Design Thinking: Humanizing the Product

Design Thinking: Humanizing the Product

A black-and-white advertisement, with footages that spoke of bygone days and ideals, aired on television sets across the world on September 28, 1997. Combined with the voice-over, which urged us to shake off our creative lethargy, caught more attention than the main telecast it interrupted. Apple Inc. or rather, Steve Jobs, was announcing their comeback into the game, prompting the world to ‘think different’.

Saluting, celebrating, revering counterculture philosophies, and ‘the crazy ones who think they can change the world’, Apple’s ad campaign paved a path previously untrodden by companies in designing their wares. All this happened when design thinking was just an ambitious theory.

Design thinking is the human-centered approach to innovation, dedicated to meeting the unarticulated requirements of the customer. Helping to meet diverse expectations, design thinking has become a much-applauded approach in product creation. This 5-step process is geared towards solutions through actions, with the end user in mind.

1. Empathize: The very first step in design thinking is to understand the problem that needs to be solved from the user’s perspective. Empathy plays a huge part here with experts collating customer data, digging deep into their experiences. This empathetic approach to data collection is at the heart of the human centeredness of this methodology. The good old method of understanding a problem has been walking in someone else’s shoes for a mile. And design thinking duplicates this as a vital step. 

Empathizing with the workaholic population of Bangalore helped Sriharsha Majety and Nandan Reddy found Swiggy, delivering affordable, quality food to their doorstep.

2. Define: This is the step where the problem statement is defined. From the considerable amount of data consolidated, experts are able to locate the pain points of customers in association with a problem. Analysis of customer patterns reveal a lot about their likes and dislikes, unmet requirements, and revision/updates necessary. This final problem statement will thus be customer-centric, with what needs to be solved from their end, and not company-centric, with profits and share values in mind. 

By focusing on the neglected aspects of taxi services, Uber was able to define the precise problems riders faced. Affordable rides, trackable cabs, topped up with varied payment options and multiple offers, Uber was able to change the way people traveled. 

3. Ideate: The most creative step in the process, this is where the possible solutions for a specific problem are envisioned. Most organizations encourage and stimulate free thinking in ideation sessions, because ideas can come from anywhere. In one of our previous articles, we discussed at length the different methodologies for ideation and the approach different companies take. 

There are many ways to ideate like brainstorming, worst possible idea and SCAMPER. One of the most popular methods of arriving at the best solution by elimination, worst possible idea is a fun and confidence-boosting tool. ‘Not that bad’ is always more positive than ‘not that good’, and hence, in this method, people will be more forthcoming with their ideas without fear of being prejudiced. SCAMPER is the acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse. This tool helps you improve a product, service or process by asking questions about it based on the list. 

The Incredibles, one of the biggest box office hits from Pixar Inc., started out as an impossible project, with doubts haunting every step. Director Brad Bird came up with a new idea to make the film work, commissioning frustrated artists who were tired of following the established norms. The success, as proven by the masses, was nothing short of ‘incredible’.  

4. Prototype: The design team now comes up with inexpensive prototypes of the product/solution identified in the third stage. This is the testing phase, where the drawbacks of the envisioned product are identified. The prototype will be tested by the design team, or any team within the organization. This gives the team/teams a chance to investigate the product they have designed, find bugs, and then fix them.

5. Test: The completed product is tested in this stage. It also helps them understand how end users will perceive the product, and gauge their feelings towards it. Required revisions or modifications are carried out before rolling the final product out to the public. 

These two phases are extremely important to avoid such spectacular failures in the technological world as Facebook phone and Microsoft Zune. Even with great ideas on paper and wonderful marketing strategies, these products failed because they just didn’t click with the users.

So, what makes design thinking so beloved?

Ever since Steve Jobs pulled Apple from the brink of stagnation when he returned to the company in 1985, design thinking has gained momentum in the industry. It is safe to assume that Apple took it a bit further and applied design thinking not just to its products, but to the product names as well. The ‘i’ in all the products shifted the focus to the end user, who ‘owned’ his products, truly and well. No matter what their play, the company created a win-win situation with its clever application of design thinking.

Fueling innovation: Consistent innovation is the norm in today’s industry and design thinking, with its focus on customer requirements and satisfaction, gives a vast scope for it. With multiple problems identified in the first stage and clearly defined steps in the entire process, there are enough opportunities for innovation in design thinking.

Staying relevant: All industries today present fierce competition and companies that do not stay relevant by reimagining themselves or their products will unfortunately meet an untimely demise. Design thinking provides a solution to that. Constantly striving to give the customer what he wants, the question of relevance is easily answered.

Is design thinking the perfect solution or does it have critics?

Yes, design thinking does have critics because the methodology, on paper, is too good to be true. While the approach itself is flawless, the humans who apply it might not be.

The ideation phase too has drawn a lot of criticism because defining a process and ideating freely are mutually opposing theories. By default, ideation cannot be process-oriented. And ideas come not merely by sitting in a designated place and time, but anywhere and anytime.

After all is said and done, the fact remains that design thinking is, with empathy at its heart, a methodology with which you can not go wrong. 

How did The Good Kitchen apply design thinking?

The Municipality of Holstebro, Denmark faced a challenge with its growing number of senior citizens and its subsidized meal programs. Studies revealed that the senior citizens in assisted living establishments suffered from nutritional deficiencies. The Municipality assigned the task of revising the program to the innovation and design agency, Hatch & Bloom and the result was the Good Kitchen.

In six months, the company got to the root of the problem, the aspect of empathy leading them to find answers in avenues never before explored and distilling myths that had existed for long. They learned that the people in the kitchen who cooked the food were nothing short of disgruntled artists, who were restricted from doing what they loved. Sticking to the same menu month after month killed their creativity as well as their motivation. Hatch & Bloom also pinpointed the concerns of the customers and came up with a prototype.

By working on the menu, ingredients, and the presentation, Hatch & Bloom was able to design a program that inculcated the interests of both players – the company and the customer.   

So, design thinking, yes or no?

Design thinking is certainly an out of the box approach to problem-solving and innovation. And you can’t argue with its results. Perhaps, the best way to look at it is as an evolving guideline to perfection – not processes set in stone you can’t diverge from, but a set of values that guides you to see the world and its problems through another’s eyes, and decipher and solve these problems for them.

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