Here’s why design thinking can make your products and services stand out
“Oh not again!” might be the reaction of some of you reading this article especially if you have been a part of a design project or a project of any sort and there was a professional UX designer present, who was taking probably “all the time in the world” (that’s what a lot of management staff and executive think or say behind the backs of UX designers or directly in their faces) that constantly has to justify his processes and designs at every given opportunity.
I understand firsthand how management teams get impatient when the deadline is approaching and the UX designer is just maybe getting started with “Ideation”, one of the design processes of design thinking.
In this article, I will tell you why design thinking should be taken more seriously by industry experts, management, executive bodies, and UX designers. I will reveal the importance of this design methodology, and how it affects a project.
So what is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is not exclusive to designers
According to the Interaction Design Foundation ( IxDF) Design thinking is an iterative process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions which you can prototype and test. In essence, design thinking:
- Revolves around a deep interest to understand the people for whom designers design products and services.
- Helps us observe and develop empathy with the target users.
- Enhances the ability to question: in design thinking, we question the problem, the assumptions, and the implications.
- Proves extremely useful when the problems tackled are ill-defined or unknown.
- Involves ongoing experimentation through sketches, prototypes, testing, and trials of new concepts and ideas.
Even though it is an iterative process, it is definitely not linear. That highlighted phrase alone has made it even easier for developers to be faster. But sometimes, designers wanna go linear and then nonlinear during a second iteration or third or fourth iteration.
As a business owner, you generally might think it’s really a waste of time trying to go from an empathy stage to a test stage for every project — which of course can be time-consuming. But I’ll tell you why you need to stick with the process and allow the UX designers to follow through with the science to solve complex problems. As much as UX designers try to solve complex problems, the time taken by these designers can be another complex problem altogether. So, the good news is, Google has developed a design methodology to make the design process fast and still offer valuable insight. Forget minimum viable product and focus on prototypes and build and test in a week. This methodology is called the Google Design Sprint. We’ll talk more about the design sprint in another article. For now, let’s talk about why you need a Design Thinking Process for your business.
Design thinking is for you
Tim Brown, CEO of the celebrated innovation and design firm IDEO, emphasizes this in his successful book Change by Design when he says design thinking techniques and strategies belong at every level of a business. Design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and leaders who seek to infuse it into every level of an organization. This widespread adoption of design thinking will drive the creation of alternative products and services for both businesses and society.
Great design is simple, beautiful, and easy to use. It creates a sense of purpose and place. It responds to user needs, and it just works. Aside from these characteristics, how can we know whether a design is “good”? Moreover, how can a business know whether the investment of time and money into a design was worth it?
The proof is in the numbers. Businesses have slowly come around to recognize that design can be used as a differentiator to respond to changing trends and consumer behaviors. Time and time again, Fortune 500 names such as Apple, Microsoft, Disney, and IBM have demonstrated the intrinsic value of “design thinking” as a competitive advantage that impacts the bottom line and drives business growth — Toptal
They’ve come to recognize that design innovation happens at the intersection of desirability for customers, viability at the business level, and feasibility for technology. Design thinking — a product design approach that has been slowly evolving since the 1950’s — integrates all three.
The design thinking process has become increasingly popular over the last few decades because it was key to the success of many high-profile, global organizations. This outside-the-box thinking is now taught at leading universities across the world and is encouraged at every level of business.
Design thinking, often brushed aside by business owners in previous decades, has now become a considerable driving force in the business world through mentions in the Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
Made into a buzzword and popularized by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO, a global design firm), design thinking is “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.”
Today, this growing trend is changing fundamental business practices. It’s shifting the way the C-suite is thinking and how design and product teams operate. Some have even bought into the value of user experience and, by extension, investing in improving customer experience.
That is pretty incredible since just ten years ago most firms didn’t even know what user experience meant.
“The ‘Design Thinking’ label is not a myth. It is a description of the application of well-tried design process to new challenges and opportunities, used by people from both design and non-design backgrounds. I welcome the recognition of the term and hope that its use continues to expand and be more universally understood, so that eventually every leader knows how to use design and design thinking for innovation and better results.”
– Bill Moggridge, co-founder of IDEO, in Design Thinking: Dear Don
However, it’s not an end-all solution. Just following the same processes without context will waste time and resources. Pentagram partner Natasha Jen succinctly reminds us that designers do great work not because of genius or process but because of critical reviews of their work and common sense when confronted with challenges in the workplace.
What is the value of design thinking for businesses?
It becomes clear that a culture driven by design thinking serves to promote innovation, productivity, and growth while keeping consumer needs above all. Thereby ensuring that organizations, corporations, startups, et al maintain their competitive edge by identifying and solving the end-users’ problems via design thinking and thus, incorporating the strategy of experience design as an integral aspect of their business model.
A strategist or experience designer holds the primary responsibility to plan and take educated risks when executing the design thinking process. This means working closely with large cross-functional teams of researchers, designers, developers as well as company stakeholders — to design methodologies that enable in-depth user research to prototype and test new services and products, and create innovative systems that bridge corporate strategy with design innovation to optimize sales and boost growth.
Note that all businesses have a never-ending list of goals, from constantly releasing new products that increase sales by resonating with customers to providing better customer support.
When a business decides on a new product, a massive, expensive machine shifts into high gear, especially at large corporations. The costs are enormous. Applying design thinking can help save vast amounts of money right away because it directs attention to the specific solutions people need — immediate cost savings are realized as part of the ROI of design thinking.
IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization, in its article, “Why Software Fails,” estimates that the amount spent on IT projects worldwide is approximately $1 trillion a year.
According to their report, of the top twelve reasons why projects fail, three are related to user-centered design failure:
- Badly defined requirements
- Poor communications among customers and developers
- Stakeholder politics
Design thinking provides a simple way to hone in on exactly what the problems are — often discovering a different way of thinking about them — while also providing insights and data that are critical to building appropriate solutions that make a business money.
Design thinking breaks down complex issues into tangible ones that can be analyzed and solved. Making that change in your organization is no cakewalk, according to Citrix SVP of Customer Experience, Catherine Courage:
“You need to make [design thinking] part of all processes and not just something you do on select projects. Starting by looking through the customer lens has to be ingrained in everything you do. Developing that foundation and creating that cultural change across all projects and initiatives is what it takes.
That is no small feat, but organizations have found success following this strategy.
Here are reasons to invest in Design Thinking
It doesn't matter what role you occupy in a business, there are no-nonsense reasons why you need to invest in [Design Thinking].
- Build customer satisfaction- conversion- retention journey. — Focusing on UX increases your revenue
- Increases conversion rates
- Improves customer retention and loyalty
2. Reduce development cost — Improving your UX saves you money
- A little up-front UX research can save you hundreds of engineering hours and thousands of dollars
- Decreases the cost of customer support
3. Improve ROI — Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of design thinking can be a challenge in any organization. More challenging still, the changes to your business’s operations may not directly reflect the product’s overall change in performance compared to the previous workflow. However, many cases show very clear signs that a design thinking methodology provides significant, positive change throughout the organization.
4. Rocket SEO ranking — Insisting on great UX drives competitive advantage and affects the bottom line. Just look at Dyson, Uber, Mint, Apple, IBM, and Intuit.
5. Stand out from the crowd.
There is a wide array of opportunities that can help boost a product’s performance using practices founded on the principles of design thinking and experience design. Inevitably, the goal is to keep building a culture of innovation that is driven by the design thinking process and facilitates every stakeholder involved, to foster empathy and open doors to infinitely vast possibilities.
The value of user experience as a result of design thinking is especially compelling when comparing a user experience project to another investment with similar business goals. There were countless smartphones before Apple’s iPhone burst onto the scene. There were taxis before Uber and social networks before Facebook. There were plenty of vacuum cleaners before Dyson, retailers before Bonobos and Warby-Parker, and electric cars before Tesla.
All of these companies share one thing. It is their relentless focus on the customer and delivering the best user experience possible — which is deeply rooted in their design thinking methodology.