What is Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is defined by Tim Brown as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
In other terms, he states that successful and useful innovation, the one that customers adopt, happens in the common ground of desirable, feasible and viable. This is the difference with invention, where technological stakes are predominant.
Originally used to design objects, Design Thinking has increasingly been applied to complex, intangible issues, such as how a customer experiences a service. Design Thinking has been the roadmap to success of companies like Apple, Airbnb, Oxo kitchen tools.
It has been becoming increasingly popular as we have entered more and more the era of the Experience since the early 90’s. And it is paying-off ; design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years. (source: Design Management Institute)
Design Thinking approach is composed of three major phases
01 Exploration phase:
is made of understanding, re-framing the problem, benchmark, documentation, field observation, lead and extreme users empathic understanding.
The primary goal of this phase is to identify customer/user needs in depth. These needs can be expressed or latent, answered or unanswered.
02 Creation phase:
first divergent with ideation, brainstorming, providing a whole set of various potential ideas. Then convergent with selection, quick modeling, integration and testing. Its outcome is a minimum viable product that can be tested and improved.
03 Implementation phase:
with detail design, prototyping, field testing and construction, feedback loops, leading to a final package that can be launched on the market.
Design Thinking success
Said like that, it may sound simple. Many companies can sincerely trust this is the innovation process they have implemented. As a matter of fact 75% of organizations self-report that they are engaged in design thinking. (Source: Parsons New School) … and yet one can wonder why there are no more successes that can be attributed to Design Thinking.
Design led approaches accelerate innovation and transformation.
But some ingredients are necessary for success. And they are seldom met in large corporations. Among others, a truly emphatic observation, patient (not slow) ideation phase, humble user feed-back process, quick development cycle, acceptance of uncertainty.
Most companies are not naturally Design Thinking friendly -for organizational and/or cultural reasons- and fail to implement Design Thinking in a transformational manner.
A few questions can highlight the origin of these roadblocks.
The major risk with failing in implementing Design Thinking fully is to end up with incremental innovation instead of radical innovation, falling short of expectations.
Innovation does not come from creativity alone but is the outcome of a process, a mindset and an organization. Deploying a Design Thinking based project, or even more company, requires a specific methodology, organization, culture and leadership. Some roadblock exist from various standpoints :
Customer Intimacy Standpoint
What are customer research sources? Customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, marketing team knowledge, sales force feed-back, social monitoring?
Do these enable to capture latent needs, aspirations or emotional aspect of customer journey?
What kind of users am I observing (main users, lead users, extreme users)?
Innovation Process Standpoint
How are innovation projects managed?
Is the traditional project approach the best fit for non-technology driven innovation?
Does the organization enable to accept the uncomfort of the unknown?
Can we forecast the return of experience improvement?
Multiple gate reviews or quick testing?
Information Technology Standpoint
Is development system really Agile?
Over a quarter (27.4%) of manufacturing organizations rely solely on Agile, whereas 56.6% rely on “a combination of methodologies.” (Source: LiquidPlanner) Agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects. (Source: PwC)
Is legacy IT system adapted to onboard new platforms and development?
Poor adoption is mainly due to poor internal/external user experience linked with platforms misalignment.
How brainstorming and ideation sessions are led?
Cross-cultural teams? Deferred judgement?
Preliminary preparation and on- site discipline to apply efficient methodology?
Dedicated teams fully focused during project duration?
Equal value for all ideas?
So, what can organizations do to be more Design Thinking driven?
Of course, no magic stick will all of the sudden transform a traditional organization into a fully Design Driven Organization overnight. How many CEOs see and define themselves as Chief Design Officer?
However, some directions that can be explored.
Breaking silos to know customers better. No organization is like another but Service, Customer Care and call centers, sales visits are customer information goldmines that can provide great exploration areas for information, if exploited thoroughly. Ensuring that an efficient and ongoing process to expand monitor, interpret and update this knowledge will increase customer empathy. 78% of design- led companies have de ned a process for coming up with new digital customer experience ideas. (Source: Adobe/Forrester)
Avoiding considering a solution as ultimate. Human being in general, and customers in particular, have an incredible capacity to adapt to unsatisfying situations or solutions. Meaning that a product or service can be successful despite existing flaws… until it is substituted by competition. A permanent thrive to improve customer experience will help companies avoid being disrupted. Design-led firms test ideas with their customers, with 83% having tools and systems in place to do so. (Source: Adobe/Forrester)
Increasing entrepreneurship culture. Encourage early testing with minimum viable products or services. Accept early failure to limit, if not avoid, later disaster and encourage rebound of ideas. Allow uncertainty as an acceptable parameter in management processes.
Ensuring projects carried through Design Thinking methodology are actually performed with the right mix of backgrounds, resources, leadership and methodology.
Gradually move to customer platforms that are adapted to quick testing and agile development like Salesforce.
Design Thinking applied to business transformation is a catalyst to business results. But comes with a demanding methodology. Whatever the ambition, from one project to company transformation, make sure you are carefully selecting the designers team, in particular ensuring the presence of actual designers and human sciences specialists, giving them the right resources and level of management support.
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