Design thinking: from utility to experience
Back in the days of black-and-white TVs and computers, which were just heavy white boxes, could anyone have imagined today’s experience-driven economy?
Technology is no longer the differentiator today. Rather, it is how companies leverage technology through design that is defining business success.
This can be said to be the essence of design thinking. We took a long time to realize that every service we provide and everything we make is for humans. We pay a price for the experience and not just for the product or service itself.
Design thinking broadly comprises five ingredients: understanding, empathy, visualization, story and respecting failure. One can call this a journey from standardization to humanization.
Understanding: Though design is often used to describe an object, or and end result, design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ and their effectiveness can differ too, but the core of the process remains the same.
Empathy: The value proposition across the business arena has changed from utility to experience. The traditional promise of utility of services and products has transcended into the experience that those services and products bring to the end user. The focus is firmly on the user, the human. Who is this user, what does she want, expect and aspire for? Hence, we use the term User Experience, or UX.
To map empathy of users, a design-centric organization empowers employees to observe behaviour, understand their needs, wants, expectations and aspirations and keep refining their insights. These findings are very hard to express in any language. The language used concerns itself more with desires, engagement, aspirations and experience to describe products and services. The teams discuss the emotional impact of a value proposition as much as they discuss utility and product requirements.
Visualization: The realization has dawned that every touch point matters; each one shapes a customer’s or even employee’s impression of the company and, in turn, impacts the revenue.
The visualization takes another avatar in data visualization and replaces spreadsheets and documents as the tools for analysis. Fact sheets have been replaced by Journey Maps that trace every step of the story unfolding with the service or product, mapping every small impact, positive or negative.
Story: Design thinking as a process is an infinitely iterative path. In the process we identify and investigate with known and ambiguous aspects of problem to find hidden aspects and alternatives that lead to solution.
Every solution is a starting point for more alternative paths. So much so, that we might even end up redefining the problem.
We have been prototyping objects from the ancient times. Now we create the digital kind. Simulating and prototyping are an inseparable and consistent process now.
Refining and iterating are the key to business success across domains—digital simulations provide insights into probabilities possible through inter-dependencies of complex problems.
Complex domains such as insurance, investment, stocks and securities, banking, energy and power, and oil and gas are prime scenarios for simulations.
These scenarios have too many interdependencies that are troublesome to create in real time. Simulations provide a huge benefit of learning from failure, which in real world is not feasible.
The world is gradually moving towards gamification—not surprising since philosophically the world is considered by many to be a game.
Respecting failure: The stigma attached to failure is changing with companies gradually accepting failure as an integral part of innovation. Thus, each failure becomes a stepping stone to success and a learning opportunity for finding solutions and contributing towards business successes and increased revenue. The design thinking process is never complete without its share of failures. The important part, and the one which culminates in innovation and success, is to build upon those failures.
The approaches differ, such as divergent or convergent, based on the time frame and the problems on hand.
The divergent approach is an open-ended approach opening up new possibilities, broadening the horizon, discovering new possibilities and opening up new scenarios.
The convergent approach is more for a close timeline with available options and limited resources finding the best way to innovate.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab director, Joi Ito, said in a recent TED talk that his new motto was “Deploy or Die”. The same can be said for firms that are yet to consider design thinking as part of their core strategy.
Swaroop Biswas is principal UX consultant, Hexaware Technologies Ltd.