It’s easy to follow traditional paths when solving challenges and finding opportunities for your business – after all, it’s been working for decades.
Consumers today have increasingly high standards and expectations, and will rapidly move on from a product or service which is confusing, slow to respond or does not meet their needs.
What if you were to develop your business strategy around what your customers want, thereby always being able to deliver what they are looking for?
Through a combination of critical thinking and creativity, design thinking can take your business to another level, according to Graduate School of Business & Law at RMIT University associate lecturer, Mark R. Wright.
Time for a new approach
While business strategies have evolved at a rate dictated by technological advances, the way we build business solutions hasn’t had the same innovation.
“Firms can often find themselves repeatedly arriving at the same mundane solutions, and I would argue this stems from an inability to define core problems in new and different ways – perhaps more radical or imaginative ways,” Wright says.
“Design thinking focuses on developing a deep understanding of the experience and context of the user. As a result, you end up framing problems differently and make decisions based on what customers really want, instead of relying only on instinct or historical data.”
The process requires small businesses to embrace their consumer’s points of view to design and develop a value offering that solves a specific problem or need.
Chief executive of lighting manufacturer Brightgreen David O’Driscoll says his team has found so much success in using this model with their product development; they have applied it to their internal business processes as well.
“Design thinking is ubiquitous throughout our enterprise,” O’Driscoll says.
“We even apply it to staff lunches. The more widely understood design thinking is across an organisation, the more deeply it’s practised.”
The basics of design thinking
1. Research the context
The first step is to understand the market and your potential customers’ mindsets.
The easiest way to do this is to speak with your customers, through in-depth interviews, focus groups or even surveys. Any face-to-face discussions allow you to build rapport and ask open questions to understand their motivation and the context of their situation.
Other data-collecting techniques you can use are simple observation and immersion, and offering users and designers hands-on experience with a prototype.
2. Define the issues and opportunities
Once you understand the mindset of your customers when they approach your business, you can answer the next question: what challenges will your business solve for consumers?
Start by considering similar products or applications they might have already encountered, what your competitors are doing and how your target market responds to and engages with those businesses.
This gives you a better chance of understanding what your customers expect and what problems they might face, even ones they don’t perceive themselves.
3. Testing and integrating feedback
At this stage, you must test your solution in the same context of a standard consumer experience.
If the user is likely to approach your business independently, be sure to take a step back and allow someone to try using the product or service without any assistance. If they would be in a group situation, put a few of them together- this ensures your feedback will be as applicable as possible.
Wright refers to this stage as the prototyping and iteration cycle.
“It’s a continually-tightening spiral loop of testing and refinement,” Wright says.
4. Analysing and measuring effectiveness
Once the prototype has been through the necessary iterations, it is ready for test marketing on a small scale – this can be done either with a group of lead users or in a small geographic region.
Be sure to set the standards by which you will measure the success of each test, whether it be sales or positive change in experience.
Above all, Wright highlights the importance of developing a deep understanding of your consumers’ experience and context.
“In a world where responsiveness is key, design thinking sensitises SMEs to the human elements of challenges and opportunities as they emerge.”
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