Written on 10th June 2021 - 3 minutes

Why is ‘Design Thinking’ a powerful tool?

Design thinking is not a new technique: it has been in use since the 1970s to connect technological solutions, delivered by products and service offerings, with human needs.

Fast forward to today and it’s a key tool that can be used to answer the fundamental and important question: Does the idea you have for the product or service actually deliver value to the customer? More to the point, can that value be monetised as a commercial enterprise or offering?

Understanding and resolving the ‘real’ problem

In many instances, new products and services are developed through the following typical process…
• Individual has a vision for a new product or service
• That vision is pitched to decision makers that hold the purse strings
• The vision is given the green light or shelved

The problem with this approach is that it can be really hit and miss: often the solution being proposed will be based on an individual’s gut feeling that comes from their experience, rather than a process that can be put through some sort of validation.

A solution to the problem often proposed by organisations is the so-called customer workshop, taking the product or service idea to a range of potential customers for validation. This is because customers are generally very good at expressing their problems but equally as poor at suggesting a solution to them or indeed validating a proposed solution.

This leap of imagination can be a huge hurdle when it comes to innovation and this is where Design Thinking comes in, by starting with a validated customer problem and working your way towards a solution through a robust and proven process.

What are the initial key stages of design thinking?

1. Listen and empathise
Walking in the shoes of customers, listening and empathising is the first and most important step to focus on the problems they face NOT what they (or you) think the solution could be. As an example, before mobile phones if you thought about someone who worked outdoors, the problems they experienced may include ‘I cannot contact suppliers to place orders’, ‘I can’t check records and data whilst I’m out in the field’, ‘If something happens to me whilst I’m out in the field I can’t get help’. Extracting these problems from the customers is very different from asking the customer what they think about the mobile phone as an idea.

2. Define the problem
Once you have listened to and empathised with a broad range of customers and collected ‘problems’ you then need to put them in to common groupings to help designers focus in on the problems to be resolved. In the mobile phone example the groupings might be ‘remoteness’, ‘inability to conduct business during key hours’, ‘emergency contact’ etc.

3. Ideate
Ideation is about taking the problem groupings and starting the process of establishing potential solutions to one or more of the problems identified. Essentially here you want to build a paper-based prototype that you can use to demonstrate your potential solution. This paper-based prototype would then be shared with your potential customers to gather feedback in the hope of understanding whether it addresses the problems identified. If your prototype doesn’t resonate with the intended customer, the process then cycles through starting again with listening and empathising until you have a prototype that the end user endorses.

4. Test, document and put into effect
The prototype can then be progressed to production following an agile development process. Using the agile process ensures that momentum is maintained and value released at regular sprint intervals, whilst remaining adaptive to changes in business processes or other circumstances.

Why use Design Thinking?

The design thinking approach may sound more time-consuming than the traditional “We’ve got a problem, we know the solution, let’s go for it” approach but the reality is that design thinking vastly increases the chance of success. So much so, it is said that design thinking can make a ten times difference to the success of a new product or service.

Done well, it requires a change in mindset because the design thinking process can initially be uncomfortable: we are naturally drawn to see a problem and want to leap straight in to finding the solution.

If you want to find out more about design thinking and how it could help enhance your projects chances of success get in touch, we’d love to help you see the possibilities.

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