Design thinking is an iterative method in which we aim to understand the consumer, question assumptions, and redefine issues in an effort to find possible methods and solutions that might not be immediately obvious with our initial level of understanding, "according to the Interactive Design Foundation."
Design thinking positions a great deal of stock on a human level in empathizing with customers. This allows the designer / researcher to place their ego and preconceptions aside and walk a mile in the shoes of someone else to understand their actions when using a product or service, their emotions towards that use, and their overall objectives of use. In order to better understand the problem / s from a customer point of view and identify a number of different approaches to address these issues, any underlying assumptions regarding use methods, priorities and related emotions must be questioned. Solution solutions, checked and feedback received, are then recommended to the customer. Thus, 'thinking outside the box,' i.e. outside the designer/researcher box, is a major part of design thinking.
Design Thinking Vs Agile Method
It sounds a lot like the agile approach in terms of its emphasis on iteration design thinking, doesn't it? In fact, the two approaches have a terrible lot in common. Feedback is collected in both cases, changes are made, and feedback is collected on the consequences of those changes and so on.
However, while the agile methodology (especially when applied to software development) is ongoing during a product lifecycle, prototypes and ideas are what we frequently ask users to comment on with design thinking. As such, rather than continuous product updates, we also prefer to iterate towards a fairly finite project end date and product / service launch.
Design Thinking and Consumer Research
By its very nature, a great part of design thinking is analysis in that it includes understanding the challenges, perceptions and values of the consumer. The principles underlying design thinking are more consistent with a deeper understanding of a smaller number of users and are thus more relational than quantitative or ethnographic. They include watching what users actually do, interviewing them to decide why they behave in this manner, creating a solution and then going through the same process of users engaging with the new solution again. In design thought, brainstorming is also a strong instrument.
It's not that surveys (quant) are not consistent with a market research approach to design thinking, but the possibility is that responding to surveys will be shorter, more frequent, and less challenging. Surveys in a design thinking technique will concentrate on gathering feedback on products / services that have been revamped based on feedback from a previous iteration of quality.
That said, a large-scale quantum stage can be very useful in support of the iterative design thinking process when looking at a market research project as a whole. For example, such surveys can help with the user targeting of the design process or be used to evaluate potential solutions for a much broader user-based post-design thought process.
How to Implement a Design Thinking Approach
So, design thinking, with the emphasis put on customer equity and the breakdown of the researcher and designer ego, sounds like a perfect approach to our post-rational modern era, doesn't it? However, there are only a few aspects that make it a little complicated. Do factor in the following if you are looking to go down this route:
1. Empathy is hard! It's just not easy to be able to empathize without forcing on a customer your own cultural ideals and preconceived ideas. When the user group being studied is of a different age / gender / ethnicity / social class / nationality than that of the research team, it is especially difficult. This is, of course, a challenge across the entire spectrum of market research, but the degree of rational empathy needed to successfully operate a design thinking methodology is somewhat different from that of other approaches.
2. Corporation timescales do not necessarily fall in line with an iterative approach like that of thinking about design. It takes time for users to get to know each other, develop concept solutions based on their needs, evaluate them and create something better. Will the organization be any more ahead if you're timed out before this phase ends?
3. At the outset of the process of creativity, concept thinking needs to be 'baked-in'. Businesses also commission research that has already produced a product or service. Design thinking demands that the researcher be there to help shape the product or service right from the very beginning.
4. This means the process is not easy. You're not looking at a fast survey or a few focus groups, by definition, and leaving at that.
5. Design thinking demands that researchers behave as the consumer's advocate and that their results be entangled with the evolution of the product or service, rather than making suggestions easy to pass on at the end of a project.
It's not inherently simple to adopt a design thinking strategy, nor is it correct for every research project. However, if there is a need and a desire to incorporate customers, researchers and designers at all levels of product or service development, if they do so, an organization may have more confidence in the performance of the endeavour.