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Organizations that embrace Design Thinking principles are highly successful and lead their industries by embracing change.
According to Jeanne Rae, creator of the Design Value Index, “It no longer takes 10 years to build highly functional design organizations. With the right leadership and senior level support, an enterprise-wide design function that produces results can be built in less and less time.”
Design Thinking has its roots in product design – it is the concept that design engineering should be human-centered, no matter what you are designing. This concept is just as valuable to building rocket ships as it is to making a website. It has had a significant impact on how we interact with computers kinesthetically today (think touch screens, gestures, etc.) and influenced design of the mouse and first notebook computers. If you want to see the outsized impact of embracing design thinking principles, look at Apple. It sparked a revolution in how we interact with technology and lead to the rise of the iPhone – still the standard bearer for human centric technology today.
Design Thinking is a best practice that creates team environments that are collaborative, innovative and provide a true competitive advantage in a world where differentiation is harder to demonstrate. It addresses complex business challenges across all areas of an organization and has the power to regularly uncover new areas of opportunities for an organization to succeed through thoughtful design, rapid prototyping, and quick, real-world testing. The idea is catching on. “There may be more non-traditional organizations – services, non-profit, management consulting firms, and governments – trying to build design capabilities today than ever before,” Rae states.
Change is constant. New competitors surface, technologies shift, tastes and behaviors change. To make ongoing change an asset, embrace faster ways to interact with stakeholders and receive immediate direct feedback.
Without a clear process and set of “order of operations” to process input, constant, iterative feedback can create complex challenges and additional organizational stress. Problems become unnecessarily daunting and it can be difficult to know where to start. Design Thinking shines a light on a better path forward.
Design Thinking principles focus people on gathering feedback from clients and stakeholders, looking for meaningful patterns in data, patterns in behaviors, and patterns in pain points. Deciphering these patterns allows you to quickly hone in on a specific area of focus and determine how that area interacts with other areas to crystallize your solutions priorities quickly. Patterns create ideas. Pattern recognition reframes problems into solutions.
This solution focused approach allows an organization to look at their challenges from new perspectives. Leaders can see challenges more clearly and develop strategies for each challenge to facilitate incremental changes to the next challenge, moving each piece forward as part of a more cohesive strategy and systematically detangling the bundle of interrelated problems.
“Design starts with empathy, establishing a deep understanding of those we are designing for.” - Jeanne Lied, professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business
The central tenet of human-centered design is that everything starts and ends with understanding people. This idea gives fuel and direction to a solution that is tailored to the audience; the people the organization impact every day – customers, employees, vendors, friends and even foes. Even though the “stages” of the design thinking framework are not linear, the starting point for everything is understanding people. And to understand people you need to empathize with them – it’s the only way. You must have a system of principles that enriches the understanding of and empathy with people, first-and-foremost.
Understanding empathy is so much more than user feedback from a survey and a UX check list. Empathy provides critical insight into users’ emotions and emotional states and surfaces the opportunity to identify with them as an individual. The understanding of empathy should not be limited solely to designers but should be imbued into all aspects of interactions from face-to face to digital channels and across all functional aspects of an organization.
There are numerous effective tools that help bring empathy to light to enrich the user experience and ultimately create better outcomes for organizations
The most common tool is persona development, which provides a constant, documented benchmark of who is being designed for that overlays the numerous ways in which an organization interacts with its customers, employees and other stakeholders. A persona is a method of breaking your users into groups that share common traits.
Role Playing allows you to empathize with others through storytelling. It helps highlight the needs of the user by imagining “yourself in her shoes”, and thinking how she might think and feel in various situations and circumstances.
Direct Observation allows you to witness and experience behaviors and interactions in a real time environment. We have a natural, humanistic reaction when we observe someone’s struggle or pain. We subconsciously identify the problem, define it, and look for a solution. The best kind of natural problem solving. Observation is a natural way to inspire new ideas and solutions.
Direct Communication is not to be forgotten in empathy. In certain situations, it may be more important than observation. Direct communication leverages Active Listening techniques to unmask pain or frustration beyond the surface “I want X” statements that are so often mistaken as the source of the pain or frustration. When someone says “I want” they may not know if that “want” actually solves their issue. The goal of Active Listening is to get to the need –the source or kernel of what is driving the “I want”. When you listen beyond “I want” you start to hear all the reasons contributing to a pain and consider the actual Need. Don’t confuse the symptom for the ailment.
Without empathy, it is impossible to create a long-lasting solution where you are treating the underlying cause and not the symptoms. It doesn’t matter if your organization is solving deep rooted social issues, building a logistics system, re-thinking your internal organization structure, running a hospital, building the next great software application or creating an overarching company strategy to crush your competition. Design Thinking and human-centered design are always about empathy and how to use a deep understanding of empathy to design solutions that solve the REAL problem and not the symptom of the problem.
“Designers don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called Design Thinking.” - Don Norman, Rethinking Design Thinking
You can’t boil the ocean, so don’t try. Likewise, don’t try solve everything all at once.
The world is always changing, and outside factors change the “rule book” before the ink has dried. Ideating to quickly prototype a solution or concept is a tangible method to test ideas and elicit feedback to help work through the problems you are trying to solve.
To make this always changing world an asset, Design Thinking principles focus on smaller goals with a wide range of people to unlock a plethora of ideas and intuition from different perspectives to get solutions faster and get them out to market quicker. Importantly, rapid “go to market” increases the rate at which you can generate new ideas based on real-world feedback and insights and thus solve more, faster. It provides for a state of constant refinement, responsive to changing needs without locking you into a must-follow path that is sure to be wrong as the world changes around you.
Your ideas don’t have to be perfect initially, and mostly likely won’t be. Putting ideas out quickly, in beta, and soliciting immediate feedback is “enlightened trial and error.” Until something is in a tangible form that people can interact with, it is impossible to fully plan for all the ways an audience will use something or additional ways something could be used. This is key – it not just what it is used for, but what it could be used for that creates ideas and allows problems to be broken down and solved in manageable increments. By adopting a rapid prototype approach you increase the chances of uncovering greater value from your products and more use cases than initially imagined.
“When design is embedded across an organization - not just in its traditional strongholds, but engaging with customers, leaders and employees at every level-then we start to shape the way the organization behaves...Design is the custodian of the ‘meaning’ part we leverage our position to ensure that the real needs of people are at the center of every conversation.”- Sean Carney, Chief Design Officer, Philips
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again this time more intelligently.” - Henry Ford
Through the examples we have outlined here, you can see exactly why Design Thinking and human-centered designs have become so popular. These 40+ year old concepts have always been valuable, but the dual dynamic of a technological climate that continues to rapidly evolve coupled with a market that constantly demands “better, more, faster ” has tipped the scales heavily in favor of those who are able to embrace change and leverage it to their benefit. In the end that is what Design Thinking principles are all about – harvesting the kinetic energy of change and channeling it to create things that humans want, better, more and faster.
The concept of Design Thinking is adaptable to the organization using it while the core elements remain. Start with people. Observe and Empathize. Identify patterns which spur ideas. Share these ideas. Solicit feedback. Repeat. As organizations explore adopting a Design Thinking model, leveraging resources with experience in the Design Thinking processes can help accelerate the transition. Design Thinking represents an opportunity for organizations to leapfrog competitors when it comes to effective and efficient problem solving and connecting in meaningful ways with valuable audiences.
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