Enhanced Design Thinking Process
In the design world, we always value the Design Thinking process which was started at Stanford D School. The Design Thinking process includes Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test iteration process, it is a great process and has been popularly applied in many companies and organizations.
However, in my opinion, the Design Thinking process started from understanding people to design the solution and test the prototype, it is mainly focused on desirability and functionality; it lacks important parts in the real business environment, which are viability, feasibility, and sustainability. In the industry, a designer will have to work with different departments, vendors, business owners, stakeholders to ensure all five aspects, human, market, technology, business, and future are all well considered, to deliver a successful design. So I propose an Enhanced Design Thinking Process as below.
In the industry, a designer’s job actually starts from research to understand target users, stakeholders, competitors, and market situations; then brainstorming, ideate for all possible solutions; they work with different stakeholders and different departments to verify resources, confirm the budget, find a balance between cost and profit; then they will not just build a prototype but also simulate the environment, recruit target users, then run the system to validate from functionality to viability to sustainability, etc. As we all know, a designer is a generalist instead of a specialist, so a designer should not just know the aesthetic, empathy, and product development. A good design is the one that sells well in the market and brings profit for the company, yet it is scalable and sustainable. To make the design process more practical and reflect the actual business environment and what a designer has to deal with, I proposed this Enhanced Design Thinking process as the graph shows.
A typical Design Thinking process starts from Empathize. However, empathize only helps designers to understand how users feel and what kind of problems they are suffering. I agree with many user-centered approaches, and the user is one of the most important aspects of a business. But users are not just isolated and unrelated existences, they are in a complicated environment with many choices or alternatives. For a business to success, the designers have to think about if the company have enough resource to proceed; if they have the capability to make it happen; if that aligns with company strategy; if the market is big enough; if they can make profit out from the new design and if it is scalable and sustainable. In these cases, designers will have to do market research, stakeholder research, feasibility analysis, even be involved with the business model design, etc. Of course, a designer cannot do all these alone, but he/she can work with different people, different team members, and stakeholders, vendors, even competitors, and so on. By creatively utilizing different research methods, to understand a project from human’s desirability, to analyze the market success feasibility, to explore the functionalities, evaluate viability, and consider sustainability, to ensure the success of his/her design.
As creative workers, designers brainstorm, ideate, and explore all possible solutions to address the problems, the unsatisfied user needs and grasp the market opportunity. So the ideate process should not be just about form and color, a designer also need to define the segments, through empathizing and tracking the user journey to understand target users. A designer should also work with stakeholders, understand their different requirements, then design the task flow, the interactions between different roles and the systems. A designer should also work with the marketing team at the early stage, to put a go-to-market plan together, to analyze how users will accept the product/service, and how to bring customer awareness and engage them. A designer will also decide the material and has a production plan, find the balance between cost and function. A designer should also have the vision for expansion, product life-cycle; has an iteration plan, reuse/recycle or upgrade plan. Only when a designer has all these into his/her consideration, and creatively design the solution, find balance among all the metrics, he/she can truly ensure a successful design and winning of business.
Besides prototyping, I think a designer should actually simulate. He/she is not just to prototype the appearance and/or behavior of a product/service, but also to put the product/service into a simulated market environment, with real target users. He/she build personas, define the scenarios and use cases; verify feasibility with the audiences, competitors, in a real/or close to a real market environment; He/she also works with stakeholders, business sectors, to simulate the business environment, financial model, and business model. He/she also simulates the social reactions and impact, and all the surrounding factors.
These simulations help the designer and business decision-makers to predict what will happen when we launch the designed solution into the market, how the target users will accept it or not; how the competitors will react; how the public/society will respond; and what will be the consequences…
The next step is to validate. Designers need to validate from the people, the market, the technology, the business, and the future, all five aspects. Hence, the designer will collect user feedback, observe how they respond/react to the new design; or even record user diaries or track their usages data. Designers will verify the resources, also verify competitor situations and their reactions if possible. Different testings can be conducted to validate the functionality. E.g. usability testing, AB testing, or even pilot launch and then observe and collect market reaction as long as user adoption curve. Designers will continue working with business sectors and the finance department to verify the cost/budget, ROI return of investment. Designers will also analyze the validate potential social impact, good or bad; and also have possible risk/error checked, verified, so that we can have an error-tolerance design, or a risk defense plan.
Designers should not just throw its design to other teams (marketing team, tech team, etc.) for implementation, designers actually should be part of the implementation. For the market, designers can design the branding, product/company identity, marketing material and content design, and advertisement design, motion graphics, etc. For the target users, designers can design their interactions, engagement; can define their user journey, can ensure intuitive user experience, and build product/company culture. For the product/service itself, designers will not just design the form and function, but also work with the tech team, vendors, manufacturers, production teams to implement the product/system. For the business aspect, a designer’s work actually has already defined the cost, and can implement the business model/monetization strategy into the design, into the human product and system interaction. A designer’s work also determines the product life-cycle, iteration, recycle, error-tolerance, etc.
The complicated business/market environment has brought much higher expectations for designers of today, that is why I have come up with this Enhanced Design Thinking innovation process, and with this process and scope of work, it also brings much higher requirements for modern design education.