Application of Design Thinking in strategy and innovation

Anuj Prasad of Desmania Design, discusses about the importance of application of design and how it affects the customer’s perspective about the end product

21 Sep 2018 | By PrintWeek India

A few years back, while working on a project with a giant Indian MNC, we, as designers, were surprised to hear from the young managers (from client’s side) that they follow design thinking to innovate and they have been trained to do so. It was a pleasant surprise, because 22 years back when I started design practice, it was more of a design evangelist’s job rather than a designer’s!

Well, at the outset of the project we were given an open ended brief to discover the latent needs of the user and then formulate the design brief. This was a dream project, because this is what designers have been taught to do for decades. We soon realised that design thinking is not just our own tool but it has become a management tool for innovation and business success.

Over the years, design has evolved to be a prime mover in the success of consumer facing companies. They have been using design to create great products to entice the consumers albeit in some cases solving their problems too. Design, as taught in design schools is a problem solving technique where aesthetics is just an important subset. Though, in its fledgling state, only aesthetics was recognised as a virtue of designer skills.

Design Thinking is being re-discovered and evolved by the managers as a smart tool to reach out to the customers and provide solutions that have an emotional connect with them. An emotional connect builds relationships, which is damn good for businesses!

Fortunately, universities like Stanford and organisations like Ideo have been instrumental in spreading design thinking as a problem solving tool that can be used by anyone to delight the user/consumer through solving overt & covert problems.

What is Design Thinking? Some of the key words & phrases that appear with this expression are user centric, user insights, empathy, lateral thinking, exploratory, frequent prototyping, context, iterative, multiple possibilities, etc. If these words are put in the right order, an interesting process emerges. This process helps in finding a creative and optimum solution to any problem.

For spiritualists the big question is ‘Who am I?’ For Design Thinkers it is ‘Who is the User?’ Unlike the former, where the answer is tough to find, latter needs a sensitivity to define and empathise with the user. So, first and foremost is to know who the user is, understand her behaviour, stereotypes, unmet needs, socio cultural background, through certain research methodologies. So when you have a problem to solve, always define the user & context and try playing her role. Then invoke the child in you and explore. Explore laterally! One will see a plethora of ideas churning out, with a few potential ones. These ideas could be validated by making some quick prototypes and testing with the users.

While resonating the ideas with the users, there are bound to be some unexpected discoveries, which may lead to finer solutions with deeper thoughts. Iterate, detail out and converge consciously to reach to the best solution. Continuous refinement during the process polishes the idea and makes it lean and attractive.

Design Thinking is evolving and is now relevant for solving larger problems related to social change, environment, systems, etc. From an appearance and object oriented design process, managers are now using Design Thinking techniques to solve more complex problems which have far reaching benefits for people and societies. It has become interdisciplinary and is being used by professionals from many other fields.

Design Thinking is a strategic tool that employs techniques from sociology and psychology, to dig deeper into the user’s mind and map them on a larger landscape. Technologies like 3D Printing, IoT (Internet of Things) and BDA (Big Data Analytics) will supplement the Design Thinking process for deeper penetration in to the consumer’s mind.

Here is a good arithmetic of design thinking:

  • Identify problem + research the user and her ecosystem + ideate = many innovative concepts
  • Shortlist potential concepts + iterations + quick prototyping = proof of concept
  • More prototyping = more quality
  • Design + detailing + final proto = validation
  • Test + revisit design + last mile details + manufacture = ready to launch

Design Thinking helps in innovation, differentiation, cost optimisation, user experience and viral branding. If we go deeper, we discover that each organisation is pining for all of above, for business success. Design Thinking, if imbibed with belief, delivers each one of above. A quick equation can easily summarise the thought:

Design Thinking      = innovation + differentiation + cost reduction + user experience + viral branding

                      = Very high probability of business success

Every organisation, whether it is an NGO or a large Corporate, whether it is in manufacturing or in services, there exists a big opportunity for design thinking to solve complex problems. A bank needs to provide customer experience through ease in transactions, whether physical or digital. Design thinking will help in mapping the customer behaviour, cognition stereotypes and then converting them into solutions. The solutions can help in easy navigation in a physical space or digital navigation in an App space.

The modern day manager has a deep belief in user experience because it is the main catalyst in building brands. If an air conditioner gives you pure air and kills mosquitoes then why should a consumer choose any other brand? If the brand is truthful and does not create gimmicks, then such features escalate the spread and volumes.

A smart urban mobility solution or an effective waste management system can be deployed by using design thinking and collaborative problem solving. The needs of people are unique to culture and history. A solution implemented in Peru cannot be transplanted in India. We have to find our own solutions through design thinking. Even a small activity like haircare is vastly different across continents. Haircare in Africa and India is totally different, because of the sheer difference in textures of hair. Even within a diverse country like India, consumer choices change with each mile.

A large plethora of opportunities exist, and design thinking can help in finding apt solutions. But along with opportunities come the challenges. With the popularity of Design Thinking on the rise, we find many professionals using it just as a jargon. When used only as a technique, it gives a good presentation, but at a superficial level. Organisations are now driven by their CEPs to get trained in Design Thinking. Whereas, Design Thinking & doing is a challenge which could be solved only by co-creation with design professionals.

Managers should endeavour to understand the depth of Design Thinking. Understanding the fundamentals will lead to belief that can give infinite benefits. Use of design thinking is like Samudra Manthan (Indian mythology). It will result in meeting several business objectives such as:

  • Invoking consumer loyalties
  • Frugal engineering
  • Supply chain optimisation
  • Eco-centric design
  • Creating Visual Brand Language (DNA) of the brand
  • Business Strategy from Innovative & Futuristic ideation
  • Employee participation in co-creation

     …and many more

Creativity is exciting and so is Design Thinking! Use it to enjoy problem solving