Over the last decade our lives have been significantly impacted by the internet and social media; as brands work to entertain, engage and connect to our every desire 24/7, compelling us to buy into their promise.
With brands continually raising the bar higher through technology, we have come to expect the same amount of attention in our real-world experiences in-store, at home, work and just about everywhere.
As a brand posed with this relentless demand whilst facing heavy competition, you not only have to stand out — you have to innovate. And innovation isn’t possible without first going back to working out what your ideal customers really want and need.
This is but a simple scenario, and just a specific portion of its process, of how design thinking works. Design thinking after all is a human-centered approach to innovation; a discipline that employs the empathy and understanding to address unmet needs and creates extraordinary ways to solve problems.
“Design thinking minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers or users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts. Design thinkers rely on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research.” (Creativity at Work)
By these definitions, design thinking isn’t only limited to designers; you don’t necessarily have to be one to employ it. Businesses from various industries looking to scale up or solve complex problems can definitely employ the design thinking discipline to gain a competitive edge. Once more, with the world of technology rapidly evolving as day turns into night, design thinking has never been more crucial.
For brands looking to technologically and digitally transform or advance themselves and make that leap, design thinking requires them to first understand where a problem is coming from, right to its very core. A key aspect of this then is a capacity for empathy to acquire a more profound understanding of the problem at hand. One has to set aside his or her own biases and assumptions to truly get into the mindset of the consumer experiencing the problem.
Let’s say you’re a smartphone brand looking to improve on your customer’s in-store experience. With tons of people going in and out of the store everyday, take a good look at what motivates them and what makes them tick. Ask questions and request feedback on their experience with you in-store. Get deep into the core emotions that go through your customer’s psyche from the moment they walk in.
With enough information, the design thinking process progresses into defining unresolved problems and unmet needs, having gained an insight into the many customers’ experiences. Not to worry, for these “problems” are treasure troves for opportunities to innovate. Rikke Dam and Teo Siang even suggests, “You should seek to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centred manner.“ Again, never forget that at the center of the process is the human experience; not of the company’s, not of the brand’s.
Having empathized with your users and fully defined their problem at hand, the time has come to generate tons of wild and imaginative ideas to solve the problem. Ideation serves the opportunity for the team involved to gather, and analyze the problem at every angle possible. Explore ideas as far as the moon to hopefully reach not just any idea, but one that brilliantly (hopefully, we’ll know later on) works.
With a solution on hand, the next few phases of the design thinking process offers a space for failure. Yes, failure. The process is quite nonlinear that in moments of failure, gather what you can learn and simply revert to the ideation drawing board and identify how else the problem maybe solved. Jon Kolko says, “A design culture is nurturing. It doesn’t encourage failure, but the iterative nature of the design process recognizes that it’s rare to get things right the first time.” Indeed, it might not work the first (few) times around, but prototypes and tests exist as part of the design thinking process to churn out what part of the idea works wonderfully or fails miserably. Feedback is also given as a way to learn more about what’s possibly still not being addressed.
Going back to the smartphone store scenario, prototyping and testing could mean test runs on a new process, adding new interactive technologies for customers to experience, or introducing new products and services that they can give a try. Gain input from actual customers to get, once again, a human-centered understanding of how the ideas work in real life. Do they achieve your intended goals? Do they solve fully the user’s problems? Have their needs been addressed?
With the freedom of ideation also comes the freedom to change what’s been proposed. Combine feedback from customers with even colleagues from different fields of expertise to create the ultimate, innovative solution. Then when the time comes — implement. Make the idea fully come true, and embrace the hard work that comes with it. Again, design thinking is a nonlinear discipline and process. as problems come and go, new ones will surely arrive and those won’t have to be solved immediately; they have to be identified first once again. Sarah Gibbons in “Design Thinking 101” says, “As impactful as design thinking can be for an organization, it only leads to true innovation if the vision is executed.”
And so indeed the advantages of the design thinking process can be astonishing and powerful. Brands and companies are taken away from their own space of biases and assumptions, diving right into the mindset and psyche of their customers to know truly what is going on, and what sort of problems they face that can be translated as opportunities for innovation. Companies are given the opportunity and the chance to develop the most creative and innovative solutions, gathering inputs from every angle of the defined problem and from different fields of knowledge and expertise. In the middle of this creative blast, design thinking gives the creator a nesting ground for trial, error and learning with the very people they intended to target. Failure here is accepted, understood and transformed to mold an even better idea than the last, as each facet of the problem at hand is explored until none are left.
Design thinking is about moving beyond the race of keeping up with rapidly-evolving and ever-demanding consumers. It is about taking the time to understand their needs and pushing boundaries to provide solutions to their problems and create experiences that are unique, meaningful and unforgettable.
Featured Image by: Geyer Design