The next frontier: Design Thinking

Here’s another little ditty from Andrew Tan’s blog WhatIf which covers innovation & design from an Asian perspective. And no, he’s not part of the global outfit Whatif Innovation, he runs his own innovation company and this is his personal blog.

Design thinking is tnanobiker1.jpghe latest and hottest methodology talked about to help a company innovate. GE calls it CENCOR (calibrate, explore, create, organize and realize). The Mayo Clinic calls it SPARC (see, plan, act, refine, communicate). Andrew’s new company calls it GIP (Gather, Ideate, Prototype). Its most obvious and direct power is in the creation of new products and services. Design thinking allows an organization to differentiate its products and services in an avenue other than pricing.
Andrew’s method is not dissimilar to the IDEO method of industrial design, one which has nurtured some of the most popular innovations of the past few decades. Apple’s first mouse. Prada’s ultrahip Manhattan store. Stand-up toothpaste tubes that don’t get icky. The Palm V.
In the Ideo universe, great design doesn’t begin with a far-out concept or a way-cool drawing. It begins with a deep and empathic understanding of the human condition. The first step for any Ideo team on any project is to try to empathize with the people who might use whatever product or service that eventually emerges from its work. Ideo has crafted a set of systematic research methods for understanding what the firm calls “human factors.” It then goes on to develop ideas and from those ideas, prototypes which can be tested for real responses on real people.
It’s interesting to remind ourselves that there is a limit to what consumers can tell us about what they want next. Many consumers find it hard to imagine products or services too far beyond what currently exists now, but they are particularly good at reacting to tangible things.
I’ve noticed this in my own work when testing new food ideas, you can show them a coloured sketch of a food product [as was the norm at one innovation company] and often respondents would squirm as they tried to imagine a baked ravioli chip, more often than not, leading to much rejection and not a lot in the way of insights to move forward with. In other projects, we actually created prototypes and served the food or the snack product and watched consumers react to the packaging, to the actual product itself, to the consistency – they imagined where they might eat it, when they were more likely to feel like it and what it would replace. Even if they didn’t actually love the snack itself, it provided a really tangible point of focus for conversation amongst the participants. Anyway, enough of my palava, it’s a good post & you can read the rest of it here:
Design thinking is very people-centric – it is all about making a product or service relevant and meaningful to people. It is a method to tap into the unmet and unspoken needs of the people. Up until now, most organizations have used focus groups to figure out what people want or what to make or build next. A focus group is a great tool but it is limited to what consumers already know and it is not suitable to mine consumers’ unarticulated needs. This is where design thinking comes into play. It acts as a tool of empathy that can be used to understand what consumers really want. Consumers can easily articulate what they do not like about a product/service but they can rarely articulate what is needed to remove the element that causes dissatisfaction or to create delight.
“Design thinking can offer greater, deeper, and faster insight into users’ lives to help businesses know what to make in the first place,” says Patrick Whitney, a 54-year-old Canadian native who is the director of the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago.Design thinking has other less obvious applications. For example, Samsung is using design thinking for their strategic thinking and Proctor and Gamble has set up an innovation “gym” which is a place to train its managers in design thinking.So what makes up design thinking? The basic concept of design thinking is simple. It starts off by observation – going out into the world to see how customers shop at retail outlets, how they wash their clothes at home or how they are treated in clinics. By using observation, Gap Inc. and others have noticed that shopping in pairs and threesomes is common, and from this insight, they are making dressing rooms larger.The next step is to try out lots of ideas quickly and cheaply by prototyping. This prototyping step allows ideas to be tested, improved and refined. It also makes ideas tangible and helps managers visualize them in order that they can make better decisions on which ideas to improve, discard and ultimately help launch products faster.
Finally, the last step is to make design thinking part of the organization’s process to ensure that it is done all the time.Even though the basic concept is simple, the devil is always in the details. So how does one start? The best place to start is by honing one’s observation skills. The next time you are at Coffeebean, stop and look around, try to notice where things are placed, ask why items are placed in certain areas, ask what catches your eye and why. Is it the color or something else? Look at how people are interacting and behaving with respect to the item.
Another exercise you can do is to pick an item and deconstruct it mentally in simply understanding why. Do this over and over and soon you will start seeing patterns. That is when you know that you’ve got the first part of design thinking down.