What is Design Thinking?
Assuming you have had an idea, you have developed a revolutionary application that could potentially resolve the issues your company is facing. There are currently no existing solutions that are comparable to yours, and the one which most closely resembles it has failed to meet the expectations of its customers.
As you contemplate your idea, you may find yourself asking the initial and critical question of how much time it will take to bring it to fruition. It is essential to consider this in the earliest stages of your planning.
Given that our resources are limited, it stands to reason that the next logical question to ask is “What would be the financial cost of achieving this goal?” It is important to consider the cost of the project in order to ensure that we are making the most efficient use of our time and money.
Both product creation and product quality are essential and vital components of any successful product, yet they are often not the first areas to be given consideration.
Instead, the first and most crucial question to ask is, “What value can I offer my users?“
We can use Design Thinking as a tool to gain better insight into the scope of a project, its requirements, and the timeline during the Discovery Phase of a product. This is the ideal time to gain an understanding of not just what makes a great product, but also if and how it should be developed. This investigative and imaginative approach helps to ensure that the products we create are not only usable, but also beneficial.
The Design Thinking process can be extremely advantageous, as it results in the acquisition of an invaluable asset: knowledge. This distinctive outcome allows individuals to gain an understanding of the problem from a different perspective, leading to the development of innovative solutions.
This technique has a far-reaching scope of applications, however, for the purposes of this Design Thinking Case Study, we will focus exclusively on the subject of Software Product Development.
The Design Thinking Theory
Let us delve more deeply into the Design Thinking process prior to examining the practical applications and my experience with it.
Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on delivering solutions which are tailored to the needs of the user. This methodology takes a human-centred approach and seeks to understand the perspective of the user. The key advantage of this process is its ability to quickly assess whether an idea, solution, or improvement can provide desirable outcomes for our clients. The aim of Design Thinking is to put the user at the heart of the issue we need to address, combining multiple methods, tools, and strategies from different disciplines such as marketing, psychology, design, and business.
The purpose of this methodology is to identify the user and understand their needs, in order to create a solution or product that is truly beneficial. This is achieved by breaking the concept down into six distinct stages of design thinking.
- Empathise: The purpose of this phase is to understand your customer’s business by looking for and accumulating information about it. Several techniques, including as interviews, focus groups, observations, and surveys, might be used at this phase.
- Define: We gather and classify information from the Empathise phase in this step. User Personas and User Journeys are defined here.
- Ideate: Using the information provided above, the team brainstorms solutions. There are no dumb or incorrect ideas! Everything must be communicated and recorded.
- Prototype: During this step, you will develop something substantial that will enable you to test your concept in real life. Don’t overcomplicate things and try to finish this MVP as soon as possible.
- Test: Put your concept to the test with real people. Gather feedback. Inquire about ways to enhance it.
- Implementation: This is the stage at which all of the information gathered is transformed into a finished product.
If you are contemplating how this could help you quickly bring your application to life, let me provide a concrete example from my own experience to illustrate the advantages of the design thinking approach.
A look at how Design Thinking is put into action
Project X: Introduction
I recently attended a meeting with an entrepreneur and several managers, during which a plethora of creative ideas were discussed. The atmosphere was tense due to the fact that one of their competitors had recently released a new program. In order to remain competitive, the company was hoping to launch a unique product onto the market.
The team developed a document containing fundamental specifications, a generalised idea of the product’s appearance, and an estimate of the associated costs.
The Marketing Director remarked that they must achieve the same results as others had, but at a reduced cost. Another manager noted that they need to devise a more user-friendly system that optimises the user experience. Furthermore, they must modify their data collection process, making it easier to understand and connect their operations with other entities. The technical manager mentioned that these objectives would take many months to fulfill, requiring hundreds of hours of coding effort.
Despite not being able to provide every detail, it can be said that the end product was a hub communication software that was designed to be used on both the web and mobile platforms. This program was able to control a variety of communication channels, ranging from email to SMS, fax to VoIP. Although the product was released a few years ago, it was not well-received due to its complicated user experience. Moreover, the competitors had a far more superior mobile application, which was successfully gaining traction on the app store.
Company X was a process-oriented organisation that had some experience with traditional projects. While they had completed a few Agile projects, they were unfamiliar with the concept of developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and assessing its performance in the market. Moreover, they were apprehensive about the potential risks associated with the new MVP, such as an unfavourable or unexpected reaction from their client base. This lack of certainty did not give them the assurance they desired.
Despite the fact that previous and subsequent meetings had not provided a comprehensive explanation of what the product should be, it was determined that the objective should be achieved as expediently as possible.
Despite the initial hesitation, as the project progressed and a competitor began to gain momentum, the company’s endorsement of the initiative became increasingly clear. Many agreed that it was essential to launch a product that was complete and fully functional from the outset, as it was not feasible to risk releasing something that was unfinished.
Despite initial confusion and apprehension, this presented a beneficial opportunity to comprehend what would be of actual value to their user base and potentially draw in new individuals by crafting a simplified, lightweight product.
In an effort to ensure the timely completion of a comprehensive product, the organisation chose to adopt the Design Thinking method in order to focus on providing value to the end user. This allowed the organisation to remain competitive by delivering only the essential features at launch.
Stage 1 – Empathise
Empathising Phase: The purpose of this phase is to understand your customer’s business by looking for and accumulating information about it. Several techniques, including as interviews, focus groups, observations, and surveys, might be used at this phase.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. According to the principles of design thinking, it entails a detailed understanding of the struggles and circumstances of those for whom you are creating a product or service. By cultivating empathy, designers can gain a deeper insight into the needs of their target audience and create solutions that are both meaningful and effective.
At the outset, we sought to ensure that the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) did not outweigh the perspectives of all other stakeholders. To this end, we collaborated with management and the founder to develop a list of parties to be included in the decision-making process.
We generated an initial list of thirty names, comprising workers, functional managers, and customers, that could be contacted in the course of a single day’s meeting. Subsequently, we opted to target a population of four thousand customers, which represents approximately ten percent of their established customer user base.
We exerted every effort to ensure that our target demographic was diversified in terms of gender, industry, and other associated factors. To further complicate the situation, the sample population was broken down into multiple cities and, in some cases, even countries. Nevertheless, we have now established the necessary connections to proceed with interviews and surveys.
The research team established a protocol to conduct remote interviews, wherein they utilised a predetermined list of questions and a set of guidelines. All members of the group were expected to abide by these rules in order to ensure the successful completion of the task.
- Ask the interviewing team why they are looking to hire a new employee.
- Every action must be studied in terms of “What, How, and Why.”
- Verify that the interviewee used a webcam and that they positioned the camera far enough away so that it could capture their body language.
- Save all interviews for future review.
Our team crafted the interview questions with the aim of identifying which fundamental characteristics should be upgraded or eliminated so that we could promptly develop a refreshed version that fulfilled the requirements of our customers.
We developed a Google Form featuring a selection of questions for the second cohort of users. We incorporated multiple-choice questions as well as a few open-ended questions to promote more meaningful engagement from users, including one which necessitated the user to try out the new version of the software that had just been released in closed beta.
In order to effectively manage the information-gathering process, we employed the use of virtual technologies such as Skype, Zoom, Google Forms, and a digital Kanban Board, which enabled the team to efficiently collect the necessary data and keep track of their progress.
The initial results of the interviews were encouraging, as the interviewees were willing to provide valuable insights into the advantages and disadvantages of the system.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, the initial attempt at gathering responses to the questionnaire was not as successful as anticipated; out of the 300 emails sent, only 5 respondents completed the survey.
Despite being disappointed by the results of our initial attempts to engage our user base, one of the sales managers proposed an alternative idea which presented an opportunity to explore new approaches.
I am skeptical that they will be receptive to our emails, as they are not used to engaging with us. However, if we make an effort to reach out to those who have renewals that are close to expiring and offer them a small incentive, I am confident that they will be willing to assist us.
The concept was both straightforward and remarkable. In a matter of hours, we were provided with an updated list of 3800 users, categorised as either mainstream or extremist. As the renewal period was relatively close, this list of users would be compelled to interact with the system.
This time, the consumers were asked to take part in a beta program, answer a set of questions, and receive a renewal discount. The response rate was excellent, with more than 70% of the consumers completing the questionnaire upon the initial introduction of this new model.
After refining our survey questions through multiple iterations, we were able to gain a better understanding of our user base. We are grateful to those users who participated in multiple interviews, enabling us to identify our user base with greater precision.
Stage 2 – Specify
Defining Stage: We gather and classify information from the Empathise phase in this phase. User Personas and User Journeys are defined here.
The purpose of this case was to identify and determine the key aspects of a concept. Specifically, we sought to establish the following:
- our ideal clients
- their issues
- Their problems could be solved
- All of the demands and concerns we had to address
The Specification phase in Design Thinking is the process of examining the observations made of a given problem and synthesising them into the fundamental challenges that have been identified. During this phase, the essential elements of the problem are identified, allowing for the development of effective solutions.
Our expansive database enabled us to accurately identify the underlying problems. In addition to the insights obtained during the Empathise component, it included feedback from Company X employees that had not been communicated to leadership, in addition to highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and other issues that had not been addressed.
We developed our User Personas by engaging the entire extended team in a brainstorming process, which we conducted remotely through video-conferencing systems. This enabled us to monitor the formation of the personas in real-time.
We conducted an evaluation of each Persona’s background, attitude towards technology, usage of social media, preferred brands, desires and opinions, and then hypothesised what their Customer Journey could have been.
Following the collection of data from interviews and surveys, we identified the common customer User Personas. This presented the perfect opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the data and its implications.
During the definition phase, we endeavoured to refine a broad definition of a problem, for example “We need a product that will increase our sales by 10%,” into a more specific solution. We identified that the target market for this product was men and adult women between the ages of 35 and 45 who work in an office, and that they needed to receive communications with legal validity to ensure that the sender was who they claimed to be.
We held brainstorming sessions that focused on our user base, considered potential solutions, and kept an open attitude to any creative ideas at the initial stages of the project. The theme we adopted was “No idea is too outlandish to be considered.
We had a comprehensive understanding of the needs, demands, and anxieties of our consumers, and were able to develop an effective strategy to respond to them throughout their customer journey in a timely manner, taking into account their particular demographic.
We developed a ‘User Story Tie’ which enabled us to organise user processes by theme. This enabled us to compile the activities, stories and tasks that each user persona was expected to complete during the journey. This allowed us to rapidly assess our proposal to see if it met the basic requirements, meaning that if successful, we could bring the product to market faster than any other competitor. This was particularly important as our competition was growing in success every day.
Stage 3 – Ideate
Ideation Phase: Using the preceding knowledge, the team brainstorms solutions. There are no stupid or incorrect ideas! Everything must be communicated and recorded.
The Ideation phase is the next progression after Definition, and focuses on the generation of creative and practical ideas and solutions, as opposed to simply providing abstract descriptions.
Ideation is the act of generating creative ideas and solutions through a range of sessions and activities. This includes sketching, prototyping, brainstorming, brainwriting, the worst possible idea technique, and many other methods of ideation. Ideation is an important step in the creative process, allowing individuals to explore a variety of potential solutions and find the most suitable option for a specific challenge.
Due to the fact that our team was completely distributed, we decided to implement a Lean approach to creating and assessing content. As such, designers and other members of the team agreed that it would be beneficial to begin with designs on paper and share them with the group. This would enable us to move forward as quickly as possible, and ultimately result in the most remarkable designs in Balsamiq or Axure.
For every drawing, we sought feedback from users and developed a list of possible solutions. We then kept the users regularly updated on the process and results whenever possible.
Stage 4 – Prototype
Prototyping Phase: During this phase, you will construct something substantial that will enable you to test your concept in real life. Don’t overcomplicate things and try to finish this MVP as soon as possible.
Now was the time to put our previous definitions and concepts into practice during the prototype stage. We aimed to create a prototype, which is the initial model of the proposed product. Following design thinking strategies, the prototype stage is when we construct low-cost and scaled-down versions of the product to test the ideas developed in the earlier stages.
After nearly a week and a half of travel, we had reached a crucial point: a gathering with a development team to verify our estimates and predictions. After a session of dialogue and clarification with the development team, we carefully considered the requirements and concluded that the majority of the development work would be focused on creating the back-end system and integrating with current legacy systems. Furthermore, we found that constructing the front-end systems would be a much speedier process. To maximise efficiency, we decided to build a front-end prototype utilising existing components already in the system.
We had a three-day timeline to create the initial version of the prototype, which had to be as precise as possible while still maintaining its core functionality.
We successfully completed the first version of the prototype in a period of just three days. This version contained “dummy” data that could simulate the actions of the program that we wanted to create. Although a few extra components were absent, the program still provided a substantial amount of the desired information in a visually appealing format.
At the end of two weeks of work, we had developed a software prototype that we were able to test with real users. To evaluate user experience with the prototype, we employed monitoring tools to analyse heat maps and user engagement.
Stage 5 – Test
Testing Phase: Validate your concept in real life with genuine users. Obtain feedback. Inquire about ways to enhance it.
Following the definition, ideation, and prototype stages, it was finally time to evaluate whether our product functioned appropriately in the real world. Testing, in design thinking terms, is the process of examining the entirety of the product using the most suitable solutions developed during the prototype stage.
In our particular situation, the testing process was not a one-time event; it was an ongoing cycle of feedback and adjustment when possible. At the end of each stage that had been completed, we aimed to collect feedback from users or customers.
Once the prototype had been completed, it was necessary to conduct a comprehensive testing phase with the broadest possible audience to determine if it met their needs, gain insight into their thoughts and perceptions, and ascertain if it had achieved their desired outcomes.
The testing phase was particularly significant as it included a walkthrough prototype which gave users the opportunity to explore the new process and complete tasks. Furthermore, the team conducted a few sessions where they observed user behaviour and responses. To measure the effectiveness of particular platform elements, a simple questionnaire was administered, where users were asked to rate the process from 1 to 10.
Following a series of testing sessions, the scope of the evaluation phase was broadened to include the entire team, as well as certain individuals external to the organisation who had previously consented to offering feedback on the system’s performance.
Following completion of the testing, the stakeholders of Company X experienced a successful outcome. Not only did they gain the opportunity to view the mockups, but they were also able to physically interact with the product for the first time. Within a period of two weeks, the expanded team had the capacity to assess, affirm, and amend their initial suppositions.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived: testing whether or not to expose it to users.
Stage 6 – Implementation
Implementation Phase: This is the stage at which all of the information gathered is converted into a finished product.
We had all the essential components necessary to get started, so it was time to take action. With a timeframe of one and a half months to implement our new system, we set to work.
We set forth the following guidelines to ensure that our MVP was carried out efficiently:
- No extra features will be included in the app.
- We shall stay focused on the Company’s primary objective.
- We’ll implement agile techniques among the teams to handle the workload.
In order to ensure that the project is completed by the stipulated timeline, we have included a few extra personnel who have not been involved in the project since the initial discovery phase.
Our project team consists of frontend developers, backend developers, and designers. Due to the remote nature of the new team members, it was not possible to gather everyone together for the duration of the project. To ensure that communication lines remained open, we established the necessary tools for this purpose.
The Agile methodology was implemented to manage the job. We divided the remaining time into a series of short sprints, with daily remote meetings and updates on Slack to discuss our ideas and work together to address any challenges.
Despite the lack of comprehensive documentation, our team was well-equipped to commence work on the project. We had a comprehensive list of tasks, a unified vision, and collective objectives. Moreover, we had an understanding of our users, recognising their individual needs and concerns. With a shared understanding in place, we then proceeded to outline the necessary steps to complete the project on time.
In order to preserve the initial evidence of the people who will be using the product, as well as the flow of the delivery, we formulated a User Story Map that includes the activities associated with the product.
The User Story Maps were developed in three stages: defining the activities, identifying the steps required to complete each activity, and creating a list of stories/tasks associated with each activity. We then assigned priority levels (Must, Should, Could) to each story/task, which enabled us to decide which components would be included in the product.
The project team was able to act swiftly at the beginning of the implementation process, due to the shared vision articulated by the team and the methodology that was utilised. This allowed the team to remain focused and productive without needing constant guidance from management. Everyone involved in the project had already considered potential questions and scenarios with regards to the Design Thinking stages.
- What should each user do on our platform, and what were they trying to accomplish?
- What steps should those users take to reach their greatest objective?
- What were the locations of their previous aches, and how might we avoid them?
Our team was empowered to make their own independent decisions, enabling them to direct the product to its predetermined goal.
Prior to commencing production, we undertook two reviews of the work in progress at the conclusion of each sprint and a final release review at the end of the project. The last sprint was dedicated to setting up the required infrastructure to facilitate the operation and deployment of the product.
Finally, after the concept for a new version of our product was articulated at a meeting, we recruited individuals who had previously used the original product to test out the new version. Upon going into production two months later, the product proved to be successful; consumers began using it, and we gradually shifted more new users to this tool rather than the previous one. After conducting A/B testing, it was revealed that the new product was preferred by the users, resulting in the project being deemed a huge success within the company.
After careful consideration, the decision was made to implement a Design Thinking approach. This choice is expected to have a positive and lasting impact, enabling them to produce superior goods in the days ahead.
Through the course of this case study, we have illustrated the efficacy of the Design Thinking approach to addressing a practical challenge within restricted temporal and financial constraints.
By taking an iterative approach to the design thinking process, we moved away from more traditional methods of consecutive development, and instead chose to work through the six phases – empathise, define, brainstorm, prototype, test, and implement – as our guiding principle. This decision enabled us to create a product which was met with a positive reception.
By employing Design Thinking, we were able to identify and focus on a few key activities, which allowed us to save time and, consequently, money on the project. Furthermore, the strategies used enabled us to ensure that the product we created was tailored to the needs of our consumers, providing them with the value they desired.
The Design Thinking method helped us in a variety of ways:
- From a project management perspective, it enabled us to clearly delineate the boundaries of the project and prevent any potential increase in the scope of the project.
- From a business perspective, we were able to select the features that offered the highest value to the organisation, thereby providing an advantageous outcome.
- From a developmental perspective, it was beneficial to identify the specific objectives we wanted to achieve prior to commencing the project. This allowed us to keep the focus of our efforts directed towards our desired outcome.
- From the perspective of the team, the process enabled all members to work together cooperatively and ensured that their thoughts and ideas were taken into account throughout the entirety of the process.
At the beginning of the Design Thinking process, the client was initially doubtful of its success. However, when we received positive feedback from the consumers, it was clear that we had achieved something that would have been difficult or impossible to achieve without our established processes. This recognition from the customer was greatly appreciated, and they identified it as their standard for tackling similar problems in the future.