Design Thinking is a mindset that encompasses a pluralist systemic thinking that aims at building a better future.
People seem to think that it’s a sort of wizardry trick to create innovative products and services, however it is not a magic toolbox of solutions to problems; it does not follow a linear thinking model and cannot be over simplified, at the risk of losing its value.
In practice, Design Thinking is a human-centred approach that accelerates innovation and brings about solutions for complex problems.
In the last 6 months, I had the opportunity to facilitate more than 40 Design Thinking sessions with clients, students and colleagues.
The experience I built after numerous iterations led me to identify 5 main lessons to be learned by any Design Thinking practitioner.
1. Design thinking isn’t magic
Design Thinking is not a one-shot vaccine; I like seeing it as a cooking class or an innovation fitness program that puts organizations on top of its game. It is not an “event”, limited to a single workshop, it is a way of thinking, communicating and doing every day.
I noticed that lots of design practitioners, including famous design agencies, explain how the end deliverable of design thinking is a high-level concept, a paper prototype or a storyboard. Without the commitment to the actual delivery of the concepts, Design Thinking is pointless.
Most agencies, after gathering some initial data and insights from customers, the experts then create an interface and hand it over to developers.
Anyone who has ever been involved in delivering project knows that initial insights are hardly sufficient. You need an understanding of the interaction and an implementation plan with deliverables and milestones.
If the team who'll be rolling up their sleeves and delivering the product weren't involved through the whole design thinking exercise, and if the design thinking exercise doesn't end up giving you a tested prototype design and an implementation plan, then it's nothing more than a set of unproven concepts.
For me, it’s vital to involve representatives from every discipline on the team in the design thinking process.
There's a myth that only design agency staff or marketing can do creative thinking, so you need them in order to bring creativity to your company.
Truth is, Design thinking helps every disciple get clearer about what their role will be, what tasks they need to perform, and what type of support they'll need to provide as the project moves forward.
2. Design Thinking is actually Design Doing
A full design thinking cycle always includes a validation phase where you build out the design concepts and test them with your customers.
During Design Sprints, my favorite design thinking framework, teams plan and prioritize the implementation details, so that you can move straight into the development process. I noticed that, when engaging an agency or learning new design thinking techniques from a design institute, you need to first check that the company that's going to work with you will take you all the way through to a working, tested prototype and project planning exercise.
When I conduct an intensive 5-day Design Thinking Academy, I always teach the importance of shifting from Design Thinking to Design Doing, else, a workshop would simply be a nice team building exercise.
Never hire agencies or send your team to courses where the output is simply a concept.
Good Design Thinking practitioners always show you how design thinking leads through to a validated prototype and a well-defined project plan.
3. It’s all about the design challenge
I experienced that I tend to spend more time defining the Design Challenger rather than actually applying Design Thinking during a workshop.
It is important to have a 360° view of the challenge.
During this time a team should be aggregating all the assumptions and hypothesis on the table and to let go of them.
It is vital to collect all the existing and available data that will be used to kick-off a session. This phase is a very important moment for the team, as this is the time for levelling the knowledge base and setting a well-defined perimeter.
My favorite Design Challenge formula is the following:
We will design ___________________
because (they value)_______________
I then write the challenge on a piece of paper that is big enough so that everybody can read and pin it on the wall. I Highlight the words or short phrases that will be exploited separately. I dedicate some time to discuss the de notion and meaning of each section of the design challenge in my team.
A design challenge needs to be:
- Relevant and tied to the team goals
- Focused on a target audience or target segment
4. Embrace failure
The looks I get when I explain colleagues or clients that they need to fail often to succeed sooner…
I truly think that when you spend quality time on your creations, they will reveal themselves to you. But if you let your ideas grow wild, without any government, they will gain a life of their own, Ideas will become tangible and will reveal themselves for what they really are.
By listening to real customers throughout the validation of your ideas and because you've already tested your prototype ideas before you start actually building the real product, you can get a really good idea of which areas of the product are likely to give you the most benefits.
And you don't have to wait until you ship the product to see if you were right.
Usability tests and even user groups can be used to measure how successful the product is likely to be while it's still in development.
This early feedback helps you understand whether you’re on the right track and let’s adjust your course if required.
Testing and failing early will help you change direction or cancel the project with a lot less investment. And because you're working in a user centered way it's much less likely that you'll have to completely cancel it.
5. Always be tracking your successes
In the era of Big Data and data-driven services, how are you going to show that your crazy ideas created thanks to design thinking are worthwhile?
The only way is to track what you did, and then, to show how your actions directly impacted customer satisfaction and revenue.
People love storytelling. The way I like to present progress is to show photos of the early sketches and prototypes, then screenshots of the first alpha build, and the first release. People love following the story of how the project matured.
Even at this early stages, you can set some metrics so you know when you meet your goals.
I can’t count the times I saw development projects just weren't measured. How did they know if the project was failing?
Setting measurable goals helps you ensure that you really are delivering business benefit. You should measure early and often as you go through the iterative design thinking process.
You should be looking to collect two kinds of data, quantitative and qualitative. Numbers and words.
The numbers should be metrics that show how successful your project is. Customer satisfaction, acquisition or retention, as an example.
It will not be always possible to measure this kind of data easily, most of the time you'll have to estimate, or extrapolate these numbers. Especially in the early stages of a prototype. In any case you can always be measuring success.
And what about you? What are your most valuable lessons learned on Design Thinking?