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.