Design Thinking – A Philosophy That Has Helped Big Corporations Create User-Centric Products

Design Thinking is a unique problem-solving philosophy that focuses primarily on the needs of its users. Furthermore, it helps organisations design creative solutions that not only fulfill the requirements and aspirations of customers but also go over and beyond to achieve sustained user delight.

Preeti Sharma

Have you ever suffered from a backache that is triggered by hours spent slumping in an uncomfortable chair at work? Most of us have found ourselves in such a situation at least once in our careers. Let’s say you have finally had enough of the pain and are on your way to the furniture maker’s to find a chair that can help you avoid such strain. The first shop you visit tries to sell you one of the many pre-designed chairs which have been created based on a general understanding of back pain. They are regular, run-of-the-mill chairs that have been tweaked to offer extra back support. You aren’t convinced. And, so you visit a few more shops until you arrive at one where the conversation begins with the specifics of your problem. The designer lends you a patient and empathetic ear. Based off your inputs, she models a chair that checks all the boxes in your requirement list and promises to get it made and delivered in two weeks. You do not think twice before purchasing such a customised chair as you know that it has everything that you need for a backache-free life.

The above example is a simplistic one that gives a basic idea of what Design Thinking is and how it can help you win over customers. This brand new approach works wonderfully in case of complex problems as well. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo and a strong proponent of Design Thinking, says that it urges people to think beyond packaging and outward appearances. In an interview she gave to Adi Ignatius of HBR she said that focusing only on recreating the packaging of a product instead of customising it to fit the consumer’s needs is akin to ‘putting lipstick on a pig, as opposed to redesigning the pig itself’. According to her, a well-designed, personalised product extracts a real reaction from customers. It could be good or bad, but it is a true response nonetheless. Such a product forges an instant bond with the users and, therefore, leads to future engagement as well.

One of the first products that came out as a result of PepsiCo’s heightened emphasis on Design Thinking was Pepsi Spire, a touchscreen fountain machine that trumps over other plain vanilla dispensing machines. Another product that was conceived using this philosophy was a variety of chips created especially for women. It was packaged in a tray inside a canister so that women could snack without worrying about staining their clothes or dirtying their hands. It was also less noisy to eat as most women are uncomfortable with others hearing them munch on a snack.

Aside from PepsiCo, a host of other organisations across sectors have begun adopting the Design Thinking approach to appease their target customer base. For instance, GE Healthcare invested in creating special, kid-friendly MR scanners that use paintings and storytelling to assuage the anxiety of children who come in for imaging procedures. The idea is to create an experience that is more adventure-filled and less intimidating. Similarly, smart airports around the world have adopted the Design Thinking methodology to make weary travellers less on edge in case of extended pre-boarding waiting periods. Shopping arcades, fine dining options, and cool mobile charging stations that often double as workspaces have mushroomed almost everywhere to make the airport experience more pleasant.

Once you buy into the Design Thinking school of thought, it is essential to understand its five phases so that you can implement it seamlessly. According to the Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Stanford, these five phases are as follows:

1.       Relate to and Feel for Your Target Consumer Group – Empathy is the cornerstone of design thinking. It can, however, be felt only when you understand your customers well. Take time to figure out their needs and objectives and get to know them before you proceed.

2.       Give the Problem a Clear Definition – If you have thoroughly studied your customer base, you are bound to find issues that need to be resolved innovatively. Use your insights to frame a user-centric problem statement that is unambiguous and clear.

3.       Get Creative – Once you have a problem statement, it is time to let the creative juices flow unbridled. This phase needs to be devoid of judgement as designers should be able to discuss ideas without the fear of being ridiculed.

4.       Create a Tangible Sample – Create a prototype using the chosen idea from the previous phase. Such a sample can draw attention to potential faults in the design.

5.       Allow Users to Test the Product – User testing is the ultimate usability test that a product has to go through before it can be called successful. This stage often yields results that send the designers back to their drawing boards to make modifications to the design.

At the crux of Design Thinking lies the fact that humans come first. It helps businesses strike a much-needed balance between intuition and analytics by coaxing them to use a combination of both emotions and data sciences to create useful products and deliver meaningful services. As a result, the recipients of these products and services are a happy lot which directly translates into better profits for the corporations and loyalty in its user base.


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