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Designing for Success

EIR Blog Post

Earlier in my career I helped implement a multi-million dollar ERP / CRM system.  It was a disaster. The project was almost 100% over budget and the usability was amazingly low.  The team had many highly talented people, but there wasn’t a single user experience designer and it showed: data was strewn across screens, menus were not intuitive, and flows were not logical.  Design thinking would have eliminated many of our problems.

A year ago I completed Ideo’s “Foundations in Design Thinking” certificate and it was one of the best classes I have taken. Below is a short summary of those three months of learning, but I hope it’s enough that you find a few usable nuggets and are inspired to go learn more!

If you do a Google search for “design thinking” you will find many thousands of results, all which boil down to the four “I’s”

  1. Inspiration: finding unmet user needs
  2. Ideation: finding potential solutions
  3. Implementation: perfecting solutions
  4. Iteration: repeating the process until you meet your user’s needs.

Let’s do a deeper dive on each of these…

1. Inspiration: Finding Unmet User Needs

The key word here is “user.”  This is not about you.  This is not about finding what is most convenient for the implementation team. This is about understanding what your end user really needs, what problems they have not been able to solve on their own.  

Here are several ways to more deeply understand your users:  

  • Interview them.  Don’t give them a 50 question survey. Rather, ask a few unbiased prompts and just listen.  Have a conversation with them. Be careful that you are truly hearing them, not just listening for things that confirm your preconceptions.
  • Observe them in their environment. How do they do things? Where do you see expressions of frustration or joy?
  • Immerse yourself with empathy.  Try to experience what your users experience.  Try using your own product right out of the box.
  • Craft insights and define problem statements.  Insights come when you look at your observations holistically and find the over-arching narratives. These insights will help you understand what the user’s true problems are. 

Finally, here are some tips to make sure that the Inspiration stage is successful:

  • As you conduct interviews and craft insights remember that what people say they want may not be what they really need.  Your mandate is to satisfy needs, not wants.
  • Make sure that you identify the root cause.  Addressing symptoms will not solve underlying problems!

2. Ideation: Finding Potential Solutions

Yes, “ideation” is a fancy new way of saying “brainstorming.”  But, this doesn’t have to be the traditional pile of sticky notes.  Here are some alternate ideas:

  • Mash-Up: combine analogous things. For example, think about your problem and then think of something that is delightful to use, like an iPhone.  Now, think about how you could carry those delightful characteristics into your problem.
  • Other People’s Shoes: brainstorm solutions from the point of view of someone else.  For example, how would a child or disgruntled customer approach this problem..?
  • Brain Writing: Write a potential solution on a piece of paper.  Pass the paper to a teammate and have them write down an idea that builds on your idea. Then they pass the paper to another teammate and the process repeats.
  • Reverso: instead of thinking of ideas that will ensure success, look for ideas that will cause failure. Think about how to prevent these failures.

It is important to remember that brainstorming has two iterative phases: diverging and converging. Diverging is proliferating ideasConverging is clustering ideas into related themes.  You will probably need to go through this cycle two or three times before you really get a solid set of solutions!

3. Implementation: Perfecting Solutions

The implementation stage is all about prototyping. It is important to remember that

Prototypes are single variable experiments to tackle aspects of an idea, not fully formed products.  Overall, implementation is the process of moving from “getting the right idea” to “getting the idea right”

A few key ideas for prototyping are:

  • Keep in mind the prototyping equation: less polish = faster delivery + better feedback
  • Test with users and evaluate with the lenses of: 
    • Desirability: do people want or need it?
    • Feasibility: is it possible, can we build it?
    • Viability: will it make money, how does it fit into existing systems?
  • Iterate quickly: fail earlier to succeed sooner

4. Iteration: Repeating The Process Until You Meet Your User’s Needs

The design thinking process may feel long and exhausting.  But it is valuable and will take your product or process to a better place.  Note, though, that getting to that better place will require looping through the steps several times.  A diamond isn’t polished in a single step, neither is a great product or process.

Conclusion

Design thinking is worth learning and worth using.  The web has a multitude of free resources you can study on your own and group classes, like the Ideo course I took, can really turbocharge your learning.  Design thinking is worth the investment!

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