Design is about solving problems. As such, product teams are constantly looking for a process that allows them to solve problems quickly and effectively, and design thinking is one of the most popular approaches to do just that. As the name suggests, design thinking is a process that allows product teams to solve problems through design.
The Design Thinking Framework
The Design Thinking Framework
Design thinking is a five-step process that allows a product team to go from initial idea to implementation and validation. The approach was originally proposed by Herbert A. Simon in his book The Sciences of the Artificial and later popularized by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford and design agencies like IDEO.
The product team clearly defines the problem they need to solve. Typically, the definition step includes all relevant information about the problem, who experienced it and why it’s important, which involves articulating the solution’s value both to users and the business.
The product team collects and analyses as much data as it can to better understand the problem it wants to solve and the needs of users and businesses.
The product team proposes possible solutions based on the information it collected in the previous stage. At the end of this step, the team selects the best solution for prototyping.
A prototype is a functioning model of the best solution. During this stage, the product team makes the solution tangible so other people can interact with it.
The target audience tests the prototype to ensure that it effectively solves the original problem.
Principles of Design Thinking
Design thinking is more than just a process a team follows; it's a philosophy with a set of guiding principles. The essential principles are as follows:
3 Principles of Design Thinking
- A human-centric approach.
- There are no bad ideas.
- Product design is iterative in nature.
1. A Human-first way of thinking
Design thinking is about finding the best possible solution for the people who will use your product. This principle makes the testing phase crucial for design thinking because it helps the team validate the solution with the target audience.
2. There are no bad ideas
During the ideation phase, team members are invited to propose as many ideas as possible. No one should be afraid that theirs will be considered bad. Later on, the team will narrow them down to the best output.
3. Product design is iterative in nature
The more teams learn about user needs, the better solution they can create. Design thinking is a cyclical process. At the end of the testing phase, the team can return to the definition phase with new insights about user behavior and, thus, create a better solution.
Applying Design Thinking to Product Design
Let’s look at how a design thinking process can be used to design an app that will help users learn a new language.
The better you define a problem, the more focussed your design activities will be. Try to be explicit about what you want to build and why. For example, you provide plenty of detail about each part of the product: “We want to build an app that will be focussed on beginners and intermediate students. The app will require 30 minutes of daily interaction at any part of the day, and a large part of the interaction will be typing. We will make money by showing advertisements to our users.”
Notice that the definition includes information on how we will monetize our product. If we don't think about revenue right from the beginning, we minimize the chances of building a commercially successful product.
Learn as much as you can about your target audience and your market. Create a user persona (the archetype of your ideal user), and conduct a series of interviews with people who represent your user target audience to learn more about their personal goals and lifestyles. Try to understand if the product can fit naturally into their daily routine. In our example, we want to figure out when users have a half-hour of free time to use the app so that we can tailor our reminders.
Don’t forget about your competitors. You also need to conduct market research to learn more about the business model of your direct and indirect competitors. What other language or educational apps are available? How else are people learning languages?
Once you have a lot of insights about your target audience, conduct a brainstorming session where you discuss possible solutions for your future product. Every team member must be able to participate in the discussion. When people from different domains participate in product design, you have a unique chance to gather different perspectives on the problems at hand. For instance, someone from marketing might have a great idea about how to differentiate our new product from existing language learning apps.
Expressing your ideas in plain words can be hard. That's why, during ideation, visualizing your ideas is essential. Invite team members to sketch schematic designs. The sketches can visualize the business logic of your application or individual design decisions (such as the design of the app's screens).
At the end of the brainstorming session, you need to collect all ideas and ask all team members to vote for the best idea. This voting part can be followed up with a quick discussion of what every member thinks about the selected solution.
Prototyping is not about building a final product; it’s about investing the least possible amount of time and energy into making a solution tangible. You need to follow the “fail fast” strategy, meaning that you should be able to quickly validate your hypothesis and adjust your product design decisions based on that failure. Thus, if you are only at the first iteration of the design thinking cycle, you can create a paper prototype or low-fidelity digital prototype that you will later validate with your test participants. We would roll out our prototype to a select group of trial users and see how well it helps them to learn a new language.
By testing a prototype with people who represent the target audience, the product team comes to understand whether their design hypothesis is valid. Testing also helps identify areas where products can perform better. So, based on our testing, we may decide to reduce the amount of typing involved in the product interaction and make it more voice-based.
Testing should not be expensive or time-consuming. During the first iteration of the design thinking cycle, the product team can use low-fidelity prototypes and ask test participants to perform the most common operations. For example, when it comes to learning a new language, the prototype test may just involve completing a daily lesson using your prototype.
Hiring test participants that match your criteria might not be easy. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of participants to validate your concept. NNGroup suggests that five test participants can find 85 percent of usability problems.
Master Design Thinking to Build Great Products
Design thinking is a process that helps product teams better understand the problem space and people who will use your product. When a team has a clear understanding of what problem it solves, and for whom, it can create a much better solution. At the same time, design thinking minimizes the pressure that team members have when they build a product since product design is created in iterations.