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Why Design Thinking Must Guide Product Development

A Picture of Alex Robbio
September 11, 2015 | Topic: Design Thinking  
Why Design Thinking Must Guide Product Development

An article entitled “Design Thinking Comes Of Age” recently appeared on the front page of the Harvard Business Review. If you haven’t already, I recommend taking a read. It reflects the increasing attention Design Thinking is receiving throughout the corporate world (for interest, try typing in “design thinking” into Google search trends to vividly see how this has risen over the past few years).

Design Thinking

Here at Belatrix we started our journey with Design Thinking several years ago, so I wanted to share some of our learnings and thoughts on the framework.

  • Design Thinking represents a vital tool to overcome complexity. Developing modern software products is more complex than ever before. For example in a recent engagement, we were tasked with creating a mobile app that would enable a customer to withdraw money from an ATM in less than a few seconds using their phone, not a credit card. With such an open brief from the client, how could we best come up with the solution? It is actually here, when a problem or goal is not strictly defined, that Design Thinking is at its most powerful. It enabled us to wear the shoes of ordinary people regularly using an ATM, and helped us to come up with fresh ideas about what was possible. We were then able to iterate through different possibilities, create prototypes to see what worked and what didn’t – and how to overcome challenges from the technology, to connectivity issues, to the user experience.
  • Use customer journey maps to put yourself in the position of the customer. Customers are more powerful than ever before. Forrester Research calls this the Age of the Customer. And it really is. Today’s products must engage and delight their users, because if they don’t, your customers are now armed with the information and power to go straight to your competitor. But to fully understand the product lifecycle, we’ve found there is no better tool available than the customer journey map – to clearly and visually see what is required, and ensure all members of the team have the same understanding. Customer journey maps are a vital part of Design Thinking.
  • User experience represents a vital part of Design. As the HBR article states “a design-centric organization empowers employees to observe behavior and draw conclusions about what people want and need”. This is more important than ever – just as the example above illustrates, putting yourself in the shoes of your customer is easily said, but not always easy to do. Design thinking helps us understand the emotions that a product or service creates. Customers today have higher expectations of the products and services that they use, so we must think about how our customer feels, not just if they were able to do what they wanted to do.
  • Combine Agile development and Design Thinking. Design Thinking places emphasis on creating prototypes, to be able to touch, feel, and sense the product. And based on this, you can iteratively improve. Agile development meanwhile provides the structure and processes to enable this constant iteration- short Sprints, daily stand-ups, retrospectives for example. As in so many cases, innovation happens at the intersection- and we’ve found that it’s at the intersection of Agile and Design Thinking, where we are at our most innovative.

As the HBR article succinctly states, “Design Thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing”. In a world of ever greater complexity, I believe this best sums up why Design Thinking must be a vital tool in every business’ armoury. But specifically for technology service providers such as Belatrix, we must use Design Thinking to ensure we’re delivering outcomes to our customers, rather than transactional services. If the services industry embraces Design Thinking we believe it will transform both the expectations and potential of outsourcing.

Do you have experience with Design Thinking? Have you tried implementing it in your organization, perhaps in software development, or marketing, or through your whole organization? I’d love to get your comments and feedback!


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