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Tech Talks: Increase Your Competitive Edge through Design Thinking

February 07, 2018
Design thinking
More and more companies are turning to design thinking to discover innovative ways to connect with their customers

East West Bank’s vice president of web design and UX development blogs about using design thinking to improve products and spark ideas.

Innovation is more important now than ever before. As technology changes at a rapid pace, companies must fight for customer attention through innovation. Everyone wants to jump on this trend and be on the cutting edge. However, customers’ expectations are at an all-time high and cool functions are not enough—they also expect to connect to the product or service on an emotional level.

The traditional designer has always been heavily involved in the aesthetics and functionality, whether it’s creating a product or creating an app. They break down the problem using specific steps, and dive into human concerns and reactions. They rely heavily on constructive feedback to reimagine and spark innovation. In the 1960s, design was explored as a “way of thinking.” Since then, businesses have begun to see the value of embedding this design process throughout their organizational practices. Big companies such as IBM, Apple and Intuit have turned to this increasingly popular model of “design thinking” to discover innovative ways to connect with their customers, which has proven effective in producing results.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving by taking a human-centric approach, with constant testing through frequent trial and error. Everyone has their own definition of design thinking, and it has evolved throughout the years. However, each part of the equation is somewhat the same and does not necessarily have to be taken in this order.

Design thinking infographic
The elements of design thinking

Walking in their shoes

The most important takeaway at the heart of this approach is deep empathy. Empathy is the most important aspect of design thinking and should be the cornerstone throughout the whole process.

In addition to running data reports and drilling down to specific user information gathered from a click of a mouse, one design thinking method asks us to go back to the basics of simple observation and come to conclusions. It simply requires one to watch and listen to a user’s reactions and responses with an open mind. Challenge your team to solve problems that can’t always be addressed by mere data.

One of my favorite reality TV shows is “Undercover Boss,” a literal example of “walking in their shoes.” Each episode sends someone in upper management from a big corporation undercover as an entry-level employee to solve the company’s biggest challenges. Most of the time, they find out the roots of the problems directly from their employees’ mouths. It is truly a gift to understand the kinks in their own company’s processes and/or products by physically, mentally and emotionally walking in the shoes of their employees, and to witness for themselves the inefficiencies of their company processes or the underlying pain points of their products. A lot of the knowledge gained from the experience would not have been identifiable through just data analysis. These bosses go back to their corporations with new perspectives when making decisions and changes. This immersive method can be applied to getting to know your customers, too.

Where has design thinking worked?

Many companies in various industries have already adopted design thinking as a framework, formed teams, and even created educational institutes within their companies to drive innovative thinking in their employees. It is not too late to start design thinking in your business today.

I was recently invited to speak on a panel about Women in Design Thinking hosted by Capgemini, a global leader in business consulting. Moderated by Krystianne Avedian, an executive at Capgemini, the panel ranged from Kimberly Hicks, vice president of digital media at Disney, to Jennifer Walk, director at Southern California Gas Company. Although we come from different industries and backgrounds, we are all design thinkers. We are open-minded and not afraid to experiment to achieve innovation. It has reinforced my conviction that design thinking can apply to everyone and even to real-world problems.

Here are three examples of design thinking success stories:

  1. UberEATSThe future of food delivery

    UberEATS is an app that sets out to give customers easier options to find customized and affordable food delivery at the tap of a button. It has all the bells and whistles of a Yelp, but with the customer experience of Uber where you can track in real-time where your delivery physically is on the app. They are not only building a service for food delivery, but also a place for restaurants to improve on their business and for food lovers to build their social community.

    The UberEATS team used design thinking by creating programs where the team can immerse themselves in everyday environments. “The Walkable Program” is where they physically visit locations in the city to study the food, people and culture. “Order shadowing” is where they test their prototypes out by watching their customers’ real world experiences using it. “Fireside chats” is where they invite delivery partners, restaurant works and customers to gain feedback on the app. This process has gained value because UberEATS now operates in over 80 cities globally and is still on the rise.

    Click here to read more on UberEATS

  2. Capital One 360 Cafes inside large branches

    Capital One formed a team called Capital One Labs, which comes up with human-centered strategies to leverage user feedback and improvement. As part of the first milestone of design thinking, “empathize,” they arranged for a series of 360 Cafes within the large branches and provided a laid back, nonthreatening atmosphere where employees can engage with customers in friendly conversations over cups of coffee.

    Through customer feedback, the teams defined, ideated and tested new strategies for many things, from the way users signed up for checking accounts, to their ATM experiences. By making small iterations to substantially improve their customer’s experience, the Capital One Labs team gained the support from their company leaders. Team leaders in turn adopted and exercised design thinking in their immediate teams, thereby sparking innovation throughout the whole company.

    Click here to read more on Capital One Labs

  3. Designing for the Homeless Social community project to help the homeless

    "Design for the Homeless" is an opportunity for designers to use their skills and creativity to design innovative solutions that will help homeless people have better days and nights until they have homes of their own. Paul Bryan from UX Strat is spearheading this project, which launched in December of 2018. His vision is to use design thinking to first understand homeless people and the experience of being homeless, and to identify key problem areas where design can have the biggest impact. “Then we will use design thinking to ideate and design potential solutions that can be tested and brought into production,” Bryan says.

    All walks of life are volunteering to come together and donate 1 percent of their time to developing innovative, implementable solutions to give homeless people a better tomorrow. If you would like to participate, please sign up here

Moving beyond numbers

It is no longer sustainable to just have a working website, app or product. In order to have a competitive edge, you need to create a website, app or product that not only solves your customers’ needs, but also pulls them in emotionally. Surveys may be helpful, but you will not be able to see a customer’s facial expression through numbers on your reports. Much like in “Undercover Boss,” if you want to understand your customers more in-depth, you will need to make that extra effort to physically be there in person if you want to put design thinking to its full use. It’s never too late to start.