Whether in the context of web design, product design or business problem solving, there's been a lot of curiosity about design thinking lately. Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, describes design thinking as "a discipline that uses the designer's sensibility and methods to match people's needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity." The key takeaway here is matching people’s needs with what is feasible and will convert.
Design thinking is flexible, fast, encourages collaboration, and results in innovation. Because of this, many businesses are adopting this creative process to solve non-design related challenges such as company growth, customer engagement, and variations in the marketplace.
Below is a look at the steps of the design thinking process so that you can adapt them to solve your own business needs.
Once a project goal is clearly defined, brainstorming is a technique used to dust off the cobwebs and get the creative juices flowing. It’s an informal session that serves the purpose of getting initial thoughts and ideas out without judgment.
Without judgment is key. All ideas should be welcome and open to discussion. Brainstorming is not about the strengths or weaknesses of a particular idea; it's about considering different angles and perspectives. Even if an idea is clearly not the solution, you never know where it will lead you. Sometimes in this step, quantity over quality proves successful.
Common tools you'll need are markers, post-its, and whiteboards to capture information. The outcomes of a brainstorming session can vary but usually include words, phrases, small sketches, and significant items to consider next. There aren't many parameters to a brainstorming session and should instead be structured however works best for the particular project. While it’s typically a team activity where everyone is encouraged to participate, it can be done individually as well.
2User Research and Interviews
All projects have an intended audience. These are the people that you’re trying to engage. Before getting too deep into possible solutions, it's essential to define who the audience is and what makes them tick so that you can act specifically with them in mind. This is called a "user-centered" approach.
In this stage of the creative process, it's always best to stay away from Google searches and already-existing assumptions and instead talk with people. Conducting user interviews with a variety of individuals that fit within your intended audience will build empathy and give you an understanding of their needs. While you should be prepared with specific questions that will help you get to know them better, it’s also helpful to allow interviewees to bring up topics that you might have missed.
A prototype is a first take on the project based off of the information you gathered from your research. In this step, you’ll create a rough model to assess how it works before spending too much time on the details. At this point, don't worry about how it looks, and don't spend a lot of time or money (you'll see why after the first round of testing).
Your prototype can be anything from a printed version of a website design that shows where each page leads, a mock conference that runs through the agenda, or a test email that assesses whether someone will click through or not. The goal of a prototype is to have something to talk about and improve upon as you go, which leads directly to step four.
Testing your prototype with your audience is essential to knowing whether or not you are achieving your goals. Making assumptions on usability based on your preferences is a recipe for disaster. You can ask some of the people from your user interviews if they'd like to participate in testing or you can ask different individuals; however, it's vital to test with a variety of people to precisely assess what is or isn't working.
Many times, this is where you’ll realize that your prototype misses the mark, but if you put your prototype together quickly and without spending too much money, you haven't lost much at all. Instead, you’ve gained valuable insights that will allow your project to be even more successful in the next version.
Iterating means taking the information from the usability tests and creating a new version that improves upon your original prototype. Depending on the level of feedback that you received, this might be in a more polished form or it might be just as rough as your first prototype. Iterating on the feedback ensures that you are keeping the user top-of-mind.
You can and should repeat steps three, four, and five as many times as needed until you're confident that your project will have a high level of success.