Why did Design Thinking, founded in the 1950s, turn into a latest trend in the start-ups and digital age? Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon, and innovative firms like Apple and Dyson swear by it. They use it to design and fine tune their products and platforms. This approach, which places design at the heart of the creative and development process, is winning over ever-more business leaders. It is taught in a few schools around the world, including the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées in France. But why is Design Thinking coming to the fore at this point, and where is it heading?
The emergence of an experience-based economy
The digital world has not finished transforming our lives. With the emergence of start-ups and the new hyper-connected generation, the customer experience concept that comes with innovation has become more important than its novel features or tech aspects. Surveys show that a good customer experience builds strong engagement and brand loyalty. As such, corporate profits and success seem to derive from a standard solution, ie design and offer a product or service that give customers the richest and most fulfilling experience possible. Firms like Apple with its iPhone, or Dyson with its cordless vacuum cleaner, have realized this. And that is how Design Thinking, and with it designers, have now become the preferred way to design and market a new shopping experiences.
Empathy, ideation and prototyping: three key innovation steps
Design Thinking is a new way to look at project innovation. By going off the beaten track, it brings engineers, marketers and analytical experts together with more intuitive and creative people in the same development team, who initially strive to identify a consumer problem and to understand their environment via an ethnographic-based market survey. This way they see in practical terms what the real-life user experiences are. This step features empathy, a key term in Design Thinking. Next comes ideation, where a concept and an idea to solve the problem identified in phase 1 are developed. This followed by the prototyping step that will give a shape to this concept and lead to a product which will be tested by early users called "Beta-testers". Iterations based on their feedback will be executed to achieve an MVP, a "Minimum Viable Product" to be brought to market.
An era of co-creation based on collective intelligence
To lock in the Design Thinking culture and state of mind, it is sooner or later essential to industrialize and make it routine. Indeed, while this notion of listening to customers and the market seems obvious and a matter of common sense, there is nevertheless a need to follow a very structured approach. To succeed, it cannot be applied in bits and pieces. What is required is a balance between discipline and methodology, something like the Agile Software Development method. The goal is to achieve a tangible result, while keeping an open mind and a very broad horizon. At all times a number of different assumptions are kept open, each bringing its own successes and failures. Tapping into the endless possibilities of our creative force, the mind constantly alternates between intuition and analysis. This means initially working from a method addressing just one question: "Does the method chosen work in relation to the goal sought?". Design Thinking has countless applications and concern any innovative project, including ways of using a car, designing a futuristic store and planning and rolling out an event. 90% of failed start-ups do so because they are concerned about launching a product or service that is important to them, without considering whether it solves a human problem. Design Thinking is therefore essential for the success of any innovative project.
Spreading the word and converting to Design Thinking
How do companies convert to Design Thinking? Before "getting down to the nitty-gritty" with an approach, it is essential to start with processes developed by experts who have already practiced Design Thinking, i.e. flexible coaches or designers. Such experienced people can spread the word about it, for example by developing the brief for a well planned test project whose results are known in advance. Fun apps, including games, will motivate and spur on new DT team members to practice the DT approach.
Design Thinking and the future of the company
For a service provider, working with a customer in Design Thinking mode requires that the customer has very advanced infrastructure and available resources. Corporate management must also be prepared to earmark resources and a budget to this project. This is a pre-requisite for innovation and growth. For all these reasons, Design Thinking within companies is probably the next step in business transformation. The first movers will win out in the end.