In this post-pandemic world, innovation has never been more important than it is now. Innovative companies are not just surviving the crisis but thriving during the crisis, while companies who have been slow to adapt have suffered in the waves of change.
It comes at no surprise that some of the world’s leading brands (Apple, Google, Tesla, Alibaba Samsung, and GE) have rapidly adopted the Design Thinking approach, integrating creative problem solving, technology adoption and future-proofing to propel their business forward. Design Thinking is also being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford, Harvard and MIT.
What is Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is a method developed by IDEO, a Global Consultancy based in Palo Alto, California. It is an iterative user-centric process that seeks to understand the user, challenge traditional assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions.
Design Thinking encourages organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes. When you sit down to create a solution for a business need, the first question should always be what’s the human need behind it?
In employing design thinking, you’re pulling together what’s desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows those who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges. The process starts with taking action and understanding the right questions. It’s about embracing simple mindset shifts and tackling problems from a new direction.
How Does Design Thinking Work?
The Design Thinking process can be broken down into five steps or phases, as per the aforementioned Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Stanford (otherwise known as d.school): Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Phase 1: Empathise
Empathy provides a critical starting point for Design Thinking. The first stage of the process is spent getting to know the user and understanding their wants, needs and objectives. This means observing and engaging with people in order to understand them on a psychological and emotional level. During this phase, the designer seeks to set aside their assumptions and gather real insights about the user. Learn all about key empathy-building methods here.
Phase 2: Define
The second stage in the Design Thinking process is dedicated to defining the problem. You’ll gather all of your findings from the empathise phase and start to make sense of them: what difficulties and barriers are your users coming up against? What patterns do you observe? What is the big user problem that your team needs to solve? By the end of the define phase, you will have a clear problem statement. The key here is to frame the problem in a user-centered way; rather than saying “We need to…”, frame it in terms of your user: “Retirees in the Bay area need…”
Once you’ve formulated the problem into words, you can start to come up with solutions and ideas — which brings us onto stage three.
Phase 3: Ideate
With a solid understanding of your users and a clear problem statement in mind, it’s time to start working on potential solutions. The third phase in the Design Thinking process is where creativity happens, and it’s crucial to point out that the ideation stage is a judgment-free zone! Designers will hold ideation sessions in order to come up with as many new angles and ideas as possible. There are many different types of ideation techniques that designers might use, from brainstorming and mind-mapping to bodystorming (roleplay scenarios) and provocation — an extreme lateral-thinking technique that gets the designer to challenge established beliefs and explore new options and alternatives. Towards the end of the ideation phase, you’ll narrow it down to a few ideas with which to move forward. You can learn about all the most important ideation techniques here.
Phase 4: Prototype
The fourth step in the Design Thinking process is all about experimentation and turning ideas into tangible products. A prototype is basically a scaled-down version of the product which incorporates the potential solutions identified in the previous stages. This step is key in putting each solution to the test and highlighting any constraints and flaws. Throughout the prototype stage, the proposed solutions may be accepted, improved, redesigned or rejected depending on how they fare in prototype form.
Phase 5: Test
After prototyping comes user testing, but it’s important to note that this is rarely the end of the Design Thinking process. In reality, the results of the testing phase will often lead you back to a previous step, providing the insights you need to redefine the original problem statement or to come up with new ideas you hadn’t thought of before.
Some of these steps/phases may happen several times, and you may even jump back and forth between them. Moving through the phases of design thinking can take you from a blank slate to a new, innovative solution.
How Does Design Thinking Benefits You?
Now we know more about how Design Thinking works, let’s consider why it matters. There are many benefits of using a Design Thinking approach — be it in a business, educational, personal or social context. Integrating Design Thinking into your business process can add huge value, ultimately ensuring that the products you design are not only desirable for customers, but also viable in terms of company budget and resources.
1. Fosters Creativity and Innovation
As human beings, we rely on the knowledge and experiences we have accumulated to inform our actions. We form patterns and habits that, while useful in certain situations, can limit our view of things when it comes to problem-solving. Rather than repeating the same tried-and-tested methods, Design Thinking encourages us to remove our blinkers and consider alternative solutions. The entire process lends itself to challenging assumptions and established beliefs, encouraging all stakeholders to think outside the box, exploring new pathways and ideas. This fosters a culture of creativity and innovation.
2. Significantly Reduces Time-To-Market
The philosophy of “design, test and iterate” is central to the process. It allows you to have those completely unexpected breakthroughs by creating several rapid prototypes and encouraging fast feedback from actual users and customers before spending too much time, effort or money on any one idea. With its emphasis on problem-solving and finding viable solutions, Design Thinking can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on design and development.
3. Cost Savings and a Great ROI
Getting successful products to market faster ultimately saves the business money. Design Thinking has been proven to yield a significant return on investment; teams that are applying IBM’s Design Thinking practices, for example, have calculated an ROI of up to 300% as a result.
A recent McKinsey study identified significant financial benefits of a human-centered design approach: 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns. This extensive study goes to show that there can be a significant financial, measurable outcomes and ROI that result from a consistent Design Thinking approach to business.
4. Improves Customer Retention and Loyalty
The very foundation of Design Thinking is empathy. Sometimes referred to as “discovery”, empathy requires that we seek to understand and identify with the needs and challenges of the people), the experience. By focusing so heavily on empathy, it encourages businesses and organizations to consider the real people who use their products and services — meaning they are much more likely to hit the mark when it comes to creating meaningful user experiences. For the user, this means better, more useful products that actually improve our lives. For businesses, this means happy customers and a healthier bottom line.
Design Thinking ensures a user-centric approach, which ultimately boosts user engagement and customer retention in the long term. The goal is to develop useful products and solutions that fit the needs of the user, to see where their frustrations lie and how we can make their lives and experiences better and more fulfilling.
5. Can be Applied Company-Wide
Design Thinking isn’t just creativity and innovation for its own sake; it’s specifically directed at creating value and solving problems. But instead of going about either of these in the traditional ways, Design Thinking seeks to use design principles to solve problems, from small to large, in almost any industry.
Another great thing about Design Thinking is that it’s not just for designers. It leverages group thinking and encourages cross-team collaboration. By building multidisciplinary teams and bringing many voices to the table, we break out of our respective fields and boxes to leverage our collective wisdom, experience and expertise.
Design Thinking is often cited as the healthy middle ground of problem-solving — it is not steeped wholly in emotion and intuition, nor does it rely solely on analytics, science and rationale; it uses a mixture of both.
Whether you’re establishing a Design Thinking culture on a company-wide scale, or simply trying to improve your approach to user-centric design, Design Thinking will help you to innovate, focus on the user, and ultimately design products that solve real user problems.
Design Thinking is a revolution that allows your business to thrive amidst a constant flood of product releases and ever-evolving technology. Things outside your business have changed the expectations of the customers of your business. Your next release will not be judged by how much it improves your offering, but on how it compares with your customer’s product and services. As The Cloud Adoption Playbook says, “This means that the last best experience that people have anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere, including in the enterprise.” Design Thinking can help you keep up with the opinions of your customers and your internal users.
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