When is the shiny new toy the right tool for the job?

How to Best Integrate Design Thinking Into Your Organization

Let’s face it, as with anything new, it’s easy to fall in love with design thinking and want to apply it to every challenge you come across. As a leader in an organization that’s adopting design thinking, you may find yourself in the situation where your team, filled with excitement about the new process, is requesting to use it for every project—or as one executive eloquently put it to us, ‘What can I do!? My team wants to design think the shit out of everything!’

However, as someone who’s mindful of stakeholder alignment, budgets and priorities, knowing when to leverage design thinking is essential to its success (and therefore your success).

So, how do you identify which challenges are right for design thinking?

1. It’s a High-Impact Challenge for You or Your Organization

High-impact can mean different things to different organizations. However, what makes a challenge high-impact is its ability to drive significant change for your business. That change can be tied to anything from revenue growth to customer engagement or internal business structure. Whatever it’s tied to, the key here is it’ll lead to an outcome that will shift things.

Several years ago, the founder and CEO of Capital One declared that from that day forward they were no longer a bank, but were now a technology company. The companies they had typically compared themselves to, namely other large banks such as JPMorgan Chase or Citibank, had broadened greatly to include established tech companies, like Google, and rapidly growing tech startups, like Venmo.

Understanding the implications of technology on their business was critical to their sustained success, and thus high-impact. It required them to dive deep into new user research and identify needs-based insights that would drive future strategies. Flash forward to today, and Capital One is recognized as one of the most tech-forward financial institutions with new, user-driven innovation coming out every quarter.

2. There Are Stakeholder Needs, Behaviors and Emotions That We Should Understand but Don’t

When thinking about who your stakeholders are, you have to take into consideration everyone who’ll be affected by the outcomes of your challenge—really anyone interacting with your business, from customers to suppliers to internal teams. Remember, design thinking is not only for customers, it’s for all humans involved. Properly identifying who those stakeholders are and then understanding their needs, behaviors and emotions is critical to one’s ability to empathize.

Back in 2007, in an effort to make a quick buck, a pair of San Francisco roommates decided to open up their couch for people attending an upcoming conference. They decided to call their idea AirBed&Breakfast, which eventually became Airbnb—a company today valued at $30 billion, boasting 2,000,000+ listings across 191 countries.

But before that success, way back in 2007, they were having some trouble. They’d seen some growth in listings, around a few large events (namely President Obama’s inauguration), but otherwise interest had been stagnant. They knew they had a great concept, but something wasn’t quite resonating. So they took to the streets to spend time with some of their core users, hosting MeetUps and even renting out rooms themselves.

Through this immersive research, they uncovered a few key insights about how people were using their platform—one being that the poor photography, accompanying most of their listings, was deterring potential users from actually committing to renting a space. They had never considered just how imperative good shots were, so they immediately scrapped some other initiatives and redirected resources towards capturing appealing photos. All of a sudden growth began to steadily increase.

It’s easy to speculate on why growth might not be taking place, but until you get on the front line and learn about your stakeholders’ needs, behaviors and emotions, you might be missing lots of opportunity.

3. There’s Ambiguity Around What the Best Solution Could Look Like

Frequently, when you set out to solve a problem that you’re familiar with or you’ve encountered before, you typically already have a solution in mind. However, for problems where you’re not quite sure what the best solution could be or have a feeling there are multiple solutions, leveraging design thinking allows you to go wide, imagining several different options, before narrowing in on one to prototype. Ever heard the phrase, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”—that’s exactly what we’re talking about.

Sydney’s King Cross neighborhood is known as the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night. With a plethora of bars, nightclubs, sex shops and strip clubs, it’s often referred to as Sydney’s Red Light district. It also happens to be the epicenter of alcohol-related crime, particularly drinking-induced violence. So in 2013, in an effort to combat that violence, the City of Sydney paired up with the research center, Designing Out Crime to look into possible solutions.

Instead of pursuing the predictable, and frequently undesired, solution of just increasing police presence to reduce crime, Designing Out Crime leveraged design thinking to look deeper into the problem.

They conducted extensive research into the stakeholders and their needs; studied similar environments that had high levels of alcohol consumption, yet low levels of alcohol-induced violence; and they looked for common themes. That led them to a solution centered around two strategies distraction and extraction.

Distraction focused on offering different forms of entertainment—like food stalls, interactive games, illuminated seating podiums for chilling out—to distract revelers from the “vacuum effect” and pedestrian congestion that were frequently credited for leading to altercations. Meanwhile, extraction centered around creating efficient and safe methods of transporting people out of King Cross, back home at the end of the night. The two together made for a creative and interesting solution that more than likely wouldn’t have come to fruition without the use of design thinking.

All Three Apply

You’ve been nodding your head the entire time, all three of the above criteria apply—you’re facing a high-impact challenge with unknown stakeholder needs, behaviors and emotions; and ambiguity around the best solution. In that case, the shiny new toy—design thinking—actually becomes not only the an applicable tool, but also an excellent one for the job.

Once you’ve determined that all 3 criteria are at play and your team is all set to design think it, your next step will be to frame your challenge. This post is the first installment in a 3-part series about starting your projects off on the right foot. Next week, we’ll be looking at framing your challenge, how to make sure you’re asking the right questions.



The Design Gym
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