Don’t let the name fool you.
To those new to the concept, the term design thinking may seem like something that only designers could, or should, do. But nothing could be further from the truth. Business design thinking is the utilization of the traditional design-thinking methodology to conduct a more human-centered examination of a product, service or experience, to define what aspects of those things might be improved, to imagine and prototype solutions for addressing those improvable aspects, and to test and refine your solutions.
We’ll briefly cover the specifics of these steps in a moment, but suffice it to say, for now, this methodology is an equally powerful tool whether you’re looking to create a new web application or to increase the efficiency of budget approvals. Basically, any time you find yourself asking, “Could we do this a different, better way?” you would be well served to undertake a little business design thinking.
So, for starters, what are the five steps of design thinking?
There seem to be as many flavors of design thinking as there are consultancies in the world. But most of those flavors are variations on five common design-thinking steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Step 1: Empathize
The purpose of this step is to thoroughly understand the people or customers for whom you want to improve a product or experience. It’s all about observing, interacting or immersing yourself into their world. Get into their heads. Walk a mile in their shoes. Pick your cliché. Just do it. The real benefit here is that you uncover how things really are experienced versus how they are assumed to be.
Step 2: Define
Here, you process the findings from your observations and interactions and synthesize a point of view as to what challenge you want to solve for and what moments in the customer experiences you wish to improve.
Step 3: Ideate
Now that you know what you’re solving for, explore the widest variety of possible solutions to your defined challenge(s). You should then begin to prioritize which of the ideas generated are at once desirable (people would want to engage with the solution), feasible (the solution is technically possible) and viable (the resources required to deploy the solution don’t outweigh its value to the company).
Step 4: Prototype
Find some way to make your proposed solution real—or at least real enough to evaluate. That could be something as simple as an artfully arranged collection of Post-it notes to a fully deployed test-market product launch.
Step 5: Test
You’ll want to put your prototype into the hands (minds) of people and evaluate whether you’ve created a satisfactory solution to the challenge you originally defined. From here, you might go forward with the “real” version of your solution, go back to any of the previous steps and iterate, or abandon the effort altogether.
You should understand that despite the linear presentation of these stages, you may find yourself circling back to any early stage, from any later stage, as greater levels of insight, nuance and plain old unforeseen issues reveal themselves. So how might applying design thinking within your company offer any real business advantage?
Design thinking can help improve every business process.
As useful as business design thinking can be in forwarding an enterprise-level change-management initiative, it scales perfectly well to small tasks like improving a work intake form or how invoices are routed for approval.
Design thinking increases decision-making transparency.
Integral to the design-thinking process is documentation and sharing of learnings and outcomes along the way. Empathize helps everyone know exactly who the solution will help. Define provides an objective challenge around which to build consensus, early. Ideation documents and lays bare all of the solutions in contention. Prototype and Test provide objective and empirical evaluations of ideas. So, when someone in another part of the company or who was simply not involved in the process asks why or how decisions were made, you’ll have a record.
Design thinking gets to solutions in a repeatable way.
A common issue facing many is that people aren’t always sure how to get started. Business design thinking provides a common starting point as well as a path forward. Further, the more that everyone in the organization understands the practice and value of the methodology, business design thinking can provide an accelerative influence over process improvement.
You can start right now.
While there are certainly greater benefits to formal business design-thinking training or working with a design-thinking firm, simply introducing the discipline of the methodology of design thinking can improve your business decision-making today.