Design Thinking

Design Thinking: 6 Things to Stop Doing Right Now (And One Thing to Start)

By Lisa Helminiak

January 29, 2018

Design thinking is finally having its moment. What started out as a framework for improving products has now also proven a valuable tool set for developing innovative strategy and managing rapid change.

The basics of design thinking are pretty straightforward:

  • we “empathize” to gain understanding of our users
  • we identify and define the real problem(s) we want to solve
  • we ideate ways to solve the problem
  • we prototype the ideas
  • we test (and re-test) prototypes to arrive at the best solution

The difficulty for many new practitioners of design thinking is to break old habits that get in the way of new insights and the path to valuable innovation. To that end, here are six things to STOP doing when you shift to design thinking and other human-centered design practices, and one thing to START doing.

1. Stop Working in Siloed Teams

Designers work here; developers work over there; and business types someplace else. That’s the old habit. Each group reports to different people and is measured in different ways.

Human-centered design requires us to work together, on smaller chunks of a project, so we can solve problems faster. For example, designers and developers can rapidly create and test new functions when they sit together and work through issues less formally.

Also, we need more holistic incentive structures. When designers are rewarded for the way things look, and developers are rewarded for pushing out code as fast as possible, what you end up with is great layouts and lots of code. Read more about how great design requires great communication here.

2. Stop Relying on Research Teams

Research departments are great. They gather lots of data about customers, trends and other issues that impact the business. However, they’re frequently focused on adding to an organization’s knowledge base rather than solving a particular design challenge.

Much of what’s important to human-centered design teams happens on a micro-level. For example, we may want to know if our screen design will meet the needs of the healthcare teams that use it to get their jobs done. Is the type too small? Is the information ordered correctly? These aren’t the kinds of questions research departments are accustomed to answering.

Design and development teams need to learn how and why to do their own research to gain the very specific insights they need.

3. Stop Thinking Research Is a One-time Thing

While we’re on the topic of research… Organizations often get excited to do research at the beginning of a new project. They put people and resources behind the initial empathy-gathering work and MVP design. But once the product is in the market, and development backlogs add up, the research stops.

Human-centered design and design thinking are meant to be ongoing practices. The continual research and development helps you climb higher and higher up the mountain of user satisfaction and adoption. You can’t do one cycle and expect good results.

That’s another reason why design and development teams need to learn to do their own research quickly and effectively. Learn 7 Practical Tips for gathering better customer research here.

4. Stop Believing It’s Design-by-Committee

For some reason, there’s a myth that work done by a design-thinking team means everything is designed by committee. It’s not true.

We still need the experts owning the results of their specific crafts. That means designers are still designing, and developers are still developing. But everyone shares in the process of identifying user needs, and the goal of testing solutions that meet those needs.

In the end, an expert critique is also required to be sure a design solves the problem, works effectively, and delights the users.

5. Stop Everything, If You Don’t Have Executive Support

Without executive support, human-centered design will never take hold in your company. Why? It requires a tolerance for messiness and ambiguity that many companies have trouble embracing.

The test-and-learn methodology can look like repeated failure. And these failures (which are actually low-cost learning moments) can be difficult to justify in quarterly reports, if leadership isn’t onboard.

The old habit is to reinforce everyone’s feeling of success up until the moment of launch. Then, when a product doesn’t take off, deal with a big, expensive failure all at once. (It’s also easier to blame someone else for that kind of failure.)

Executives need to support the rigorous process of design iteration and help reframe failure as learning. They also need to fundamentally understand why empathy for users or customers is important.

6. Stop Thinking You Know What Your MVP Is

Minimum viable product (MVP) is an idea that caught on through methodologies like Eric Reis’s Lean Startup. It’s a valuable concept, but a bit of a trap, too.

We’ve seen internal teams think they know what their MVP needs to be after an initial round of empathy gathering and design work. They put together funding, create a schedules for development, and set out to build their initial products for launch. The problem arises when they get bad user feedback. What happens next?

They’ve promised investors they will launch a certain product within a certain timeframe. So that’s what they do, hoping they can figure out how to fix the product quickly enough to still win customers.

To truly get the benefit of design thinking and other human-centered design methods, we have to take the time to listen and learn throughout the development process. That means shifting expectations and schedules to make sure the product that gets launched is truly viable.

7. Start Recording Your Impact

It’s difficult to measure the impact of design thinking on an organization, because the results take time to manifest and are spread across the business. However, to sustain support and momentum, it’s important to get a handle on proving the value of design thinking.

Some companies have begun measuring the results of design thinking more holistically, by recording customer stories. These stories are meant to capture richer customer experiences, rather than a disaggregated number, like a net promoter score. (If you haven’t read Jared Spool’s article about NPS yet, you should!

Over time, stories can lead to the “why” behind what your net promoter score means. Read about other ways companies are measuring the ROI of design thinking here.

If you want to learn more about what Azul Seven has learned implementing human-centered design and design thinking practices, check out our Lessons from the Trenches Webinar, or call us. We’re happy to connect!

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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