Design Thinking

Startups culture is rising all around the world these days. Startups generally are working on some product idea or service idea. Established companies who are providing service or offer products, are typically, busy with defining what a road map should be for their service or product. All of us know that user is very important factor to consider in this process. Do we really care? Or do we confuse between market opportunity versus the user who is going to consume that product or service? This is what is delved upon during design thinking. Sometime back, I got a bit of glimpse of this when I had attended a session during NASSCOM Product Conclave in Pune. When I heard that there is a day long workshop around this concept, I immediately enrolled for it. I am going to share here what I learnt during the workshop.

I am generally very fond of ideation and innovation. This workshop was going to cover exactly that along with design thinking. The workshop was arranged by TechStars and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Cell(EIC) of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research(IISE)R in Pune at IISER campus. This was my second visit to beautiful campus of IISER. I remember I visited it about 3-4 years back when they had arranged a music concert by famous violin player Rajam, I believe under SPIC MACAY program. Anyways, the faculty and expert for the workshop was Prof Kaustubh Dhagralkar. He is serial entrepreneur, a mentor at IIM, and now runs academy for design thinking called Potentials&Possibilities.

In simple terms, design thinking is nothing but understanding the user. The workshop started with analyzing what happens due to lack of design thinking. He shared an example of famous car manufacturer of USA who launched their car in India 2 decades back. In the effort of reducing cost, car manufacturer decided to get away with facility of power windows on the rear. It so happened that, since the primary user of the car was a chauffeur, he ended up having power windows, and owner who would sit at the back, would not have not it. The second example was about introduction of flat TV(plasma TV) in the market when it was flooded with cathode ray tube(CRT) TV. The flat TV sales did not pick up initially as they would not fit in living rooms where space was meant for size of CRT TV, where flat TVs are best for wall-mounted.

Then he contemplated upon why use word “design thinking”. The answer to this is that employing techniques used by designers(versus managers or decision makers) in solving problems, makes it termed as “design thinking”. This is where he introduced the first stage of design thinking process which is very important, and is called Empathy Stage, which is nothing but to learn from people, users, to understand them. The survey techniques using forms and alike are not sufficient to reveal the true user patterns for a given product or service. He spoke of employing various gaming principles, tally mark methods, and other things to understand consumer behavior in natural settings, observing them, rather than in simulation environment. The focus needs to be on both quantitative and qualitative research, and also due consideration to outliers too. Another tip he gave was to meticulously keep an open eye on complaints, pain points talked by anyone to understand opportunities for solving them or addressing them.

Understanding users can also help in devising business strategies. Many times we confuse with market research versus user research. Defining the business from the users perspective, than own perspective will also help. Then we also watch a short film titled “What is Design Thinking?”, produced by Daylight Design, which outlined five steps of the process of design thinking. We had discussed of empathy stage so far, which is learning from people. Second is finding patterns, to categorizing observations to derive into design principles. He outlines some most common design principles which any design exercise thinking would lead into revealed by the patterns in the user data collected. Some of the came out of an exercise we carried out there. It was simple one. Enumerating attributes which you like, don’t like and wish to have, in a given product.

After this we contemplated upon the stage of ideation stage, which relates to creativity. We discussed some basic principles there such as thinking of analogies(in real world, nature, other industries), challenging status quo(not assuming anything, shifting paradigms of problem, asking why), stretching the rubber band(think extremes, no-constraint situation, asking why not), challenge mental models, think of basics, being curious, etc. The 2 monkeys in a room example, was good example of challenging mental models. The next stage, of course, is prototyping and testing the idea.

I believe many things we unknowingly or partially we apply in our day to day work life. But adopting these principles of design thinking would lead to more better products or services, and would reduce costly iterations. The workshop was immensely interactive, full of stories, and loads of fun, a truly experiential learning, which I enjoyed thoroughly.


NASSCOM Product Conclave

Over the past few years, startup culture started finally taking shape in Pune. Many startup related events keep happening. Accordingly to one estimate, there are about 400 startups in Pune and the new debate has started occurring whether Pune is new Bengaluru. With startup culture, the product culture also is on the rise. We have been having  Pune Connect events, particularly, promoting this product culture. I had attended there 2012 edition. NASSCOM also has been having Product Conclave sessions, in Pune, since last four years. I finally managed to attend this time. Here is a blog on what I experienced.

The venue was The Westin hotel on east side of Pune. Conferences like these typically have many sessions, and many of them run parallel. So one needs to really decide on what one wants to attend to get most of out of it. These days apps and websites such as come handy. I also had my schedule chalked out before hand using this app. I reached venue just before 9 am, that is when first keynote was to begin. We had Dr Ganesh Natrajan speak to begin with.  He is pleasure to listen to always. He walked us through NASSCOM’s journey into startups and products and how it has recently launched Startup Warehouse initiative. He also, obviously, touched upon his favorite topic-smart city initiatives for Pune. After him, Ashok Soota spoke on business strategies. This is the first time I heard him. He is a founder famous IT services company MindTree. And now, at age of 69, he has started new company called Happiest Minds. He also spoke about his book Entrepreneurship Simplified. Then followed a session on success stories of entrepreneurs from non-Metro cities of Maharashtra such as Jalgaon, Satara, Kolhapur etc. I was particularly impressed by Aurangabad’s Prashant Deshpande’s company Expert Global Solutions, with its growth despite operating from tier 2 city.


After this, many sessions happened in parallel. You can find details on those here. I will describe what I attended.

I skipped many of those sessions related to, usual buzzwords such as, IoT, analytics, blockchain etc. First I walked into a session titled “User Research: Transforming your startup idea into viable product”. This was about, needless to say, user research aspects while designing a product. This is pertains to UX or user experience.Typically, it is confused with market research which is different. User research focuses on how users will use the product, their needs, behavioral patterns directly supplying inputs to UX design. I also attended partially, a session titled “Cyber Security: Mitigating DDoS” which was related to getting under the hood of one of the significant threats called Distributed Denial of Service(DDoS). It provided interesting insights into grey world of hackers causing these attacks and also some tools and techniques on mitigating them.

At lunch, took a walk around product showcase isle. There I met my old time classmate Sandeep Tidke who is running a company called LabJump. It was interesting business idea, which is working due to proliferation of virtual training lab requirements. It is pretty evident as Google recently acquired Qwiklabs recently, which was doing similar stuff. I also bumped on another acquaintance of mine named Abhijit Joshi, whose company WhiteHedge is engaged into providing Docker as a Service by partnering with Docker in India.

Later in the day, I walked into a session around design thinking. It was titled Future-proofing Product Innovation using Design Thinking. This was by Manoj Kothari of Turian Labs. Despite being a post lunch session, it kept me glued to the seat for 2 hours in this session. He also stressed on aspect of showing empathy towards your users to understand more about their pain-points. I walked out with thought of applying some of the design thinking principles in what we do at work. I am big fan of innovation and ideation. And design thinking helps to break the conventional thought. Then I went to a session what turned out to be a treat to ears. This was by Anshoo Gaur(an investor himself with his own VC firm Pravegaa) and it was titled How to judge the performance / potential of your startup. He began asking very fundamental question and drew attention to the fact that there are enough problems in the country to go after, versus, what current startup fraternity is busy with. He also cautioned on “Me-too” mentality of entrepreneurs, instead asked to focus on adding value to ecosystem. He also emphasized profitability before achieving scale and did not want scale for profitability. He touched upon metrics to track within a startup by drawing analogy of machine with an organization. 

As a last session for the day, I had decided to attend ANTIGyan which was much hyped in the morning as one session not be missed. And it turned out to real entertainer. This was by Ajeet Khurana, an investor himself, threw open issues with startup ecosystem, gaps in a lighter vein, by breaking conventional thoughts and hence causing anti-gyan(similar to anti-pattern). Sighting the buzz around products since last few years, which is a welcome shift from IT services for India, his wisdom pitch was that, ultimately, businesses are funded, not product.

The event saw more than 600 participants and was full of buzz. Organizations such as NASSCOM, TiE have succeeded in acting catalysts to growing melting pot of startups which is so nice to experience.