As humans, we tend to develop patterns of thinking based on our knowledge and existing repetitive behaviours. While these patterns of thinking help us become efficient and effective in familiar situations, they can also hold us back from solving new problems or understanding things in a different way.
Innovating and finding disruptive solutions to problems happens when we ‘think outside of the box’. That is, when we think outside of those patterns or assumptions. In a fast-moving world, the ability to rapidly adapt to and embrace change is what can help set your business apart. So how can you create a culture where your workforce consistently push themselves to ‘think differently’?
That’s where design thinking comes in.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking is an iterative framework, where steps are applied to better understand end-users, challenge assumptions, and identify problems, then come up with a product or service solution that best addresses the needs or desires of a particular audience. Design thinking is largely about understanding how to create value. As the world around us becomes more complex - particularly in a business environment - a design thinking framework allows organisations to process and address change in a human-centric way.
Typically, a design thinking process follows five stages - although it’s important to note that these are not necessarily linear:
The first step is to research user needs and understand the problem they’re facing. Empathy is core to following a human-centred process, while putting aside your assumptions.
Use the insights from the empathise phase to define your users’ needs, their problems, and your insights.
Leveraging the knowledge you now have from the first two steps, you can begin to look at problems from a new perspective, and start to come up with ideas for innovative solutions.
This step is about experimenting by creating scaled-down versions of a solution, which can then be tested.
Rigorous testing takes place to determine solutions. Although it’s the last step listed in the process, it may be necessary to return to previous steps to redefine or refine a solution.
Using this process, you can bring together what is most desirable or necessary from a human perspective, and align it with what is technically and financially viable. It reduces risk, while improving the speed of bringing new ideas to life.
How can design thinking be applied to a business?
The concept of design thinking has been made popular by technology giants like Apple, Google and Samsung - but it’s not just applicable to large organisations, nor is only relevant when creating products of services. It can also be applied to organisational structure, systems, procedures, protocols and customer experiences.
Consider the process of providing customer support or managing queries. Too often, businesses focus on individual channels (for example, in-store, social media, or company website). As standalone touchpoints, these engagements may be fine, but given that customers are increasingly device-agnostic (switching between devices), their experience can become disjointed. By starting with an understanding of customer behaviour, solutions can then be designed around a customer-first experience, ultimately resulting in better engagement and brand loyalty.
Design thinking in action
You don’t have to look very far to see the results of effective design thinking in the world around you. Design thinking is what led Ford to first introduce hands-free ‘foot-activated’ car access. It’s also what took Airbnb from a fledgling company to a global organisation that revolutionised the hospitality industry. Closer to home, co-founder and former Head of Design of Xero, Philip Fierlinger was quoted as saying “We’re not a software company, we’re a user experience company”. He famously based the accounting platform’s bank reconciliation process off his three-year-old’s card matching game, making it simple (and comparatively) fun.
All three companies are examples of putting ‘design thinking’ ahead of ‘design’ to creatively solve problems plus meet the desires and expectations of their customers. With this approach, they continue to create value that sets them apart from incumbents and competitors in their industry. If you’re a business who wants to create greater value for your customers, talk to us about implementing design thinking in your organisation.