Three Myths and Truths of Design-Thinking that You Should Know About

By Macarena Lopez-Hidalgo, 13 June 2022

We all have heard the term ‘design-thinking’ but we often misunderstand what’s behind it and, most important, how can we apply design-thinking to be more efficient in data and digital projects. 

To build better digital products – applications, data models, digital twins, product selectors, etc., successful organisations often use design thinking to coordinate the design of the product. Today, we are sharing three myths and truths of design thinking to efficiently apply it and get better results. 

“Design-thinking is just for designers”

“If we are talking about ‘design’, only ‘designers’ should be involved, right?” Wrong!! This is probably the most common misconception. 

When we think of design-thinking, we tend to visualise people with colourful sticky notes sketching a User Interface to start designing a cool new digital product. However, design thinking can also be applied to any field and any role: 

  • Engineers
  • Researchers
  • Product owners
  • Project managers
  • Customer care teams
  • Sales and marketing teams
  • Data analysts and coders; and the list goes on.

The starting point of design thinking is to understand your audience and to focus on the people you are creating for. Then you can create something valuable, then test and improve. 

Who is your audience? What do they want from you? What are their points of pain? How do they currently solve these points of pain? 

Understanding your audience is the foundation of any data or digital project. Across sectors, getting to the heart of the audience experience is key to design thinking. 

But we can’t forget we are talking about projects that contribute to your organization’s growth. This means we need to find a balance between what our audience wants and what’s good for our organisation. 

Finally, we need to consider what can realistically be delivered given any constraints impacting the project. Do we need to consider budgets, timescales, dependent systems or processes? These impact what can be done.

So, design thinking is not just for designers, it’s for everyone involved with digital products.

 “There is a high cost associated with design-thinking”

Organising customer research, kaizens and workshops certainly come at a cost, but let’s think of the costs in the context of a successful product build. It takes ten times as long to build a feature in code, compared to mocking that feature in a prototype tool. And that prototype takes ten times as long to resolve compared to a sketch on a whiteboard. 

When you can share throw-away ideas for product features, process flows, and user interfaces, quickly and easily, you generate an environment to gather valuable feedback and gain commitment and momentum for the digital product. And, critically, reduce re-work in the most expensive part of digital products: coding.

So design-thinking can actually save time and money if it is used well. 

Taking the time to really understand your user before starting to create a prototype, will increase your chances of developing a successful product. And even though testing and improving will still be necessary post-launch, you won’t need to perform the major changes you would have needed in the previous scenario. 

In theory, the design thinking process is quite simple: understand your audience – confirm your thoughts by validating – create a solution – share and improve. The reality is a bit more complex as we often jump back to jump forward again, especially in the early stages. 

How can you start? Instead of thinking of your audience as a group, think of different personas. To begin with, sketch them in outline. Add visuals if that helps to bring them to life. 

Start adding more details, what job titles might be relevant? What are they frustrated about? What problem do they need to solve? Identify their main pain points and prioritise those which your group perceives to be more important.

See below an example of this.

Screenshot 2022 06 09 at 14.58.11

You seek consensus around a model, not total alignment on a perfect facsimile.

“Design-thinking is hard”

This process can be hard if you don’t know how to start or how to get the information you need. But you can make it easy. As you have seen, design thinking is a technique that we can apply to many digital projects without needing access to a laboratory, complex technology or state-of-the-art facilities. 

 At the start, you may feel overwhelmed about the vast amount of data you have at your disposal or even about the lack of it. There is data everywhere, in your databases, in your analytics, in previous research, in market analysis reports … 

But don’t try to make sense of all the data you may have. Don’t overcomplicate things. Just start talking with people. 

Start with these easy and practical steps to start applying design thinking:

  • Set up workshops or kaizens for success by making sure the objectives are clear to all and relevant to all
  • Gain support from senior decision-makers to gain committed attendance from participants (who are all busy with long to-do lists that likely don’t include building your product)
  • Carry out pre-workshop research and create accessible pre-read information
  • Time box activities but don’t limit discussion scope (occasionally nudge)
  • Apply subtraction as well as an addition to refine ideas
  • Actively encouraging sketching, top-5 lists, favouriting ideas, and use of post-it notes can be helpful
  • Prioritise pain points
  • Share the output to confirm your thoughts and incorporate any additional feedback 
  • Take 30 minutes to come up with an idea for one of the high priority items
  • Ask someone what they think, and what they would do differently

There is no formula for design thinking. Focus on Practical Problem Solving. Get into the research and solve problems. Iterate and refine.

Design thinking is really all about practical problem-solving

Anyone can apply design thinking, starting with considering what your audience is looking for from a digital product, how can your organisation help and benefit from it and what can be delivered to solve that problem. 

Take your time to understand your audience by defining different personas and their pain points and validate your thoughts. 

Then, start creating something that meets your audience's requirements and that you can realistically deliver.

If you find this useful, don’t hesitate to follow us on social media to learn more about similar topics. We can facilitate your design thinking sessions if that would be helpful.

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