Design Thinking: definition and implementation

Let’s take Design Thinking: at first glance, the word “thinking” could lead to something abstract, a thought that will likely remain so. In reality, it is not quite like this; on the contrary, even before being a real methodology, Design Thinking is a model of thought that pushes toward product and process innovationbreaking down the barriers between company departments and creating a circular design model very fast / prototyping/testing (very lean, to use a term dear to all those who are having an aperitif right now), reducing times and costs.

Lean Marketing, Design Thinking, and Customer Journey are beautiful words, always in fashion and on the lips of every self-respecting marketer. Have you ever gone to a work aperitif, taken a spritz, and talked about the Lean model? Ouch, ouch. Very, very bad.

Let’s take a good look at what design thinking is.

“C’est à dire,” I take people with different skills, put them at the table, and see what happens. Once they’ve come up with the ideas, we prototype them, test them and see if they hold up. Wow. It cannot be said that he does not have the gift of synthesis.

Design Thinking: definizione

Brutally. What is Design Thinking? What is it for? How can we pass from the “thinking” to the “doing” level? Indeed, as I said a little further on, it is a way of thinking even before a real methodLet me explain better why this concept is important and, having direct experience introducing new models in the Agency ( such as Scrum or Design Thinking itself), saying it is not like doing it.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to say, “starting tomorrow, we’ll do Design Thinking ” or “let’s organize work with an agile methodology” because, in fact, it’s a matter of thinking, even before doing, in that way. What does it mean? When we talk about a radical change of habits, especially in an environment such as the professional one where we are all touchy and convinced that we are always doing our best, motivation and the result we want to achieve are fundamental elements: the first must be created, the second must be communicated and done comprehend.

As with all things involving a group of people, everyone needs to be on board and understand why it’s being done this new way. Wasn’t it good before? So everything I’ve made up to now is to be thrown away? What a waste of time. Do I also have to sit at the table and watch someone write everyone’s ideas on the blackboard? Do I have to go to a meeting with the one I can’t stand?

Design Thinking

Examples are close to reality. Did we say? Touchy.

That’s why it’s a mindset: because we can have the vision, but somehow we have to bring people on board (even very good people and hard workers) who, however, have limited visibility on the company, each to their role, as it is right that is. And that they have been used to doing in a certain way for many years, which has always gone well. And now everything has changed? We’re not kidding.

Well, that’s the point. It’s not given that everyone aligns on the fly with the new directives, not out of malice or because they necessarily row against it, but they often don’t understand the reasons. That is why it is necessary to align everyone in advance (often, it is enough to open a communication channel). That’s why first it is a “mindset” and then, but only after, Design Thinking can be considered a method and a process to innovate the company.

As to why introduce it, well, let’s see. It is a tool that sometimes leads to comparing ideas and different heads with each other, somehow forcing everyone to have their say: meeting different thoughts most often leads to change and innovation of product and process.

Design thinking e mindset aziendale

This paragraph was not foreseen in the original draft of the article but, since we are talking about it, it seems pertinent to me.

At that time. Our company isn’t exactly a start-up and doesn’t pride itself on having a culture centered on innovation. On the contrary, we have internal IT which, all in all, plays to maintaining the status quo, we have sales which tend to manage themselves independently of company directives without speaking to the marketing side, we have software which has stratified over time and which pushes processes towards total stasis, we would like an innovation manager who we don’t know how to integrate into the team or maybe we already have but can’t do anything because he preaches in the desert. Sound familiar?

Getting out of this situation is long, tiring, and expensive. The good news is that it can be done though. Indeed, it must be done because paralysis does not lead to anything good. The world goes on, whether your company evolves or not: here it is a question of understanding whether we are ready for competition or not, whether we are flexible enough to manage any changes in direction that the market requires today.

How to force change? Meanwhile doing it is never easy, you need to have a strong propensity to accept the unknown or a strong motivation to do so. In the company, it is certainly not something that is introduced from one moment to the next but it must be prepared. From experience, taxation, in the strict sense, is not a good choice because it only lasts for a while; people have to believe in it. Better to persuade than to force.

It is, therefore, good to accept that it is a process, to establish shared foundations of the new corporate culture and to support people in the change. Find sponsors, leaders, someone in the company (a sort of influencer) who has a grip on people and believes in the project: well, if he tells me… the concept is a bit like this. Remember to consider the power of corporate values, mission and vision, internal communication, and training or coaching. Proving that things work better after they’ve changed is an excellent business card.

The goal is to shape old habits into new behaviors by leading people to understand the reasons and the need.

What is Design Thinking

So, let’s resume. Having ascertained that the whole company is finally aligned, let’s see what methodology we are talking about. First, the definition: Design Thinking is a working model born at Stanford University around the beginning of the millennium, which aims to solve complex problems creatively and cooperatively.

Here the word “cooperative” almost means “democratic”: everyone participates in the meetings and can potentially add value to the result. For this reason, cross-functional teams are needed: each person brings their background, experience, and vision of the world and sees the same problem from different angles than others. Sooner or later someone finds the right angle to look from.

To take a trivial example, we want to launch a new service. If I think about it, I mainly emphasized communication and marketing. However, if the salesperson also thinks about it, he will be able to support the content on the customer’s real needs. If a developer also participates, the service can be digitized. Even a designer looks at it and discovers that the sales brochure can be organized by color for easier reading. And so on.

Here is the reason for the teams. The same problem turns into different opportunities for different people.

So again, what is Design Thinking? Up until now, we have said that it is a mindset, which is both a method and a process that creates product innovation, which is democratic, and which serves to solve problems with creative solutions. We have yet to say that it overturns the corporate concept of business and its paradigm: the company and the product are no longer at the center but there are people, customers, with their problems and needs. And it is precisely these that guide business decisions. We are talking about Business by Design, where the company is driven by external factors and no longer internal needs.

Well, this changes the vision a lot. Also because this placing the person at the center shifts the accent from the product itself to the benefit it brings to its user, i.e. on the customer experience that the brand offers throughout the Customer Journey (find out what a customer journey map is and what elements of the customer journey it contains). 

This is what Design Thinking is, beyond the academic definitions: a thinking model with the goal of open-mindedness, which forces us to change our perspective on classic business models. It is itself a business tool that obliges to govern different aspects of the product or service in a transversal way.

How to do Design Thinking: the 5 phases

Okay okay. A lot of talk about the mindset, and now you can offer me a finished model? Of course. And I’ll tell you more: it wouldn’t be a real American model if it didn’t have at least 3 phases. And here we even have 5.

Design Thinking

Unfortunately, we have to resign ourselves: there is no doubt that if, sooner or later, Design Thinking has to be applied, it is easier to think step by step. Here are which ones:

  1. Empathize. This is the first phase of analysis, in which the objective is to collect data to understand better all aspects of the problem we are trying to solve. Typically in Design Thinking, we are talking about the needs of our customers. Empathy is literally the ability to place yourself in another person’s state of mind: in our case, it means getting to understand the anxieties, fears, needs, and desires of those who we imagine want to buy our products. Usually, in this phase, customer research is carried out mixed with desk research to collect as much information as possible.
  2. Define. Once the information has been collected, it must be cataloged somehow. They are analyzed and categorized by creating logical clusters for the problem we want to solve. The objective is to define the problem in light of the information gathered in the previous phase: the important thing, in defining the problem, is to keep the focus on the person (on the customer) trying to avoid thinking about company needs.
  3. Devise. This is the real brainstorming phase, where our group, made up of people from different departments, has all the information they need to start producing ideas. Without filters, shame, and judgment, even the ideas that at first glance seem more stupid can be developed and successful. It is also important to think outside the box to force lateral thinking to seek innovation. We are not looking for standard solutions, but ideally, we are rewriting history (at least that of our company). 
  4. Prototyping. This is the stage where we select the ideas we think are best and try to give them meaning and shape. The designer teams will begin to produce more or less usable, more or less realistic (sometimes even paper) prototypes according to the schemes dictated by lean marketing: attention to customer value, operational efficiency, reduction of waste, and reduction of evaluation times, without falling in love with ideas, especially those that don’t make it through to the next stage.
  5. Test. The last phase in the literature, the test phase, is the first point of relaunching the prototype because its use by the testers often highlights further problems that had yet to emerge in the previous phases. Usually, it is not the last phase but only one of the phases in a circular process, which leads to the reiteration of a part or the whole process. That is, here, it is good that other information emerges to reshape the prototype in the light of a greater understanding of the customer’s needs.

This is the canonical version of Stanford University. Then whoever added or took away something, the system is this.

Design thinking e Jobs to be Done.

The Jobs to be Done theory, a topic closely related to Design Thinking, was born in the early 2000s as an evolution of some movements of the 80s (such as quality Management and its Voice of Customer), which sought to redefine the concept of perceived quality of a product by its consumers.

What is ” the Jobs to be Done”

This movement, a forerunner of the fundamentals of Lean Marketing and Design Thinking itself, aimed at reducing production excesses not justified by actual requests from listening consumers. This mainly had an impact on product design and on the way market research was carried out to listen to customers.

The change of perspective on the product (therefore no longer a product theme but one of the customer needs, therefore from product-centric to customer-centric) defines a new paradigm: redefining the concept of “value” for the customer and therefore starting to think no longer about what the product “is” but about what the product “does” for the customer.

The evolution of this paradigm is obviously that thin red line that defines the model not only of Jobs to be Done but of all the new methodologies born shortly before or shortly after (lean marketing, design thinking, growth hacking, and so on the ): concept of developing a product as the company sees it is abandoned but focuses on what is important for the consumer. The entire shopping experience (defined precisely by the customer journey ).

So the consumer is at the center of everything good. But how do we figure out what’s on his mind? What do you think of our product? How do you use it? The answer is simpler than expected. We ask them.

How we define Jobs to be Done

JTBDs are the process through which every consumer ventures when they want to improve their current condition about a goal that is not always explicit. So if I buy a Rolex, it’s because it performs a “social” job, certainly not to tell the time.

I think we can well understand from the image below how each of us is looking for something more than the sum of the parts of every single product (I found it in Alan Klement’s book ” when coffee and kale compete,” but I think it is attributable to Intercom ). And be careful: our skater below doesn’t want a finished skateboard, but he wants to have fun and do all the ollie flips in this world. It is not the product but what it allows us to do. 

The Jobs to be Done theory states that the choice of that particular product derives directly from the perception that every consumer has of the “job” (of the goal) that that product can make “done.” Precisely for this reason, the Jobs to be Done (JTBD for close friends) have determined that this theory has become a true paradigm. There is always a gap between the producer’s intentions and the actual reason consumers use that product.

And this has a direct impact on the redefined concept of competition on the market: when a product is purchased because it performs a specific job for consumers, all those solutions must be taken into consideration as competitors, even out of context, at zero cost but they serve the same function. 

A famous Case History tells of the legendary launch of the chotuKool portable fridge, a very low-cost fridge aimed at the lowest wages in India. Precisely because it was aimed at a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people, it was considered the product of the century before its launch, but it was a total flop. Why?

I’ll make it short. From interviews with potential users of this fridge, it came to light that, after all, it was possible to live without it because there were ways tested for decades to preserve food at no cost (such as cooking it first or shopping every day) for which the cost of the fridge was not justified. In this case, therefore, the cooker becomes a competitor of the fridge. Strange but true.

Therefore, human behavior is complex and certainly cannot be explained only through its socio-demographic characteristics, but there is more. But what? Jobs to be Done also helps identify the four forces that lead to progress: the forces that push towards change (push and pull) and those that tend towards stasis (anxiety and inertia). How are these forces understood? The answer is always that. We interview our customers.

  1. How Design Thinking has changed the way of thinking of the Agency.

What I’d like to be able to do before closing this article is to explain how in the Agency, we have interpreted Design Thinking, how we have taken some of its parts and integrated them into a process that we have defined Discovery with which we help our client companies to apply some of the concepts we have seen so far.

At OFG, we have studied a path we call Discovery which has a dual objective:

  1. Collect information inside and outside the company to build a communication, marketing, and sales plan based on the insights collected directly from customers.
  2. Give the company useful information to improve its Customer Experience where possible.

Discovery: how it takes place and what it includes

The Customer Experience is the culmination of Discovery: for this very reason, it is important to understand it before starting. Our goal is to design an experience that leaves a mark. How do we do it? But how much does communication have to do with all this?

Keeping in mind the result we want to achieve, Discovery is a growth path that passes through some phases and typical tools of Design Thinking aimed at deepening the following topics:

  1. The analysis of the company’s business
  2. The profile of Buyer Personas
  3. Customer needs
  4. The value proposition
  5. The analysis of the company’s digital and non-digital assets
  6. Il Customer Journey
  7. The analysis of communication activities

The output of Discovery is what we define as a Growth Plan: a set of communication, marketing, and sales strategies and tactics that are based on shared and measurable objectives and impact the sustainable growth of the company business.

This is a path that the Agency follows together with the company and which has four fundamental advantages:

  1. It helps the company to focus on priorities and needs.
  2. It helps the company to put people at the same table who usually don’t have time to talk to each other on strategic issues.
  3. It helps the Agency understand the company’s communication, marketing, sales, and after-sales needs and requirements, aligning them with the objectives.
  4. It can be the first step towards introducing a thinking model related to Design Thinking.

This is how Design Thinking has partially and is still changing the Agency. And you, how are you?

Design thinking e Growth Hacking

Design Thinking and Jobs to be Done help us in the fundamental phase of knowledge: the first step that every company should take before moving in any direction is understanding. Understand the Buyer persona, understand your product, and above all, understand how these two entities relate to each other.

One should consider strategy only when everything is clear, and the objectives have been defined. Okay, this seems normal to me: first, I understand my destination, then I study the route, and only then do I hit the road.

For pure literary spirit, remaining in the metaphor, when I finally loaded the trunk, I had the car on, I fastened my seat belt, and I was ready to go. How do I move?

This is where Growth Hacking enters the scene, a constant research and experimentation process that aims to improve the performance of any tool that can be tested and measured. 

It is a methodology that pushes the accelerator through the mapping and subdivision of the Customer Journey into different phases (5 or 6, depending on who tells you about it): Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral. All phases, in short, are from the beginning to the end (and beyond) of the purchasing process for each of us. Quest allows you to monitor the communication and marketing strategy by controlling the touchpoints and all the tactics that make it up.

I want to underline that Design Thinking and Growth Hacking are two distinct but complementary disciplines. I remember that in the first course, I took on Growth Hacking, we spent whole days talking about Buyer Personas, Canvas, and Design Thinking, and I remember a bit of disappointment that we didn’t talk about Growth Hacking.

Of course, it wasn’t like that. I expected it to be different and needed to understand why everything we were doing. Today, with a different awareness, I thank you for having spent those days; indeed, I would do more. 

Therefore, if we use Design Thinking mostly for the Discovery phase, we use growth Hacking to give us a method to manage experimentation. One of the arms of Design Thinking. The pragmatic one of the couple. 

They certainly have in common that both require an attitude, a mindset toward information sharing, and a lean approach. 

Therefore, people and team management are key: a multidisciplinary group where all members are aligned towards a common goal. A team in which information travels fast and constantly goes in its experimentation, obsessively devoted to growth.

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