Design thinking often calls to mind a group of problem solvers huddled together, gazing at a wall covered in colourful sticky notes. But this non-linear, collaborative thinking approach helps teams ideate, prototype and test, arriving at solutions in a much deeper and more human-centric way.
H&M’s product innovation team tackles customer experience challenges with design thinking
The five stages of Design Thinking, are: Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Each step of the process informs every other step — and it’s not unusual to move back to reframe the question if new insights or challenges come up in subsequent stages. For instance, you might be user experience testing when you unearth something about your target persona, or hit upon a new way of approaching the problem. The fluidity of the process allows teams to go back and redefine the problem statement, ideate, prototype and test again to arrive at solutions that might have remained hidden the first time round.
GE: Not So Scary Any More
An early success story for the power of design thinking is the transformation of GE’s imaging equipment when its inventor witnessed the anxiety his machine caused among the most vulnerable patients. Hospitalised young children were so terrified of lying down inside the MRI scanner, they had to be sedated, and dreaded the process. This spurred the inventor to go back to the drawing board, to interact with young patients and their parents, and employ a human-centred “design thinking” approach to inform the product’s development. The results were remarkable: GE’s Adventure Series reimagined its equipment including MRIs, X-ray machines and CT scanners to a pirate-themed adventure to make the procedures less scary for kids. The hospital benefited because the children didn’t need to be sedated anymore, freeing up anaesthesiologists, and improving patient turnaround times. Patient satisfaction scores went up 90 percent.
GE redesigned its hospital equipment to make procedures less scary for kids
Jason’s Deli: Packing Performance in a Compact Space
When designing a new supermarket in land-scarce Singapore, Dairy Farm Group were faced by a host of challenges: a relatively smaller retail slot, labour shortages and a consumer shift to smaller basket sizes (driven by a growing trend to buy bulky items like rice and toilet paper online). Looking for a creative solution, they opted for a design thinking approach to come up with a supermarket concept that responded to the evolving needs of their target audience. The process spanned face-to-face and telephonic interviews and focus group discussions. At the tail-end of the ideation-prototyping process, the new concept was assessed for commercial feasibility. Challenged by constraints, the team had managed to achieve a selling floor to storage area ratio of 90:10 by exploring overhead storage and other creative space saving solutions. The store broke even in two months and was making profits by its third. The low-manpower, fully self-serviced checkout system not only improved the customer turnaround time by 50 percent but also staff productivity, thus making better use of the lean team.
The fast lane at Jasons Deli. Image courtesy: Dairy Farm Group.
H&M: Circularity, Inclusion and Supply Chain Reinvention
H&M has invested heavily in applying a design-led approach to its business and sustainability challenges, beginning with reducing its use of plastic. Internal design teams are looking for new ways of working in the organisation, tackling challenges in circularity, inclusion, supply chain, and customer experience. The brand has introduced new materials such as EVO by Fulgar, a bio-based yarn derived from castor oil, and Desserto, which is a plant-based alternative to leather, produced from cactus plants. H&M is going to great lengths to reinvent itself as a conscious brand, but still faces skepticism from consumers. H&M manufactures ~3 billion garments every year with a goal to double sales by 2030. Innovative design thinking or not, the high volumes, quick turnover and rock bottom pricing mean that even switching to more “sustainable” materials doesn’t actually address the question of needless consumption and waste. The brand may just need some planet-centric design thinking to reinvent their business model.
H&M partners with re:newcell to use sustainable fibre Circulose, which is made from discarded textile waste
Tips on Running a Design Thinking Workshop
While the design thinking process works especially well for problems that are not clearly defined or have a more ambiguous goal, running a design thinking workshop demands ample and through preparation.
Make sure everyone knows what the workshop is about and what the goals are so that they can properly prioritise it. Onboard your team to the tools and techniques you’ll be using, and make sure they’re comfortable with them. The steps usually span: planning and preparation prior to the workshop, introducing the workshop goals, kicking off the meeting with an icebreaker, introducing design thinking, putting aside any assumptions and unconscious biases about the situation and putting ourselves in the customer or end-user’s shoes (Empathise), getting more specific on the problem (Define), coming up with many ideas on how the user problem can be solved (Ideation), creating a user journey map, prototyping and testing (Prototype and Test). Finally, describing the next steps and closing the workshop.
Design thinking doesn’t happen in a silo. Because it calls on many different perspectives from designers, customers, and stakeholders it usually yields a more diverse set of solutions. Its iterative nature means that teams can continue to update the usability of their product as target audiences evolve. Companies that proactively embed design thinking into their culture are more likely to innovate at scale, resulting in improved business value and happier customer experiences.
Keen to explore innovative solutions with design thinking, but don’t know where to begin?
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