The new cell phone is a sleek, thin device with a beautiful metallic case. The new car has sexy lines and a wide, open grill. The new kitchen appliance is smooth with only one start/stop button to preserve its modern look.
We often consider design as the element that brings form to product function. In times past, designers were called into projects after all the technical specifications were completed. Designers were told to make the product “pretty”, maybe put it into a nicer box or color it according to current fashion trends.
Design thinking, however, is not the same as design. Design has largely been the purvey of graphic artists and specialists who create shells to surround products so that the ugly, functional guts are concealed from the user. In contrast, design thinking is a human-centered activity that translates customer needs into product or service offerings within business constraints. In other words, design thinking is more than just creative design.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is defined by dictionary.com as “the state or quality of being creative,” and “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns…” We view an artist’s interpretation of a landscape in an oil painting at “creative”. When kids act out stories and make up games, we say they are “creative”. My family and friends love my handmade greeting cards and tell me that I am “creative”.
In innovation, we seek creativity to generate alternative problem solutions. We intentionally practice divergent thinking exercises for creativity these include things like brainstorming, brainwriting, and role-playing. Our goal is to generate a lot of ideas, quickly.
In divergent thinking, we accept crazy ideas, even ones that defy known scientific boundaries and constraints. It is possible to convert a nugget of a wild idea into a true product solution. For example, most of us know the famous story of how a worker at 3M tested a not-so-sticky adhesive on slips of paper in his Sunday hymnal. Form a nugget of an idea (a not-so-sticky adhesive) was born a billion-dollar brand for a mining firm.
Yet, the problem with divergent thinking is that it limits innovators to only making lists of creative ideas. Brainstorming sessions end with flip chart paper covering the walls, hundreds of ideas written down, and the new product development (NPD) team feeling pretty darn good about the quantity of ideas generated.
Unfortunately, many, many firms stop at this point.
Divergent thinking must be followed with a convergent thinking exercise. Long lists of ideas are useless to an innovation team unless they know which ones to develop further. Convergent thinking draws together similar ideas and concepts so that the NPD team can test assumptions. Methods used in convergent thinking include mind-mapping, multi-voting, and affinity diagramming.
Results of convergent thinking provide a set of new product or service concepts that can be developed and tested.
Both divergent and convergent thinking are subsets of design thinking. Yet, design thinking is more collaborative and human-centered than simply generating prioritized lists of good ideas. Design thinking is based on customer empathy and seeks first to understand a customer’s need.
Successful innovators use design thinking tools throughout the product development process. First to identify customer needs, then to generate potential solutions, and finally to prototype and test functionality. Companies embracing design thinking bring customers into the product development process by observing them and questioning their emotional engagement with a given problem and existing solutions. As Clayton Christensen says, people don’t buy drills because they want a drill; they buy drills because they need a hole.
Innovators use design thinking tools to dig beyond the surface of a problem and then continue the conversation with a customer well beyond the idea generation stage. The product functionality is tested with prototypes and customers validate the form of the packaging as well. Usability tests dictate the inclusion of only a minimum number of functions so that the product is simple and attractive.
Design Thinking is More than Creativity
Successful innovators recognize the need to generate lots and lots of creative ideas during the product development process. However, creativity often ends when a team brainstorms a bunch of potential solution ideas.
Design thinking goes deeper through creativity with customer empathy to understand the true problem. Then, we use design thinking tools to test and validate solutions with those same customers. Following a customer’s needs and emotional engagement with a potential solution leads to faster time-to-market and better long-term profitability. You can’t afford to ignore your customers!
To Learn More
To learn how to apply design thinking to enrich innovation, please join us in Life Design Master Mind (LDMM), Innovation Master Mind (IMM), or New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification. LDMM is designed for your personal growth by applying design thinking tools to finding the next step in life. IMM is a 6-month peer coaching group that allows you to extend your NPD knowledge beyond NPDP certification and to collaborate with other CIOs and innovation managers. You will realize improved efficiency and growth from LDMM, IMM, or through NPDP certification which entails a deep dive into strategy and NPD processes, including design thinking. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
Speaking on Design Thinking
- 7 September 2018 at Texas Association of Change Management Professionals Conference
Study. Learn. Earn. Simple.
A division of Global NP Solutions, LLC