In the face of competition and innovation, it's time to reinvent the way we work. Design thinking helps businesses put users at the centre of products.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the way large organisations manage their business, towards a philosophy that puts design much closer to the centre of the enterprise. This is no longer solely about how the product looks or the aesthetic of it, it’s about incorporating design principles into daily work and methodology.
Design thinking is largely a response to the rising complexity of today’s businesses. Complexity can take many forms: from integrating different types of business, to complex software and hardware systems, to making sure users can travel through the system and feel they have a usable product. Organisations can be so volatile and face such intense competition that we need to reinvent the way we work.
That means it’s time to start thinking about users: to make interactions with technologies easier, simpler and more intuitive for people using them. This could be achieved using design thinking as a response to the complexity of today’s business challenges. To look a little further into how design thinking can be applied, there are two key tools this methodology uses:
This primarily focuses on finding the specific problem that your business is trying to solve. This is a very significant step: so often businesses appear to be solving something that has nothing to do with the real issue or pain point that users are experiencing. Only after this step can we properly look into the correct solution to the problem.
The second tool of design thinking is the diverge-converge model. This may look complex, but it’s another method to locating the exact problem and solution for your business. Firstly, discover the problem, then expand the problem itself. Following this, look into underlying issues so that you can reach a definition of your exact problem. Next, you can start diverging and developing possible solutions, and then finally look into delivering a solution via four key phases.
Observation is one of the most important phases. The goal here is to observe users in their real lives, look at their activity and use different research techniques to gather information.
One approach to this is using qualitative research to produce data that’s insightful. Qualitative research uses open questions to gain deep insights, which allow us to gain empathy with users. For this, you should use a small sample size since this stage needs quality data over a high volume of responses. This provides the ‘why’ of our observation phase, through user interviews, focus groups, applied ethnography and usability testing.
The other type of research to employ is quantitative research. This uses closed questioning to determine whether something works or not. For this, a large sample size is needed, and techniques like analytics tools and surveys are used.
Essentially qualitative research can be used to discover how users work and to gain initial insight, and then quantitative approaches are employed to confirm the ideas that have been developed.
Once you have some knowledge on exactly how users perform activities, you can start to generate ideas. This has two different stages, which may be a good idea to timebox:
First is the diverge stage. This comprises of brainstorming, which can take many different forms, but the central rule here is to generate as many ideas as you can. It’s important to produce a large volume of ideas, so you can expand beyond your initial thoughts and start being more creative. Sit down with your team and look into the ways you can improve your users’ experience. As Linus Pauling said ‘To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas’. At this stage there are no constraints, just be sure to continue to build on others’ ideas and stay on topic.
Next is the converge stage. Select ideas from the brainstorm you have created. Giving an example of a method on selecting ideas, you could use dot voting for your converge stage: a process in which each person takes a set number of stickers and select the same number of favorite ideas. This will provide you with democratically selected popular ideas that you can then take to the next phase of your design thinking trajectory.
This is really a key step, and it’s important to do it as fast as possible. As Tom Kelley said, we want to ‘fail frequently, fail fast’. This is the reason iterations are necessary. It’s significantly cheaper to fail early, than once you have been through an entire development and release. This ensures you don’t spend years developing products users simply wouldn’t use. Essentially, the faster you can prototype your idea so you can test it, the better.
For this phase, you could use sketches, wireframes, cardboard models or even 3D reproductions. If you’re delivering applications and sites, you can utilise AEM. The trick is to build your products so you can resolve conflicting ideas and see if they actually work in real life.
As with prototyping, with this last stage of the process, the sooner you test, the better. Firstly, test with a small sample of your target audience: you don’t need a large number of people to discover major errors. Test with a contained number of participants, make tweaks and then test again. In this phase in particular, it’s important not to fall in love with your ideas! An element of this process is developing the capacity to let ideas go and move into next cycles of ideas. Finally, iteration helps us to learn. Your business can use the results of the testing phase to determine which parts worked and which didn’t.
As you might expect, it’s key to include people from different backgrounds in your team. The most creative and productive teams will come from a diversity of cross disciplinary backgrounds. Indeed, it’s difficult to think about ideas deeply and openly unless you have people in your team from a variety of backgrounds and departments within the company.
If you’re still not convinced by design thinking, here are some of the benefits of employing design thinking in your development processes:
Next time you start a project and choose the way you work, you might consider incorporating design thinking into the process. At Netcentric, design thinking helps us to deliver user-centric, bespoke solutions and be agile in our approach to digital transformation.
Harvard Business Review, Design Thinking Comes of Age
Thinking, Despite the Hype
Norman, Donald A, The Design of Everyday Things