Back to Basics: Building Blocks of Design-thinking

Back to Basics: Building Blocks of Design-thinking

By Theo Forbath, Vice President, Digital Transformation, Cognizant Digital Works, and Kipp Lynch, AVP, UX Research and Design, Cognizant Digital Works

It is not hard to imagine what the world will be like in just a few years once you’ve been to Disney World. Consider The Walt Disney Co.’s MagicBand, an all-in-one device that effortlessly lets visitors to Disney World experience their own touch of magic as they explore The Magic Kingdom.

Strapped onto their wrists, these technology-enabled wristbands unlock all the experiences that visitors had pre-selected online, leaving them to enjoy their vacation from arrival to departure.

The magic begins as soon as visitors step through immigration. They wave their bands and the pick-up service appears. Luggage? Already directed to their rooms at the Disney Hotel. Tickets? The wristbands give access to the park. Before visitors arrive at the restaurant they’ve chosen, the kitchen gets an order to start preparing the food they’ve ordered. Food magically finds its way to them wherever they’re seated so those hunger pangs can be settled quickly. When it is time to pay, visitors wave ‘bye’ and bills are “automagically” charged to their credit cards.

Disney has altered the paradigm for how it serves its patrons in a way that is directly linked to the brand experience, re-creating the “Disney Magic” for the 21st century. Today, many businesses seek to first understand the actual human needs behind a product or service, and like in Disney World, transform the overall user experience from drab to fab.

This approach is often referred to as “design thinking”. Previously, companies may have approached the creation of a new product or service by running through a fixed set of requirements. However, design thinking uses an iterative, user-centered approach to uncovering both unmet and unarticulated customer needs. As we move full-speed into a world where companies must design congruent branded experiences across both their physical and digital channels, this approach will be critical to defining the future customer experience and engagement strategies. Simply stringing together a set of methods or tools is no longer sufficient in delivering a meaningful experience that seamlessly meshes the physical and digital interactions of people, processes and things. Rather, by adopting a design thinking approach, we suggest focusing on integrating four of its main building blocks.

Components of Design Thinking
Successful design thinking incorporates four principles that work best when used together and repeatedly. Performing these components in isolation―observation, ideation, prototyping and testing―misses the critical point of design thinking, which is both a journey and a mindset.

1.     Observation: Ultimately, because the end goal is to deliver a meaningful user experience, teams should aim to gain an in-depth understanding of user needs―emotionally, psychologically and functionally. This customer research is a critical first step of the process―not spending any actual time with users or target groups most often means experiences do not fill the gap in user needs and goals, resulting in wasted time and money.

2.     Ideation: This is where the team translates the insights gained through customer research. Teams should use visual ideation techniques to promote creativity, such as jotting down or sketching their observations on sticky notes and grouping them on a wall. This ‘thinking aloud on paper’ can help crystallize thoughts. The ideation process is an important step in encouraging teams to creatively solve problems, rather than stick to a fixed list of requirements. Very often, we encounter companies that directly listen to and observe their customers, then quickly jump to translating the notes into a spreadsheet.

3.     Prototyping: Testing and validating prototypes need not be approached as formal usability tests. Rather than developing a fully functional and robust prototype, consider having the team create mockups, stimulations, and process sketches to convey the overall concept to users―the look, feel and functionality of the experience―and get feedback quickly.

4.     Testing: With design thinking, testing and validation can be treated as an informal and participatory experience, where potential users (customers, business partners or employees) can interact playfully with it and provide genuine feedback. The testing should not be held off until the prototype is complete; rather, user feedback should come at all stages of ideation―process sketches, simple mock-ups, simulations, and so on.

Ultimately, conclusions resulting from the design thinking process are not superficial as they highlight necessary changes that need to be made to business processes, technologies and organizational structures. The process does not end when the product or service is launched. Instead, it is imperative that teams incorporate design thinking into the experience itself, so it can be used to continuously refine and enhance the experience.

While companies still have a long way to go in bridging the gap between today’s capabilities and the emerging vision of the future, it is time they embarked on the journey to embrace and integrate design thinking in everything they do.

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