The better the data, the better the inferences. The trouble is, this grounds people in the already articulated needs that the data reflects. They see the data through the lens of their own biases. And they don’t recognize needs people have not expressed.

Using it, we can get behind hard-to-access insights and apply a collection of hands-on methods to help find innovative answers.

Design thinking takes a different approach: Identify hidden needs by having the innovator live the customer’s experience. Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.

How — The Process

Empathize: Conduct research in order to develop knowledge about what your users do, say, think, and feel.

Imagine goal is to improve an onboarding experience for new users. In this phase, we talk to a range of actual users.  Directly observe what they do, how they think, and what they want, asking yourself things like ‘what motivates or discourages users?’ or ‘where do they experience frustration?’ The goal is to gather enough observations that you can truly begin to empathize with your users and their perspectives.

Define: Combine all research and observe where users’ problems exist. In pinpointing your users’ needs, begin to highlight opportunities for innovation.

In the define phase, use the data gathered in the empathize phase to glean insights. Organize all  observations and draw parallels across users’ current experiences. Is there a common pain point across many different users? Identify unmet user needs.

Ideate: Brainstorm a range of crazy, creative ideas that address the unmet user needs identified in the define phase. Give yourself and your team total freedom; no idea is too far-fetched, and quantity supersedes quality.

At this phase, bring team members together and sketch out many different ideas. Then, have them share ideas with one another, mixing and remixing, building on others’ ideas.

Prototype: Build real, tactile representations for a subset of ideas. The goal of this phase is to understand what components of ideas work, and which do not. In this phase we begin to weigh the impact vs. feasibility of ideas through feedback on your prototypes.

Make your ideas tactile. If it is a new landing page, draw out a wireframe and get feedback internally.  Change it based on feedback, then prototype it again in quick and dirty code. Then, share it with another group of people.

Test: Return to users for feedback. Ask yourself ‘Does this solution meet users’ needs?’ and ‘Has it improved how they feel, think, or do their tasks?’

Put prototype in front of real customers and verify that it achieves goals. Has the users’ perspective during onboarding improved? Does the new landing page increase time or money spent on your site? As you are executing your vision, continue to test along the way.

Design thinking’s value as a world-improving, driving force in business (global heavyweights such as Google, Apple and Airbnb have wielded it to notable effect) matches its status as a popular subject at leading international universities. With design thinking, teams have the freedom to generate ground-breaking solutions. Using it, we can get behind hard-to-access insights and apply a collection of hands-on methods to help find innovative answers.

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