Design Thinking: Learn About Your Customer To Foster Creativity

In the current business environment, incumbents must ensure they have the right mindset to innovate


Over the last decade, the global market has seen a significant increase in the number of new products and services, which further boosted competition across all industries. Some companies have focussed on improving customer experience by adding new features, others have chosen aggressive strategies orientated on disrupting and creating new markets. Those who decided to put innovation on hold and wait for better market conditions failed, because in the current business environment, missed opportunities mean death.

There have also been those who entered the market but remained unnoticed, despite numerous innovative efforts. They usually come up with the prototype first and only then attempt to convince customers about the uniqueness and importance of their product. But let's face it, people are more likely to get excited about the new IoT refrigerator that can order them groceries online, rather than the new inbuilt water dispenser that makes ice cubes shaped like hearts.

There is a direct correlation between innovation and customer experience, so, if the latter don't see the point, then regardless of the amount of advertising, the product will still be doomed. So, today, more companies review their visions, and that's how design thinking took hold of the innovation space.

Design thinking is a methodology that helps innovators to solve a specific issue with their product. The approach is based on reframing and exploring the core of the problem, allowing decision makers to foster creativity, rather than using rational and logical approaches. Often, products fail because companies fail to answer the main question before launching their products: Why would a customer prefer our product over our rival's?

According to the Global Human Capital Trends 2016 survey by Deloitte, many companies struggle with creative thinking when it comes to creating effective customer-focused strategies, with 84% of the respondents called for improved organizational learning, with 44% believing the need to be urgent. The leading academic centers, including Stanford, Yale, and Georgia Technology University have already integrated design thinking into their education programs, but there is still a long way to go until the approach reaches all audiences.

A design mindset is solution and action orientated, instead of being problem-focused. With design thinking, it's easier to create a forecastable future around the new product, and avoid actions based on gut feeling alone. Design framework can be acting both as a business strategy and one of the R&D initiatives, depending on the problem practitioners are trying to solve. The framework of design thinking consists of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing.

Creativity itself can't be structured or forced by rules, so even though design thinking has a framework, the concept promotes experimenting with the stages, order, and indeed any of its elements. The practice can even exist in the form of internal courses applied across all corporate departments, where the aim is a deep understanding of the customers' needs and translation of creativity into measurable results.

In design thinking, the problem is identified by asking and framing the right questions, and answers then accelerating the process of ideation. Ideation involves opting out from the solutions that may have been used before, or which do not contain an innovative element. Product-wise, the approach suggests a fail-positive attitude, but practitioners need to ensure they recover fast. Failure or success appear from experimentation with ideas, and allow people to identify why exactly a customer may be interested in buying and using a new product. As a result, whether it's an R&D lab, creative department, or a team of executives - practitioners of design thinking spend less time planning and discussing, and more time practising and prototyping solutions.

A lack of innovation within a company creates a serious risk of missing out on opportunities in the market. As the competition is unlikely to slow down in the upcoming years, it's critical for companies to stay as dynamic as the market they operate in. The path to innovation is always challenging and even the best of the professionals can get stuck with their creative flow. However, with the design mindset and a good customer understanding, creativity can truly be fostered and translated into forecastable results.

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