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Design Thinking = Rethinking

Enabling digital innovation: be more creative, be more effective.


Ian H Smith

Design Thinking is all about solving problems in a people-centred way. For startups, enterprises and software publishers it is a great way to rethink too: challenge your assumptions and what may be bias creating unconscious barriers to find better, more creative - and more effective way to do things.

For any new platform-based services or Web, mobile or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps, Design Thinking is a great way to engage all stakeholders in testing, validating and prioritising the features roadmap for a particular service or app. This includes market-facing consumer and citizen apps and internal business user systems. The key here is speed and flexibility - and placing people at the centre of problem definition and solution.

The Method

Our approach to Design Thinking is inspired by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford 5-step approach to Design Thinking: 'Empathize; Define; Ideate; Prototype; and, Test'.

When solving real world problems with Web, mobile or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps, the key to success starts with paying careful attention to step one in Design Thinking: Empathize. In most private or public sector organisations, gaining a true understanding of a particular problem (to be solved through digital innovation) invariably means taking into account different stakeholder's perspectives that will emerge from exploring the said problem or challenge.

Apply Empathy

When we consider how to better apply digital innovation we must recognise that politics are in play. Often, the automation or even reimagining of tasks and processes requires a consensus to be built among people who, may not know each other, or may mistrust each other, or even be adversaries. We must face and defeat these realities, if Design Thinking is to succeed.

To enable consensus-building around problem-solving, we should start with the first step in Design Thinking: Empathize. And from this step, apply 'Empathy Mapping'. In my Design Thinking Workshops I focus on three basic questions: 'What?'; 'How?'; and, 'Why?'.

The ‘What?’ becomes observable facts; the ‘How?’ is all about emotional responses; and, the ‘Why?’ becomes the inferences drawn. All of this builds a picture, as the process moves iteratively through the five steps of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and, Test. In the Workshop Empathy Maps can be built using simple tools, such as 'sticky notes' to let each stakeholder write down and talk about the four things that make up their human reaction to a particular challenge, process or task: 'Say'; 'Do'; 'Think'; 'Feel'.

Acting as the facilitator in the Workshop, we unpack the findings from Empathy Mapping, as a three-column list. generating output as:

User ________ Needs ________________ because _____________ (Insights)

Empathy Mapping, when applied to the broadest number of stakeholders, will always help to overcome the political constraints within one or more organisations undertaking digital innovation. But it's worth spending time considering the broader cultural issues that persist, even in the most modern of organisations - and crucially, how to overcome such barriers to innovation and change.

The key to success with Empathy Mapping, and creating a solid foundation to the Define step in Design Thinking, is to break problems down into the smallest elements possible, without this undermining the overall objective in creating a timely, cost-effective (digital) solution. In our Design Thinking Workshops we work hard and early on three things - and in this order: 'Receptivity; Rapport; and, Trust'.

In Empathy Mapping sessions, it is important to get the broadest, most comprehensive range of stakeholders (e.g. Users) engaged in talking about the problem and achieving an authentic set of responses to relevant What, How and Why questions. What's captured in the Empathize step, determines how authentic the subsequent Define step of Design Thinking becomes.  

Rapidly Define

Our Design Thinking Workshops move through at least one iteration of the Stanford five steps of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. For non-tech stakeholders, what matters throughout the Design Thinking Workshops is a shortest possible time from one step to another. In practice, this means converting concepts into tangible Web, mobile or SaaS app in no more than hours, and preferably, presented to and iterated by stakeholders in minutes - not days and weeks.

By iterating the five Design Thinking steps, these rapid, multiple online Workshops lead to the creation of a 'Minimum Viable Product (MVP)' for the Web, mobile or SaaS app solution that fixes the problem or challenge identified from the outset of the engagement. This includes working with specific cloud platforms, such as Salesforce Lightning Platform.

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