A phrase like “design thinking” probably sounds to many like some throwaway fad or trend, one that promises way more flash than it does substance. That could not be further from the truth—in reality, design thinking is the first step in tackling major business disruptions. As an approach, design thinking diagnoses and solves business problems, but has gained relatively little fanfare for having been around nearly 50 years. However, with the digital world continuing to evolve and as people rush to embrace new technology, design thinking is poised to become the new normal for all business process design.
With half a century under its belt, design thinking shouldn’t be as hard of a sell as it is. And yet, many companies fail to even consider this method when creating their products and services despite irrefutable benefits, such as:
- Helping companies thrive in today’s digitally disrupted business environment
- Engaging organizations across disciplines and departments to reimagine end-to-end operations through an iterative design process
- Improving experiences through close examination of customer interactions via customer journey mapping to identify sentiment, motivation, expectation and pain points
- Promoting innovation that results in real value for customers
Any company should be jumping over the moon trying to attain these achievements. But embracing design thinking with guns-blazing isn’t the measured, calculated approach that will yield success. We’re here to explain how it should be done!
It’s All About the Strategy
There’s a reason only a few companies have made true strides in profitability and scalability through design thinking, and it all boils down to approaching it with the right strategy. For every Volkswagen or Coca-Cola, there are tons of poor design thinking approaches. Ideally, a company should tackle design thinking with empathy and evolution in mind. That entails getting into the hearts and minds of customers and uncovering latent needs in order to develop a deep understanding of those being designed for, as well as regularly experimenting with this approach and constantly evolving in order to improve customer experiences over time.
Empathy means walking a mile in a customer’s shoes to understand their everyday lives, desires and frustrations. From a marketing standpoint, design thinking with empathy in mind embodies storytelling and a human-centric approach. Meanwhile, as McKinsey points out, the other major principle of design thinking is that it’s evolutionary. It’s less of a one-and-done initiative and more of a continuous design approach. Make no mistake about it—a successful design thinking strategy is both empathetic and evolutionary.
The Customer Is Always Right
Simply employing quantitative market research to target audiences is neglecting a crucial part of the human decision-making process: emotion. Design thinking can help illuminate this. As a tool for gathering insights around sentiment and behavior, design thinking can offer businesses a window into not only how a customer might choose a particular product or service and the price they’re willing to pay for it, but also the reasons dictating why they made their choice. That’s invaluable information for any company to possess.
Meanwhile, design thinking also emboldens companies to tell stories and craft messages based on customer desire. This can lead to more authentic, personal connections that leave companies better informed about their customers and leave customers feeling like they’re being seen, heard and catered to. The biggest thing to always remember when it comes to an empathetic design thinking approach is always placing the focus on the customer and what they want. Truly, nothing else matters.
Switching Design Gears
Design thinking should be much more than just a phase; it should be an active commitment. To get the most out of design thinking, companies should combine marketing and design research, social media listening, customer satisfaction surveys, warranty-data analysis, focus groups and other methods to always have a clear picture of customers’ needs, and then evolve their approach around those. A successful design thinking strategy should allow for design to occur throughout all stages of development and the customer experience centered around a given product or service.
Customer preferences can rapidly change over time, so it’s important that design teams engage and iterate with customers and provide design delivery strategies that incorporate the latest technologies to continue meeting customers’ expectations. Change can be scary to some, but it’s an essential component of design thinking. Cultivating new ideas and design approaches will offer greater insights into what is and isn’t working and allow companies to refine and adapt their design offerings in a way that keeps customers coming back for more. Empathize, evolve, engage: that’s the design thinking way!