“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”
Today’s ever-changing landscape requires marketers to have a very different skill set from the one before the web 2.0 arrived into our lives. The huge accessibility to information along with the empowerment of the consumer have dramatically changed the rules of the game. Hence, flexibility and agility are vastly needed in order to adapt to this new dynamic environment. And this is the moment when design thinking comes into the picture as the response to our needs. One of his strong advocates, Roger Martin (cited in Liedtka, 2011), defines it as “the process of continuously redesigning a business using insight derived from customer intimacy”. Design thinking is a state of mind (Venkatesh et al., 2014) and anyone can acquire it (Johansson-Sköldberg, 2013). Hailed as the new indispensable tool for marketers, it can certainly ease the path towards creativity and innovation. Put it simply, it aims to hit the sweet spot where the needs of the consumers, the viability of the business, and the feasibility of the technology overlap. Thanks to the MACE course, I’ve been able to acquire design thinking skills and put them into practice. In the following paragraphs I will go through the major takeaways I’ve gleaned from the course within the design thinking arena.
The Design Revolution:
As mentioned in an earlier post – ‘Take a walk in their shoes’-, nowadays landscape demands marketers and brands to be consumer-centric. And design thinking can be seen as the idea that can drive this revolution towards a mutually beneficial relationship between brands and consumers. By primarily focusing on their audience needs, brands can optimally navigate through this new environment that is in a state of flux, of uncertainty. If the revolution eventually takes over, capitalism will be replaced by customer capitalism – where consumer satisfaction is the most sought-after quality (Martin R. cited in Leavy, 2011). Along these lines, push strategies – where consumers are regarded as mere recipients and ultimately buyers – have then to give way to pull strategies – viewing it as a much more collaborative process where consumers’ input is key to success (Leavy, 2012). What’s more, brands shouldn’t be fearful of empowering consumers and, to some extent, letting them take centre stage. A model that wisely encapsulates this approach is DART, which stands for Dialogue, Access, Reflexivity, and Transparency (Leavy, 2012). Providing the right platforms to have conversations, allowing consumers to modify and extend the content, drawing upon their contributions as a means for improvement, and ultimately embracing openness and authenticity are must-do for brands that are willing to take part in the Design Revolution.
Design Thinking Process:
Once we’re fully committed to partake in this revolution, it’s time to get a firm handle on design thinking. Personally, I’ve experienced that the best way to take on board this way of addressing problems is by doing. Nonetheless, having a clear understanding of its skeleton and guidelines. First off, let’s have a look at the four main rules of design thinking: the Human Rule – it always has a predominant social dimension as it puts human beings at the center of the equation-, the Ambiguity Rule – no preconceived ideas, stereotypes, or idea-stifling mechanisms should be embraced, but rather create areas with no clear boundaries that welcome wild ideas-, the Re-Design Rule – see past designs as ideas where we can build upon and ultimately enhance-, the Tangibility Rule – creating prototypes can serve as a means of streamlining communication (Meinel et al., 2010). When it comes to the design thinking stepwise process, there are various models yet all have share the same consumer-centric and iterative characteristics. IDEO, the ‘design-thinking’ firm par excellence, breaks down the process into five steps: Understand – thoroughly look into the underlying consumer behavior and motivations-, Observe – go out and talk to people, see how they interact with your product or service, be an ethnographic researcher-, Visualize – come up with as many ideas as possible, engage in brainstorming with the aim of a great design on the horizon-, Evaluate/Refine – test ideas, make prototypes-, and finally Implement (Bell, 2008). Truth be told, though, this IDEO process is missing out on emphasizing the importance of asking the right question. And not only that, but also re-framing the question according to the tests and prototypes carried out – it’s pivotal to see feedback as a catalyst for improvement. Iterative prototyping is a process that allows fine-tuning ideas as well as identifying possible issues or opportunities – it brings creativity and feedback together (Meinel et al., 2010).
Framing the Right Question:
This should be the first concern when engaging in design thinking. Which is not to say that we should devote lots of time to it – that would clearly run counter to one of its tenets of failing fast. However, we ought to be mindful of the fact that how we frame the question will ultimately determine the direction of the process. If we ask the right question, we’re certainly increasing our chances of stumbling upon great ideas that solve the problem framed. As Liedtka et al. (2013) wisely put it, “the framing of a question ultimately drives the nature of the answers”. Hence, if we keep on asking the wrong questions, they will lead us to unsuccessful territory. Equally, starting by establishing many boundaries – intending to narrow it down as soon as possible – can genuinely backfire as it may leave out the questions that actually need to be asked. So due attention has to be paid to this crucial first step, since it will help us unlock consumer insights in the next stage – which is the ‘Understand’ IDEO step.
Here comes the real huge shift from brand-centric firms to user-centric ones. In an era where peer-to-peer communication and interactivity are hallmarks of society, great ideas need to be driven by consumer insights. Thus, market research, ethnography, first-hand experience, user testing and roleplaying becoming critical avenues to explore (Beaumont, 2010). Further, in order to genuinely put yourself in their shoes is of paramount importance to have their journey in mind. The journey where the consumer stumbles upon several milestones, touchpoints, where your brand can ultimately have an impact. By taking a stroll in their shoes and actually follow the same route that they usually go down, you will be in a much better position to answer and solve the question you’ve asked beforehand. Naturally, though, as long as you are sufficiently open-minded and willing to leave all your preconceived ideas that can potentially get in the way – or at least, be aware of them and try to minimize their impact. You have to know what they like, dislike, what are their core motivations, their interests, and so on and so forth. The richer the information you have, the more likely to come across a powerful consumer insight. Hence, it becomes instrumental to undertake this research with a keen eye for detail and embracing all sorts of information – you really never know where the insight is going to come from. Once you’ve got a comprehensive and well-rounded view, you can create your ‘persona’ – which brings all the consumer’s characteristics together into one specific individual. Additionally, envisioning the scenarios where this ‘persona’ is expressing him or herself is also a key task to perform. And equally important, place this ‘persona’ within a specific tribe. This is actually an important bit within the whole process of understanding the consumer. Further, as mentioned on a previous post – Lean Tribe Canvas-, our audience should be seen as a tribe that shares values and interests. Hence, creating a story – which has been covered in two different posts: Storytelling 1.0 and Storytelling 2.0 – that narrates the journey of this ‘persona’ can be of great use for the Visualization step – where creativity takes over.
Abductive Reasoning and the Knowledge Funnel:
Unsurprisingly, a groundbreaking way of tackling challenges such as design thinking, doesn’t go down traditional pathways but innovative one. And here is when abductive reasoning comes into it. According to Leavy (2011), “abductive reasoning is the logical process whereby we make sense out of a phenomenon that doesn’t follow an existing deductive rule and hasn’t happened enough to make an inductive finding”. In essence, it aims to find the most likely solution for the problem framed. Hence, as mentioned earlier on, the framing of the question becomes critical in generating valuable answers. Interestingly enough, there is actually a model called the ‘knowledge funnel’ that clearly shows how to apply it to real-world situations. It has three stages: Mystery – where you are ask yourself a specific question, and make exploratory research in order to stumble upon some insights-, Heuristic – where you have already come across a reasonable explanation that accounts for the mystery-, and Algorithm – where you achieve to, in a way, standardize the heuristic and turn it into a formula that can be used to solve more similar problems (Leavy, 2011). It’s worth remembering, though, that the issue many firms face is that once they’ve already reached the Algorithm phase, what ensues is stagnation. They get too confident and complacent thus letting competitors gain a foothold in the market with a new groundbreaking idea. Therefore, what marketers ought to do is recognize when they have reached a somewhat end point, and wisely come back to the Mystery stage. In doing so, they will be able to reinvent themselves and keep their competitive edge alive.
Another key aspect to take into account is the importance of breaking down silos between disciplines (Denning, 2013). If design thinking is to be successful, an inter-disciplinary approach needs to be adopted. In such a way, you’re not only profiting from the diversity of expertise, but also the effect that it unconsciously has in moving away from narrow-mindedness. By working with a wide variety of professionals – anthropologists, engineers, psychologists, and so forth-, you’re setting the ideal stage for your mind to be open and receptive to new ideas. And it goes without saying that the chances of coming up with richer and more insightful ideas is higher as the reasoning goes into deeper levels. Likewise, both failing fast and being transparent and authentic are also fundamental characteristics to embrace. And in the light of today’s social dynamics, where user-generated content has become a commonly used term due to its prevalence, regarding collaboration as something that anyone can take part in and get involved is vital. Indeed, the whole process of creation can be actually seen as a process of co-creation by letting users to have their say in how the products and services have to be developed. In phenomena such as crowdsourcing we can clearly identify a growing trend in our society in which we draw upon the wisdom of the crowd.
Getting to grips with design thinking has allowed me to come to realize that the actual beauty of design lies in its process, rather than in its end result. And to my surprise, it entails much more psychological and sociological factors than I initially expected. In a world where the attention span is reducing year by year to an astonishing degree and a tremendous amount of our time is spent on social media platforms, the visual aspects of any output – brand, product, etcetera – ultimately have a massive bearing upon our behavior. Hence, a discipline such as Design – driven by design thinking – can play a large part in providing value to customers and engage with them. But, most importantly, design thinking is undeniably a process that can help many industries. For instance, the marketing and advertising industry can largely benefit from it by applying its process to brand strategies. By taking on a user-centric approach, brands can be much more empathetic thus bring better value to their customers – which is essentially marketing’s raison d’etre. Other than that, in a hyper-competitive world like ours it becomes imperative to be creative and innovative. Thus, a tool such as design thinking certainly needs to be add to the marketing toolkit. Furthermore, I highly value the fact that design thinking is a process whereby we learn to acknowledge that reality is equal to chaos thus the better way to deal with it is acting accordingly – using abductive reasoning. Along with that, as it places huge emphasis upon the importance of asking the right question, I hold that philosophy can be incorporated as a massively useful tool to get better at this task. And last but not least, it’s fair to say that design thinking deserves to start to be included in the education portfolio as a means to nurturing our inherently creative minds.
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