New competitors, converging markets, industry shifts and consumer driven technologies that put customers in charge are unlike anything previously experienced. And these disruptions are creating a host of new business challenges, such as how to satisfy increasingly demanding customers, how to create innovative products that will be enthusiastically embraced by customers, and how to deliver relevant, personalized, contextual and predictive customer experiences across a constantly increasing number of customer channels and devices.
These are non-linear problems, which are fluid, subjective and multi-dimensional, so applying linear thinking isn't going to work.
These are problems where the answers are not well expressed in quantitative terms; and instead are better defined with emotional descriptors such as satisfied, delighted, engaged and memorable. For example, achieving rewarding and memorable customer experiences is much more based on emotional connections than value propositions based on product utility or specifications.
A new and better problem solving approach is needed.
Design thinking is an alternative method of problem solving that applies deep empathy for users, collaboration among multidisciplinary teams and a framework that considers how to achieve behavioral or emotional goals.
Design isn't just for websites, products, promotions and mobile apps. Good design solves a problem with a result that achieves an emotional reaction. This is powerful as we all know that people are emotional and make purchase decisions based on emotions.
Design thinking is intended for complex problems in complex environments. For example, due to consumer technologies such as social media and mobility, customers are more connected, informed, empowered and demanding, which has forever changed the balance of power in commerce from suppliers to customers.
Even the vendor/customer conversations have changed from one-way monologues initiated by vendors (and generally consisting of marketing offers and other less than relevant broadcasts to consumers) to two-way dialogues initiated by consumers, or agreed to by consumers, using the channels, devices, protocols and terms they prefer.
Fortunately, design thinking is a problem solving method intended for big challenges, multi-faceted problems, open ended problems, and problems where there may be no right answer and in need of a best answer. It's designed for many of the biggest business challenges such as culture shifts, customer engagement, innovation and imagining the future.
The design thinking framework begins with customer empathy. Market research may help define customer demographics and segments, but to achieve empathy understanding you must identify customer personas, traits, characteristics, feelings and desires. When customers are better understood at an emotional level, businesses can better design products, services and experiences that satisfy their emotions and make real advancements in affinity, loyalty and customer share.
Cross functional teams then humanize the customer problems, create models to simplify complex processes and relentlessly explore alternatives that best satisfy customers. They observe, engage, ideate and trial prototypes through iterations until achieving breakthrough solutions or the desired outcomes.
Supporting artifacts may include journey maps, empathy maps, voice of the customer analysis and dynamic models which present alternative ways of looking at problems or architecting solutions.
A design thinking hallmark is the iterative solution build process. It's constantly making something, often something we call a minimal viable product (MVP). This may be a product, a service, an experience or an outcome but regardless, the MVP will advance with progressive tangible iterations until it is ship-ready. And even then, the MVP is still a prototype and will iterate further based on customer feedback. It's always a prototype in search of improvements.
When compared to traditional product innovation, design thinking puts design first. Instead of beginning with an engineering mindset and applying design late in the process "to make it pretty", design is the catalyst from the beginning.
When compared to traditional technology deployment, design thinking shifts project objectives from a long list of relatively low value features and functions to a short list of high impact user and customer outcomes. In almost every situation, design thinking applies design to people, not objects or technology, and to experiences, not product or packaging aesthetics.
Design thinking extends from problem solving to business transformation.
It helps people and organizations cut through complexity and clutter – to simplify, humanize and focus on what's most important in responding to the unprecedented rise of business challenges and corresponding business transformation.