4 ways to embed design thinking in your business
What’s the last remaining competitive advantage companies have today? According to Leo Burnett Non-Executive Chairman Todd Sampson, it’s creativity. And to harness the power of creativity, businesses are increasingly turning to design thinking to solve complex problems, come up with new products and services or discover unvoiced needs.
From thinking to action
‘Design thinking’ is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not just for designers, and it doesn’t involve sitting around thinking. According to Tim Brown of IDEO, the world’s best known design thinking agency, “design thinking is a system that uses the designer’s sensibility to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business can convert into consumer value and market opportunity.”
Thinking like a designer is a mindset shift. It’s human-centric, based on no preconceptions or assumptions, and dedicated to making things better.
“Design thinking is a discipline that has a bias towards action,” explains Kerryn Ross, facilitator with design thinking experts Phuel. “It combines both creativity and innovation – which are different but not mutually exclusive.”
Ross defines creativity as “having multiple perspectives on something”, while innovation is all about doing something differently. Both elements can help you solve problems in an increasingly complex world.
How does design thinking work?
If you think about design thinking as an iterative process, it involves four key steps:
1. Define – what is the challenge, problem or opportunity?
2. Empathise – observe customers, understand their unmet needs
3. Ideate – drawing on multiple perspectives (the creative element) generate new ways to address that issue
4. Test – prototype, run experiments, see if your idea has legs
Ross says she sees this as a discipline that can be developed, but it helps to have experience across multiple products and categories, “because you become really good at design thinking by trial and error, and it helps to learn the discipline without having an emotional attachment.”
IDEO can carry out this process in about 16 weeks, according to Ross, because they draw on that diverse expertise. “Creativity is all about having more perspectives and getting out of your own head – while the more specialised you are, the more fixed you’ll be in your views.”
She says it’s also helpful to see the outcomes of design thinking as the sweet spot that connects three elements: desirability, feasibility and viability.
“It’s essential to start with desirability – what’s the need? Next, can you possibly build something to meet that need. Only then work out if you can make money from it. If you start with viability you won’t know if you’re creating something people actually want – and you’ll potentially shut down innovation.”
Design thinking is not just for big businesses with UX labs and innovation departments. Smaller firms are naturally agile and close to their customers – so here are four ways to embed design thinking into your workplace.
Tip 1: See technology through the lens of human needs
“People still need to know how to do human things,” says Ross. “We need to stop viewing innovation through the lens of technology, and start seeing technology through the lens of basic human needs and wants. Instead of artificial intelligence, what if we talked about beneficial intelligence? It might not be so scary.”
Deloitte is one company that has used design thinking to transform the professional services experience. It won the 2014 International Design award for an audit.
“Despite our research we’ve failed to find any regulation stipulating that audits should be a boring or negative experience – so we’ve used design thinking to improve how our clients experience it while honouring their stakeholders’ interests,” Deloitte’s CMO,David Redhill1, told Marketing Magazine. Unsurprisingly, they’ve also increased their audit win rate.
Tip 2: Big data cannot replace observing customers
Ross believes the ‘empathy’ component of design thinking is crucial. “I think these days marketers are getting further removed from the actual customer, they’re relying on big data. That’s also important, but you need to actually see where people are spending their time, how they live and how they use things.”
She gives the example of a Chinese smartphone manufacturer who watched how people took photos, and discovered that people liked the selfies that were most natural looking. “That insight led them to talk with a cosmetic company, work out lighting is the most important factor and develop an inbuilt app that allowed people to change the lighting on their photos to make them look more natural.”
Tip 3: Look at extreme users
Ross suggests looking at customers at either end of the bell curve, rather than your average users.
“Who are your heavy users or early adopters? How do they use your products or services? And then look at those that struggle, the laggards. Work out what motivates both ends of the spectrum and you’ll get some magnificent insights you can really use.”
Tip 4: Empower design thinking across the business
Design thinking is not the responsibility of marketing, IT or innovation. If you limit it to one function, ideas will be slowed down during feasibility and implementation. So leaders need to encourage everyone in the team to challenge the status quo or think about alternative ways of doing something.
“I think that’s why smaller businesses often do this better, because they don’t have layers of bureaucracy or a ‘command and control’ hierarchical structure,” says Ross.
Design thinking is now an essential skill in a world where the customer is in control. It can help you make sense of complex problems, foster game-changing start-ups or products and create meaningful new experiences.