If you’ve worked with me, you know I try not to use jargon when talking business. I think the important thing is understanding the concept of what we’re trying to achieve vs baffling people with technical terms. However, there are a few business concepts worth getting behind so I thought I’d do a series of blogs outlining them. First up: design thinking.
Design thinking is a problem-solving approach to innovation that focuses on your customer and creating solutions that work for them.
Now even as I type this it seems very obvious that we should all be doing this — of course the customer comes first! But the truth is lots of businesses come up with solutions that work for them and their team vs what really works best for customers. Or they just stick with what they’ve always done and don’t stop to think whether there’s a better way.
Design thinking gets you to think, “Sure, this works fine for our customer but how can it work better?” If you can answer that, you can nail your market better than your competitor who hasn’t considered this question, getting you that step closer to being an industry leader.
A good example of this is electric toothbrushes. For years, we just had the manual toothbrush and we all knew it should take about two minutes to brush our teeth. But design thinking came up with a smarter way: the electric toothbrush. These are loaded with helpful features that simplify the tooth-brushing process, such as in-built timers that tell you when to move to another section of your mouth and when your two minutes are up. They also have modes for cleaning, whitening and sensitive teeth. Some even play music to make the process a little less of a chore. (Business Changing client Aluro Healthcare has designed their own world-leading electric toothbrush — check it out HERE.) Taking design thinking one step further, subscription services make it easier to get replacement brush heads without customers having to think about adding it to their grocery shop. All of these things make it easier for a customer to look after their teeth.
Netflix is another example. Before, you’d just have to watch whatever was on the telly or pop in a video. With design thinking, Netflix created a solution that allows people to stream whatever show or movie they want, whenever they want. Taking it one step further, they then show you other shows you might like, based on your viewing history. Again, design thinking has led to a better experience for the customer.
There is a five-stage framework for design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.
The first stage is to understand your customer’s needs and experiences. This involves conducting research, talking to customers, and observing their behaviour. The goal is to gain a deep understanding of your customer’s needs and pain points. You might do this with focus groups, customer surveys, or just spending more time on the shop floor talking to your customers.
Once you have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs, you can begin to define the problem you are trying to solve. This involves taking the research you
have gathered and creating a problem statement.
Now you go into brainstorm mode. Come up with as many solutions as possible. Get insight from outsiders and look outside your industry and to technology for good ideas you can implement here.
Create a physical representation of your idea/s or work out a system of how your solution might work.
The final stage of the design thinking process involves testing your prototypes with customers. This allows you to gather feedback and refine your ideas.
Of course, you might come up with 2-3 problems in the ‘empathise’ stage. This is great — this means you have 2-3 areas of your business or product that you can work on to better appeal to your customers. Follow the same five-step process for each of those problems, but do it one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed or distracted from implementing one.
The benefits of using design thinking in business are huge, including driving more innovative solutions and products, a better user experience for happier customers, and improved collaboration from your team and stakeholders which makes for a more engaged and stimulated workplace.
Using the design thinking framework also reduces your risk of a flop. Often business owners might implement something on a ‘gut feel’ or go down the expensive track of a new product/service/system before any real research or a testing stage. If you follow the design thinking stage, you’ve got a better chance of reducing the risk of failure as well as saving time and resources.
Some things to consider for better success with design thinking:
- Build a cross-functional team
Design thinking is a collaborative process that should involve stakeholders from different parts of the organization. It can’t be driven by one person and one person alone. Building a cross-functional team can help ensure that everyone is on board and invested in the process, as well as getting input and ideas from a range of different people.
- Start small
Design thinking can be a big change for some businesses. Start small with a pilot project to test the waters and build momentum and confidence.
- Embrace failure
Design thinking involves experimentation and iteration which means that failure is a part of the process. Embrace it! And use failures to learn and improve your solutions.
- Don’t forget the golden rule: focus on the customer
Your customer should be at the centre of the design thinking process. This means conducting research, talking to users, and getting feedback throughout the process, not leading with what you – the business owner or manager — thinks.
Design thinking can be so powerful for driving creative innovation that matters and helping you stand out from your competitors. Try using the five-step design thinking framework and let me know where you end up!