Design Thinking

In 2014, I had the opportunity to participate in a business transformation course spanning two weeks, held in Potsdam, close to Berlin in Germany. During this time, I spent two insightful days at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design in Potsdam.

For those who may not be aware, Hasso Plattner, the co-founder of SAP, established this institute in 1998. Since 2007, it has been a prominent center for teaching Design Thinking.

Design thinking represents an iterative and flexible methodology that teams deploy to gain a deep understanding of users, question pre-existing notions, reframe challenges, and develop and experiment with innovative solutions.

Design thinking is vital for business transformation due to several key reasons:

At its core, design thinking prioritises the user experience. This ensures that business transformations are deeply aligned with the actual needs and preferences of the end-users.

The way it encourages thinking outside traditional constraints.

The iterative nature of design thinking allows businesses to adapt quickly to feedback and changing market conditions.

By prototyping and testing small-scale models before full implementation, design thinking can help businesses avoid costly mistakes.

Design thinking's inclusive methodology breaks down silos and fosters cross-functional collaboration.

Design thinking aligns closely with strategic business goals. It helps in translating broad objectives into actionable plans, ensuring that transformation efforts are coherent and strategically focused.

By developing solutions that truly resonate with users, design thinking can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

In summary, design thinking equips businesses with the tools to innovate, adapt, and meet the evolving needs of their market and customers, making it an indispensable element in the pursuit of business transformation.

Success Stories in Design Thinking

Many organisations have harnessed the power of design thinking to innovate and succeed. I'm going to tell you about five of them, but you'll find many more examples online.
Nike applied design thinking to enhance its product innovation, particularly in developing its Nike+ platform. This digital ecosystem, which includes fitness trackers and apps, was born from a deep understanding of athletes' needs. Nike focused on creating a more engaging and personalised workout experience, integrating technology with fitness.

IBM shifted its approach to focus more on user experience across its range of products and services. By adopting a human-centred design mindset, IBM reimagined its approach to software development, leading to the creation of more intuitive and user-friendly products. This transition not only enhanced customer satisfaction but also internally revolutionised the company’s culture, fostering creativity and collaboration across teams.

Airbnb's journey to becoming a leading platform for home rentals is a testament to design thinking. By focusing on the experiences of both hosts and guests, Airbnb crafted a user-friendly interface that simplifies the process of finding and booking accommodations, revolutionising the travel industry.

PillPack, which was acquired by Amazon for $1 billion in 2018, exemplifies design thinking in healthcare. By concentrating on the challenges faced by individuals taking multiple medications, PillPack developed an ingenious system that organises pills by date and time, streamlining medication management.

In collaboration with IDEO, Google Creative Lab embarked on a project to understand how children engage in physical play and learning. Through design thinking, they created Project Bloks, a groundbreaking initiative designed to cultivate problem-solving skills in children through interactive, tactile, and collaborative coding experiences.

Let's consider the five phases of Design Thinking, and keep in mind that these phases are fluid; which means you can execute them concurrently, in a non-linear fashion, and revisit them iteratively.

Phase 1: Empathise — Understanding User Needs
This initial phase is about developing a deep empathetic connection with the problem at hand, primarily through user research. Empathy is a cornerstone of human-centred design, like design thinking, as it enables you to put aside personal biases and genuinely understand the users and their needs.

Phase 2: Define — Articulating Users' Needs and Problems
Here, you collate and analyse the insights obtained during the Empathise stage. This involves synthesising observations to articulate the fundamental problems, known as problem statements. Creating personas at this stage can help maintain a human-centric focus as you move into ideation.

Phase 3: Ideate — Challenging Assumptions and Brainstorming Ideas
Armed with a solid understanding from the first two stages, you can now begin to generate innovative ideas. This phase encourages “thinking outside the box,” exploring different perspectives on the problem, and identifying creative solutions. Brainstorming is particularly effective in this phase.

Phase 4: Prototype — Developing Solution Concepts
The Prototyping phase is experimental, where the goal is to identify the best solution for each identified problem. Your team should create simple, low-cost versions of the product or its features to explore the viability of the ideas generated. Techniques can range from paper prototyping to basic digital mock-ups.

Phase 5: Test — Validating Solutions
In this phase, prototypes undergo thorough testing. While this might be the final stage in the cycle, design thinking is inherently iterative: the findings often lead back to redefining problems and revisiting earlier stages for further iterations and refinements, exploring or eliminating alternative solutions.

Overall, these phases should be viewed as distinct modes contributing to the entire design project, rather than as sequential steps. The ultimate objective is to achieve a profound understanding of the users and their ideal solution or product.

If you want to explore Design Thinking further, IDEO's design kit is a helpful resource.