Want to Build Great Digital Products? Be a Design Thinker. Design Thinking (STEP BY STEP)
The development process for most of human history has been, shall we say, symptom-driven. When there was a market open, manufacturers and entrepreneurs would move in and capitalize on it the best way they saw fit. When people need clothes, someone would be there to clothe them. When people need food, someone would be there to feed them. It’s an effective method for a simpler time.
These times, however, are not as simple as they were a century or more ago. The customer not only has more agency to have their voice be heard, but also the greater desire to be heard. The problem with older development processes is that the customer would take what they got. They weren’t created with human-centric mindsets, which has begun to grow in popularity with new technological innovations, most prominently the Internet.
For digital products, you need to embrace the human-centric way of thinking. Design thinking is a mentality that adheres to this principle. Thinking like a designer can transform organizations processes for the better: from developing digital products and services, all the way through strategy development and application. The design thinking approach was created by IDEA, and brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.
What Is Design Thinking?
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” — Tim Brown*, CEO of IDEA, an international design and consulting firm. That is, verbatim, what the design thinking philosophy entails, but what’s most important to take away from the statement is the application of the designer’s toolkit.
Traditionally, as is evidenced by how past corporations conducted business and developed products, the upper echelon of those running the company are analytical. It’s good for running a business, but inflexible for innovation. The designer’s toolkit originates from the concept of drawing on a designer’s mindset and using similar methods and practices to think outside of the box. Creativity is the crux here, and more so it allows enough flexibility in a project to adapt it through a continuous cycle of testing, feedback, and change. It’s a structured process to understand and address the customer’s, articulated or otherwise, needs in a creative, flexible way.
The cornerstone here involves finding the sweet between these three concepts: feasibility, desirability, and viability. That is to say, how feasible is it for the company to develop and manufacture this product, how desirable is it to the public, and how viable is it economically as a worthwhile, effective measure.
Technology is impressive, but it’s hardly perfect. Not every goal with have an easy solution, and a part of the design thinking process is determining that limitation. Design thinking helps evaluate the feasibility of a desired solution to a project by having the end goal in mind from the beginning. The starting point from here inherently involves the end user’s goals and needs to be translated into software or digital projects.
Once you’ve identified the solution, taking into account what that solution must entail to address what the end user needs, you can determine whether or not it’s technically feasible to pursue. It may very well be possible to develop a solution, but it may simply not be a reasonable pursuit to undertake. Translating what someone wants into an extant product can’t always work.
This is as much about finding out what prominent problems the customer has that need addressing. Some issues will hurt more than others, and determining what is proving to be the most inconvenient or obstructive leads toward what is most desirable. Essentially, you’re looking to solve the right customer problem and solve the right pain points.
When you have your solution, you have your finished project, and you have your satisfied customer, what happens next? Determining the viability of a product involves foresight, seeing where it will be in the future. The solution may work well now, but is it sustainable? Does it contribute to long-term growth? Developing a digital product is not intended to create something as a one-time solution, and if the product can’t continue being viable then it loses its value.
Design Thinking Step By Step
Thankfully, implementing the design thinking process isn’t a nebulous, God-be-with-ye approach. While it may rely on engineers being given significant liberties regarding concept creation, development, and approach, the mentality itself follows an orderly structure that’s easy to follow. Essentially, there are five different steps to take throughout the course of the design thinking process, each of which can be revisited and revised as needed.
Keep in mind that these stages do not necessarily need to be followed in order. Proceeding sequentially is still a fairly safe way to go, but no step is necessarily completed until the project as a whole has reached its ultimate end. Feel free to return to these steps at any time you deem it necessary in order to give the product its best chance of success.
Design thinking is a human-centric approach to product design. Obviously, you won’t really get far in your efforts to put your customer base at the center of your design philosophy if you don’t have a measure of interaction with them. You need to empathize with your target audience, obtaining information about how they interact with you, your products, and what they’d like to see in the future.
This is a great way of gathering potential ideas, while also discovering unforeseen issues and unfilled niches that may need addressing. You may find yourself frequently returning to this step throughout the process, gauging interest, new caches of inspiration or more to help you in your work.
Once you’ve attended and gathered new information on the human-centric portion of your process, you’ll need to draw conclusions from the data you’ve gathered. The next step is to define your users’ needs, their problems, and your insights. This is as much a “hypothesis” section of the scientific process, wherein you begin developing the core tenet your project will revolve around.
Returning to this step of the process may involve changing the intent of what your product will deliver. You may find that your original direction wasn’t developing in the way your customers would need, or that it didn’t fit into one of the three concepts necessary to find that sweet spot for innovation, or for any other reason you might not expect. Defining the problem is a good starting spot for knitting your team together in preparation for the long-term.
This is the fun part. Up to this point the design thinking process has been information gathering and analysis of what is most prominent within the customer sphere. Now you get to figure out what you’re going to do about it. The design thinking process thrives on creativity, originality, and a bit of crazy thinking. No idea is too far out of left field to not bear the potential of creating a spark of inspiration.
The purpose here is to challenge assumptions that might have pre-existed coming into this project, and from that challenged perspective create new ideas for innovative solutions. People can tend to become stuck in their ways if left alone for too long, which is why your team cooperatively needs to pull themselves out of the muck. Once you’re ready to get creative, your team will be in optimum position to generate innovative ideas that’ll drive the process forward.
Returning to this step in the process might feel a bit like going back to the drawing board. In the worst case scenarios, it might. Thankfully, worst case scenarios tend to happen less than you think, but that doesn’t mean you won’t revisit this step of the process. There are always going to be snags that’ll put a pause in your workflow - a problem you just can’t fix, a line of code you simply can’t parse. Sometimes you need to take a step back, gather up your team, and throw things at the wall to see what sticks.
Now comes the time where you have to put your plan into motion. Programs won’t code themselves, after all. This is where the bulk work of the project is going to occur as your team begins constructing the project itself. As you can imagine, it will take lots of organization, planning, delegation, and effort, so you may want to first start off with some good old-fashioned roadmap work.
Returning to this portion of the design thinking process should be somewhat self-explanatory. Every new addition, every change in plan, every executive decision made regarding the well-being and content of the project will affect the prototype phase. You’ll find yourself in this section for the majority of the design thinking process.
It’s come time to put your product to the test. Once you’ve got your prototype and every other step put away for the time being, you’ll need to see if your digital baby stands up to the heat. Does it, in fact, provide the solution that you initially defined? If it does perfectly, you’ve done well, but this is software we’re talking about. Chances are there’s going to be a bug here and there you’ll still have to take a wrench to.
Returning to this step will happen as often as you will need to until the product has reached its full and complete end. Testing your prototype provides you with valuable intel about its reception to your target audience, its effectiveness as a product, and what needs to be fixed about it before it’s ready to be released.
How Design Thinking Benefits Development of Digital Products
Quality software development and digital products are all about innovating problem-solving. Technology is, in simple terms, complicated, and anyone who owns a computer or smartphone can attest to that. Complexity necessitates greater measures to solve new problems. The demand for digital products keeps growing day by day as the users’ needs keep evolving as well. This creates the need for a completely new standard in the software development industry.
Today’s users are more tech savvy than every, as well as being inundated with an immense amount of quality product options at their beck and call. Our tastes are more refined than ever. With a greater palate for effective, high-functioning technology, we will only choose what is tailored to our specific needs. One way to answer those specific needs is by keeping the end-user in mind during the whole development process through design thinking.
More specifically, here are a few of the tangible benefits that design thinking provides:
It Focuses on Finding the Right Solution
Design thinking is end goal-oriented while being human-centric. The combination of the two ensures that the design process there on out remains disciplined, focused, and on-track toward completion. The creative allowances during the brain-storming segments of the process are integral for finding the right solution to the right problem.
It Assures Technical Feasibility
There’s nothing worse than starting a project and finding out you’re in over your head halfway through. Design thinking accounts for this early on when determining the scope of the project. With the end goal taken into constant consideration, the process inherently leaves little room for failure in regards to comprehending your project’s limitations. One way or another, the end product will abide by technical feasibility.
It Assures You Are Designing and Developing for the End User
Remember: human-centric design. Everything accomplished over the course of a project utilizing design thinking methodology is done with the intention of benefiting the end user. From empathizing, to defining, to ideating, to prototyping, and finally to testing attest to the same common denominator: the common human being. The human-centric approach is a guiding north star to keep your projects on track.
It Sets Clarity of Deliverables
As you might imagine, the process does an excellent job of setting expectations, plans, and having a clear understanding of what your deliverable are going to be by the end of the trip. Knowing your deliverables helps maintain focus, without risking going overboard on the project.
It Allows for Rapid Prototyping
Breaking a sweat over making sure your first prototype is perfect is a counterintuitive mindset to take. It won’t be perfect, and it might in fact be full of bugs, but that’s good because customer feedback is a major portion of excellent design thinking. Since you don’t have to worry about prototypes being perfect, producing speed over quality assures you of more feedback to take into account and perfect the project.
Product development, especially within the software development sphere, has begun undergoing necessary changes to adapt to the realm of the 21st century. Customers are more perceptive, they have more options, they’re capable of easily learning independently about the market, and you have to always be sure you’re a bit better than the competition. Design thinking is the solution by pinning the customer as, not just the target audience, but the very core of your developmental methodology.
As a result, design thinking nails the bullseye on what makes a good digital product: feasible, desirable, and viable. The step-by-step process provided effectively gives you everything you need, combined with the designer’s toolkit, to effectively handle and complete any project. All the while, it keeps your focused on finding the right solution, maintains technical feasibility, ensures you’re working for the end user, clarifies deliverables, and rapidly churns out prototypes.