Design Thinking, although not new, is something that many people vaguely understand and few practice. The good news, however, is that it’s fairly easy to learn Design Thinking principles, tools and framework and use them to up-level your business.
If you are not familiar with Design Thinking, and are wondering what the connection is between it and helping entrepreneurs run a successful business, read on, and be prepared to take notes!
Entrepreneurs can use Design Thinking to redesign existing products and services, design new products and services, develop strategy, improve their customer experience and more. There are so many possibilities, your imagination really is the limit here.
What is Design Thinking
Design Thinking is a creative way to solve problems. It’s main differentiators are that it puts the customer at the heart of the problem statement (the question to be solved) and at the heart of the solution. It is truly customer centric and based on real human needs. There is a process to follow, making it easy for non-creative people to tap into their creativity. And there are a number of tools to choose from, based on your needs, your team and your objective.
Design Thinking is based on 6 stages (sometimes 7), that are explained in chronological order, although in practice you may find yourself going back and forth a few times before moving forward, and that’s totally acceptable. The 6 stages are Empathize (or Discover), Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Sometimes, a 7th stage, Implement, is added at the end.
How Can You Use Design Thinking, as an Entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard or read advice about understanding your customer, or developing an Ideal Customer Avatar. In fact, you’re very likely tired of hearing about it, and believe you understand your customers extremely well.
But I’d like to push your thinking with a couple of my favorite examples.
Using Design Thinking to Understand Customer Needs – Example #1
In an HBR article (magazine article, September – October 2018) “Why Design Thinking Works”, an example was referenced in which a UK Charity helping adults with autism and Asperger’s syndrome sent a design team member to the home of a non-verbal adult with autism. She observed him picking the leather off his sofa and rubbing indents into his walls. By the end of the first day, the member defined her problem to be solved as “how to prevent such destructiveness.”
On the second day of observation, however, she chose to put herself in his shoes. She joined him in his activities of picking the leather off the sofa, and then later pressed her ear against the wall while scratching it, as he did.
Her findings? The activities were fun, soothing and relaxing. She realized he was doing these things to create pleasure in his life, not to intentionally destroy anything.
What did that change? Well, instead of working on finding solutions to stop him from “destroying” furniture, which was the initial intention, i.e. “keeping residents safe”, she worked on creating solutions to make him, and others with similar disabilities, live fuller and more pleasurable lives by providing them with living spaces, gardens and activities to foster that.
Using Design Thinking to Understand Customer Needs – Example #2
Another great example is the “Embrace Incubator”. A team at Standford’s d.School were tasked to design a low cost incubator to combat the issue of high infant death rates in low to middle income countries.
At first, the issue appeared to be that families with infants requiring incubators were unable to afford it, and so the objective was to design an extremely low cost incubator that low-income families would be able to afford.
In order to gather information – and be human-centered – a member of the team traveled to Nepal to observe and understand the needs of their target customers.
His findings? What he uncovered was that families were actually unable to even reach the hospitals and incubators because they lived in rural areas far away from the hospitals.
What did that change? Well, instead of moving forward with creating an inexpensive incubator, the team directed their focus on what their customers really needed – a product to keep their babies safe and warm when they don’t have the means to get to a hospital. You see, the problem was not that they could not afford the incubator. It was that they could not get to the incubator.
And so, the team created the Embrace Incubator, a sleeping bag with a paraffin-based pouch that would stay warm for up to 4 hours once heated up.
What’s the Design Thinking lesson for entrepreneurs, you ask?
I’m glad you asked! The lesson here is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Really put yourself in their shoes. Otherwise, you might wind up creating “solutions” that don’t really solve their problems.
And the thing is, if you want to have a wildly successful business, you’re going to want to create solutions that really solve your customers’ problems.
So instead of assuming that you understand your customers, take the time to talk to them, to spend some time with them, to understand the motives behind their needs, their actions and their words. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to create products and services that they need and want. And that will result in more sales – always a good thing for business.
Apply Design Thinking to Your Business
You might be thinking this won’t work for your business, but let’s explore a few questions that might change your mind.
As you work through these questions, the aim is to gather information to understand your customer.
Remember, the more you understand their needs and motives, the better equipped you’ll be to create a product or service they need.
- Why is your customer coming to your business? What is the reason they are interested in your product or service?
- What causes your customer to need your product or service?
- What happens in and around your customer’s life for them to want to purchase your product or service? Think about the before and after – things that happen in their lives on either end of needing your product or service.
- When your customer is interacting with your product or service, how do you demonstrate to them that you understand their pain points?
- What additional information or solutions (other than your main product or service) do you offer your customer to demonstrate that you are able to solve their problem?
Action: To answer the questions above, talk to and shadow customers (with their permission, of course). Find out as much as you can about their needs, wants and motives.
And as always, if you’ve found this article useful, share it with someone who’ll benefit from it as well!