Design thinking, the process of applying innovative solutions and disrupting from within, is essential to navigate today’s unpredictable business landscape.
“Design thinking is becoming a critical approach for organisations that want to survive in an environment of high volatility and a massive amount of disruption,” Rob Cowie, head of user experience, design and standards at Discovery Health Systems told a recent forum at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Chief executive of Freethinking, a multi-disciplinary financial services and telecoms consultancy, Derrick Cooks, said the concept of design thinking was essentially an attitude, approach or mindset to help creatively solve business problems when devising new products or services for customers.
What is design thinking?
“Design thinking refers to the application of processes and strategies that lead to faster decision-making and time to market. It’s the way in which we innovate and drive solutions that customers will love,” Cooks explained.
He said understanding what business is like from inside, and understanding what customers want, sometimes even before they do, results in truly innovative solutions.
At the core of the concept is devising a value proposition that is centred around customers: “A design mindset is critical to successfully solving or creating,” he added.
Design thinking is not only good for customers, but for shareholders too because it offers tangible financial returns. Examples of design-led companies include Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, IBM, Nike and Procter & Gamble.
“Design thinking is a differentiator. However, creating long term value is gained through building an ongoing relationship with your customers,” Cooks said.
The process of design thinking
New York design and innovation consulting firm Ideo applies human-centred design methods and principles to business development in order to reach an intersection of business, people and technology, Cowie explained.
Ideo’s design thinking process includes:
» Research for inspiration: In order to inspire new ideas and discover latent needs that customers themselves might be unaware of;
» Look at individuals and their behaviours, rather than market segments;
» Speak to extreme users: Subject matter experts are often a source of more in-depth information;
» Learn from analogous inspiration to see patterns in behaviour;
» Use the power of brainstorming to build on people’s ideas and to encourage wild ideas; and
» Build teams across functions, based on project requirements.
Business strategy senior manager at Accenture, Luis Rodriguez del Barrio told the forum that when devising a new solution or product, business should start with required outcomes, as this helps frame the rest of the conversation in a different way.
Design thinking is an intersection between what is desirable, or human, with what is viable for business and feasible for technology: “By understanding human or ethnographic needs, it incorporates the human element, or customers, as well as data,” he said.
Design thinking and user centricity
Head of experience design at Standard Bank Group Farai Madzima said organisations must listen for opportunities in the market and know how to respond to them accordingly.
“Design thinking is an approach to innovation that allows us to listen differently. By doing so, we are able to build the right thing to solve customers’ problems, and build it right.”
Placing customers and their user experience at the centre of business creates a new level of understanding. Listening in order to discover trends is the difference between creating a solution that meets clients needs and discovering an entirely new strategic direction, Madzima explained.
In order to fully understand the problem and define what it is that needs to be solved, business must combine business research, which is also available to competitors, with user research.
Cowie urged businesses to speak to their users in order to discover their latent needs, rather than just explicit problems.
“This will allow you to get to the bottom of the problem and use your expertise to solve it, creating customer satisfaction faster.”
Co-creating with customers as partners and involving them in various stages throughout the design process was the key to gaining understanding, Del Barrio said.
“Never underestimate people’s willingness to help you, engage with you and co-create,” Cowie added.
Embedding design thinking across the organisation is integral to it becoming a differentiator. Cowie advised businesses to identify their the top of mind projects to which design thinking principles could be applied, as well as providing every employee in the organisation with a basic grounding in the concept.
This meant they could then apply it to their specific interactions.
“For Design Thinking to work, it has to be a mindset and not just another toolkit,” Del Barrio concluded.
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