Design Thinking: Human-Centered Approaches That Improve Market Research

The word “philosophy” might evoke painful (or pleasant) recollections of studying ancient Greece in high school or college.  Furthermore, philosophy is not usually a subject that businesspeople discuss, at least not in the context of market research. Business has nothing to do with answering questions like “What is Justice?” We can refer to Plato’s Republic if we are so interested. Is it an essential business function to find out the meaning of life? Probably not, we have any number of existential texts we can look to for possible answers. However, there is a philosophy that businesspeople across organizations both large and small can use to meet and exceed their customers’ needs and desires. When applied, design thinking plants seeds of inspiration that can grow into something truly disruptive – every organization’s goal – within a given industry.

A (very) Brief History of Design Thinking

The origins of design thinking can be traced back to the 1970s with Robert McKim’s book “Experiences in Visual Thinking, which explains how visual evidence is critical for creative thinking. Architech Brian Lawson then applied these concepts to the study of architecture in his book “How Designers Think” and began a the process of expanding the ideas to be applied more generally across disciplines.

In 1985, Journalist Nigel Cross wrote an article that advocated bringing design as a way of thinking to education to speak to a broader audience. In 1987, Professor of Architecture at Harvard, Peter Rowe was the first one to coin the term with his book “Design Thinking”. Then, Professor Rolf Faste developed design thinking curriculum at Stanford University, where he advocated for the “whole person” approach to solving problems based on human needs. David Kelley, the founder of the design firm, IDEO, began to apply these concepts to business concerns.

Finally, Richard Buchanan then began to apply these concepts to address human social and personal needs. Through the decades, design thinking has evolved and been applied across a plethora of human concerns. So only one question remains: where can you take it next

So, what is Design Thinking anyway?

Design thinking is a step-by-step approach to creative problem solving and innovation by gathering data from a target audience to develop new or enhance existing products and services. Now that is a mouthful. Basically, it boils down to five steps:

  • Empathize: This is the first step in the design thinking process. At this stage you are gathering information about your customer. It is here where you gather valuable data that helps you understand your customer. Not just why they use your product or service, but who they are at a deeper level. What are their pain points? What are their personal stories of how they deal with the problem? Who are you making this product or service for?
  • Define:  This is where you will take all your data and observations have gathered from your customers in the empathy stage to formulate a problem statement. It is especially important to us the verbs and adjectives that people used in the first step.
  • Ideate:  Now that you have gathered data and defined the problem, it is now time to come up with a possible solution—that is, many solutions. The goal here is to come up with as many ideas as possible that focus solving the problem statement in a collaborative environment.
  • Prototype:  Now is the time where you take all of your ideas and narrow them down to a select few that can be quickly turned into prototypes you can test with real users. Reflect on the ideas and figure out how they fit into the context of your customer’s problems and build a prototype that is just good enough to test. The key here is speed because you want to go right into the next step.
  • Test:  Take the prototypes you have built and test them with real users, selected based on what you learned in the empathy stage. They will use the product and you will gather valuable feedback to make your idea better. It is also important to remember not to feel as if you have to defend your idea if people did not like it. The goal here is to learn the how’s and whys. After you have gathered all of your data, it is now time to return to the define stage and continue through the process again, while incorporating the insight you gained from the testing phase.

As you can see, the design thinking phase is a linear, but iterative process that places human-centric thinking to deliver better market research outcomes. The product innovation process is a hard process but following the design thinking philosophy can bring your innovations to market faster, better, and less expensively.

Resolving Tensions in Our Mind

The design thinking philosophy provides a tool kit to encourage the formation of divergent ideas, that is to create new choices that have not existed before and then develop them. Humans have a tendency to think analytically and are taught to do so from a very young age. Design thinking is a way to foster integrative thinking. In other words, when we are developing new products or services there are multiple tensions in our mind:

  • Desirability:  We want our idea to meet the needs of the people we are designing it for.
  • Feasibility:  We must make sure it is possible to develop our new idea with current technology.
  • Viability:  We need to make sure the idea is creating or adds to a sustainable and profitable business solution.

So, the design thinking process works to resolve those tensions and come up with an idea that solves all of them. Any workable idea must resolve for these tensions.

Key Principles of Design Thinking

As we travel down the path of human-centric thinking, we need to find what meets peoples’ needs first and foremost. What makes our customer’s lives better? What makes our employees lives easier? There are several principles of design thinking to keep in mind as we continue our journey:

  • Human Centered:  If design starts with focusing on people, it rapidly evolves into learning through making things.
  • Build to learn:  Instead of speculating on what to build, we need to build to learn.
  • Move Fast:  Prototyping speeds up the innovation process. The fast you make things, the fast you test them, the faster you learn about the quality idea, the faster you can improve it. It is important to measure the speed of your iterative prototyping process. The faster you move the more disruptive your product can be.
  • Create Movements:  Good ideas rarely sell themselves. Telling stories is not enough anymore. We need to create movements around our products.
  • Collaboration:  Most business activity today is done in teams, so cooperation with stakeholders across departments is essential.
  • Think creatively:  Individuals and teams must be given the freedom to think creatively through the process. Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to creative thinking. Developing trust and playfulness with your innovation will be key. This is akin to parenting—that is giving your children just enough where the cost of failure is very small, but they acquire an critical learning experience.
  • Ask the right question:  This is the most important principle of the design thinking process. You must start off at the right place, so a lot of thought must be given to what questions you are asking from the start.

Design Thinking at KLC

At KLC, design thinking is at the core of our proprietary co-creation methodology, CrowdWeaving®. CrowdWeaving® starts off the innovation process, where you will ultimately end up at a better starting point, which is the key to design thinking. Across three phases, CrowdWeaving® methodology taps your potential audience or employees for the seeds of inspiration that you can then use to meet their needs.

  • Phase 1 – Ideation: This is where your audience is asked to solve a co-creation challenge by generating their ideas for new products, services, or processes.
  • Phase 2 – Collaboration:  Using the power of working together through the design thinking process is key to success. Customers will work together to build upon each other’s ideas throughout this phase. However, not only are your customers or potential customers generating ideas to help you make their lives better, but you are also collaborating with them to really solve their problems.
  • Phase 3 – Evaluation:  Finally, you settle on a few concepts that enter the evaluation phase. Customers will rate and rank the ideas that are the best. The best ideas here is loosely defined because in the end there may be several ideas that can be amalgamated to come up with one super idea you can turn into something genuinely disruptive.

By applying the design thinking principles to the very beginning of your innovation process, CrowdWeaving® fosters creativity, engagement, and speed. CrowdWeaving® gets you into the process early so that you can really understand your customer to really discover their needs and desires.  In other words, when you apply the philosophy of design thinking through CrowdWeaving®, you increase the chances of success for your new product or service.

Final Thoughts

After all this talk of using philosophy to help your customers, one just has wonder about what Socrates might have thought about design thinking. In many ways, it draws from his method of finding the truth through discourse. Design thinking is not just customer-centric, it is human-centric. It seeks to understand not just what customer’s needs, but who they are as a person and how you can to solve their problems through innovation.

This is where design thinking comes into play. With its purpose of finding solutions to problems through collaboration, you may stumble upon ideas that are completely divergent from where you originally thought you would end up. In fact, this is the goal. Think outside the box and do not have any fear of negative feedback from your customers—learn from it and use it to make it better—and KLC can help you through it with CrowdWeaving®!