According to a recent Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report, every £1 invested in design leads to an average return on investment of £25.
When asked to describe ‘design’ as a process or an outcome, most people would focus on the visual deliverables of a traditionally ‘visual’ exercise, but design as a discipline starts well before something ends up being illuminated by pixels on your screen.
‘Design thinking’ is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving complex problems. It’s important to note that this is an iterative, non-linear methodology, so you don’t strictly follow each phase one after the other, nor does it have an absolute end. Each step of the process can be thought of as a mode of thinking, with the outcomes determined by the objectives of that particular mode. (e.g. after prototyping, you can move ‘back’ to ideation if you’ve learnt things you’d like to form more clearly as a new/revised idea).
Although there are six phases in the micro-cycle of this methodology, it’s often condensed down into five more distinct outcomes; these are empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing.
Design thinking is a formal innovation process used by many leading organizations such as P&G, Mayo Clinic, Bayer and others. You won’t learn design thinking from reading a single article but you might learn enough from this one to be able to start championing the idea to your team and leadership.
Put yourself in their shoes
How many organisations would readily admit to not knowing or accurately understanding their customers? When was the last time you created or revised your user personas and journey maps? Do you even have these two types of documents to reference?
Unsurprisingly, at the centre of a human-centred design methodology is the human element. To understand customers, tenants, residents or any other nomenclature you choose to assign to users, you first need to build empathy with them. Not just an arbitrary feeling of “I know what you mean” but an actual emotive connection to their needs, wants and frustrations.
There are a number of tools for building empathy with users, but you’ll often find four repeatedly adopted: shadowing, journey maps, interviews and personas.
Shadowing is a good way to get first-hand information by witnessing a day-in-the-life of a user, while journey maps help you to visualise and communicate this as a path that ebbs and flows. User interviews allow you to gain in-depth knowledge from real or potential users while helping to build a distinct set of personas to represent core user types. By generating multiple personas, it allows teams to make better decisions based on a set of defined goals and motivations.
Define problems, not outcomes
There’s an old Russian proverb that roughly translates as “measure twice, cut once.” It’s obvious that in a discipline like carpentry, you should double-check your measurements for accuracy before cutting a piece of wood, otherwise you’ll probably need to cut again, wasting time and materials.
I read a number of project briefs every week where it’s very easy to spot those who have defined the ‘effect’ as the problem, without clearly communicating their understanding of the real problem, the ‘cause’. You might be trying to tackle high call volumes, but why do people resort to calling you? You could be struggling with tenants in arrears, but why are they behind on payments?
Before trying to dictate the deliverables for what you think are the problems you’re trying to solve, you need to be sure that you’ve clearly defined them and that they’re the actual problem you need to tackle.
Taiichi Ohno, a former executive vice-president of Toyota, pioneered a simple yet powerful method called the ‘five whys’ to help identify the root cause of problems in an effort to improve Toyota’s processes. By continually asking ‘why?’, it helps to peel away the encasing symptoms to determine the problem.
An example of the ‘five whys’ by Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno:
- Why did the robot stop? The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
- Why is the circuit overloaded? There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they seized up.
- Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings? The oil pump on the robot is not circulating enough oil.
- Why is the pump not circulating enough oil? The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
- Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings? Because there is no filter on the pump.
Without using the ‘five whys’ in the example above, a business might have only replaced the fuse rather than finding and resolving the root cause.
Move fast and make things
Most organisations I talk to say they want rapid innovation and agile delivery, but they’re not always prepared for what that actually looks like.
The path to success is rarely a straight line, so why would it be any different for a complex problem? How many ideas have been generated before settling on a number of prototypes? Has the business even considered rapid, disposable prototyping as part of their project path?
Once you have a clear understanding of your users, a defined set of problem statements and “how might we?” questions, you can begin to experiment.
Ideation and prototyping are key parts of the transformation journey. Involving users (internal and external) throughout this process ensures that the outcomes remain centred around their needs, hence creating a human-centric deliverable. Facilitated workshops where users contribute to ideas and even produce paper prototypes is an exercise every organisation should do.
It should be no surprise that applying design thinking to digital experiences leads to products and services so good that people prefer to use them.
Nothing changes if nothing changes
If you see value in advocating for a design-thinking mindset, there are a number of high-quality, free resources online to help you get to grips with the fundamentals. It takes organisational openness and agility to adapt to fundamental changes in the way people think about and work to solve problems.
Having worked with organisations taking steps to innovate and transform their product and service offerings, we found some common gaps in experience and capability, and combined with years of our own insight and client input, we have produced an open-source UX toolkit intended to help teams deliver design discovery in-house.
The starter kit provides the foundations for a collaborative innovation project where ideas and decisions can be made as a group. We’re providing a limited run of these kits free to readers of Housing Technology. If you’d like one for your team, please email email@example.com referencing ‘Housing Technology magazine’.
Armin Talić is the commercial director of Komodo Digital.