Not Just for Designers: Design Thinking is Everywhere

If Agile software development changed how we delivered value to customers, and SaaS changed how we capture value from customers, Design Thinking changes EVERYTHING.

You see, Design Thinking is an approach to developing solutions that are desirable, technically feasible, AND financially viable. It’s about first understanding what customer value, and then designing a solution to make the most of that value exchange.

While Agile and SaaS optimize systems (smaller cycles, minimal waste), Design Thinking helps ensure the right systems get designed in the first place. The same principles of small cycles and minimizing waste still apply.

The Three Stages of Design Thinking

I love this breakdown of the three stages of Design Thinking. One way to think about the three stages is to focus on which risk you are focusing on reducing.

“Life is too short to build something no one wants.”

– Ash Maurya, author of “Running Lean”

Inspiration: Start with people

As author Ash Maurya says, “life is too short to build something no one wants.” Design Thinking starts with inspiration.

Ultimately we should be designing something to help our customers make progress in their lives. What is the progress they’re trying to make? What stands in their way? Great products either eliminate pain or cause delight.

The focus of this stage is to answer the question “Are we solving an important problem for people?”

In today’s day and age, one-size-fits-all products don’t cut it. Consumers expect a product that not only serves a functional need, it makes them feel a certain way about themselves.

The Design Thinking approach starts with connecting with your target customers to develop empathy and understanding. Through observation and interviews you can develop a rich understanding of where opportunities to eliminate pain or create delight exist.

Without direct engagement with your target customer, you’re just guessing.

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

– Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze

Ideation: The part everyone loves

Many teams, aspiring to be “innovative”, hold brainstorming or hackathon sessions in an attempt to generate as many ideas as possible, hoping for some gems. The challenge is then what to do with all these possibly great ideas.

By starting with the Design Thinking Inspiration phase, you will be focusing your ideation on solving real problems, which will allow you to test out your concepts with customers and see which (if any) resonate with customers and should be pursued further.

The focus of this stage is to answer the question “Does this solution solve the problem (for the customers) we previously identified?” If you skip Inspiration and jump right to Ideation, you may come up with plenty of possible solutions, but not know if the problem even exists or is important enough to solve. You’re introducing more risk into your process by not first validating your problem, and then seeking to solve it.

“Luck is not a business model”
-Anthony Bourdain, chef and author

Implementation: Checking your work

So you’ve validated a customer problem and solution: now comes the hard stuff. The point of this stage is to answer the question “Does it make sense for our company to build this?”

That’s right, design thinking doesn’t stop at “people love this — we should do it”. It involves considering the technical development as well as the cost structure — because these are all aspects of the product delivery and its ultimate success. A masterfully designed product will fail if it can’t be developed or sold in a way that aligns with customer expectations.

Design Thinking is not a rigid, formulaic process. There is no checklist to follow that will guarantee success. But what it does offer is a way to approach bringing new innovation to market by systematically reducing risk. It does so by compelling us to tear down the silos across our organization (UX, Product, Engineering, Sales & Finance) and ensure we’re all designing the right solution for our customer, and for our business.

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