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Applied Design Thinking

At MOBGEN, we accompany many clients in facing challenges that require divergent and innovative thinking. Not many are familiar with the details of Design Thinking, or whether it’s even relevant for their large and complex organisations. Below, we’ll see how we effectively bring Design Thinking into our collaborative creation process, and what we do to ensure lasting benefits after the initial workshops.

What is Design Thinking?

We see Design Thinking as one method in our toolbox that can inspire innovative products and services in complex business environments. You’ll find many definition and interpretations of Design Thinking, but they all tend to share the following elements:

  1. Begin with a clear definition of the problem you want to solve, or the opportunity you’d like to explore. This can be done by visualising potential users, mapping life scenarios, concept mapping, and more.
  2. Think of as many different possibilities to solve the problem as you can. Use individual brainstorming, role playing, and similar techniques to examine the problem from different perspectives.
  3. Select the most impactful solutions from the ideas that have arisen. Impact is evaluated first and foremost from the point of view of the user (though we may identify benefits for the business).
  4. Finally, select and validate the most viable option. This will be the convergence of what customers want, what we can feasibly create, and what is economically viable.

At MOBGEN, we complement the Design Thinking process with tools, techniques and exercises to guide each one of the phases. What does this process look like in practice? How can it be implemented in a real business environment? Let’s take a look:

Design Thinking in Your Organisation

Many of our clients are multinational firms with complex hierarchies and elaborate project governance. As you might imagine, these could pose a challenge to the implementation of something as divergent as Design Thinking. However, sometimes a spark of change is precisely what is needed to inspire new solutions to old and new problems.

One of our recent workshops was conducted with long-time client and partner ABN-AMRO, a company with strong digital presence and dedication to innovation. In this workshop, we sparked new ways of thinking and gave an introduction on how the design thinking methodology can be applied to solve problems of any kind. Our approach allowed them to discover new paths to innovation:

  1. Empathise and define: Rather than rushing to define problems, we begin with a process of identifying with a specific persona. We visually construct the complete journey that person would follow in order to better understand needs, goals and emotions going into the next phase.
  2. Ideate: In this workshop, we mapped out the persona’s journey with Post-it notes. Next, we individually brainstormed on how we could improve each and every step in the journey, thinking outside of the box, allowing infeasible ideas. During this phase, it’s not quality, but quantity that counts!, The journey provides an excellent tool to visually represent and organise the ideas.
  3. Evaluate: The evaluation phase of this workshop was performed by all the participants, based on the values identified while empathising with the customer journey. Priority pyramids and impact-effort matrices are excellent ways to assess and compare ideas, eventually leaving the ideas that, alone or combined, rank highest
  4. Prototype & Test: We like to take these ideas to the next level and construct a prototype. This serves both to validate assumptions behind the proposed solution, while allowing the participants to see tangible output of their effort. You can even conclude the session with an elevator pitch!

The purpose of this workshop is to  shed new light on how to tackle organisation’s upcoming challenges and opportunities, but this is where the journey only begins.

From Post-Its to Products: The Crucial Next Steps

Our introductory Design Thinking exercises are very enjoyable and quite fruitful, but to initiate an approach that leads to disruptive innovations, more than just a workshop is required.  Karel Vredenburg, Director of Design at IBM famously said, “Design Thinking is not Workshopping”. After the workshop, comes the work.

 

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First of all, this means starting with an empowered, multidisciplinary team to deepdive into the nature of the problem and spend time on the different phases of the Design Thinking phases. The outcome of the Design Thinking process must be captured and translated into a viable approach. Of particular importance, other than the chosen solution, are the definitions of problems to solve, descriptions of personas and/or scenarios, and any assumptions made while crafting solutions. Much of the background research that goes into initiating a new solution will have been reflected in this process.

Next, we proceed to the development phase. Sounds obvious, right? It may be so, but we have observed two impediments that often stop the innovative process in its tracks:

  1. Sometimes, the organisation is happy to conduct workshops and create and validate prototypes, but does not follow up in a timely manner with the commitment to its outcome. Therefore, having a plan to dedicate resources to grow the Design Thinking seed is critical. You’ll get much further if you’re prepared to go beyond the first step.
  2. When ideas are cultivated and shaped into a solution, they may be passed on to a development team that was not involved in the ideation process. While this is quite common, it requires conscious effort to ensure that all team members share the same vision of the goal, the user’s needs, and the other considerations that led to this solution being chosen.

Releasing a working product is not the last step of our journey, either. To truly gain lasting benefits from the work started by the Design Thinking process, we can use the feedback and learnings from the product to enrich our future innovation. By comparing your definitions, assumptions and expectations with real-world interaction, you learn about what’s really important to users, how the market is evolving, and which new challenges and opportunities will present themselves. This input to your future creation and ideation improves the quality of their output exponentially. The more regularly we adopt Design Thinking into our complete project cycle, the more effective it becomes.

Conclusion

Design Thinking has evolved from being an abstract buzzword to a methodology that guides creation in industries as diverse as toothpaste and transportation. While many variants may exist, the fundamental elements of the process combined with the commitment to follow up generate new ways to overcome the many challenges of the modern business world. From our experience, Design Thinking tools are extremely effective in the digital world, even for large organisations.

 

Authors:
Guy Samuel
Eva Moerbeek