Design thinking, also known as collaborative design, is a way of innovating that puts customer needs above everything else. It requires you to observe how people really use products and interact with their environment in a very hands-on way, and feed that into your creative process.
Design thinking is not new. It was invented by Rolf Faste at Stanford University in the mid-80s. However, the concept is still little known and seldom exploited by many companies. This is both surprising and unfortunate, because the technique allows you to innovate in very different ways.
Understanding design thinking
We are all used to traditional meetings, including pitches and focus groups. You sit around a room, someone carries out a demonstration or gives a presentation, and then you discuss it. However, this is very passive, even the discussion session—and when we are sitting around the room like this, many of us switch off.
During a design thinking session, there is a completely different atmosphere. There are no chairs around a meeting table, no presentation or screen. Instead, you might see a few tables, perhaps some bar stools, whiteboards and usually things to write on and with: pencils, felt pens, multicolored post-its and so on. Everyone is on their feet, with one and the same objective: to think and innovate together, while having fun!
Listening, the key to success
However, what is behind this change? Design thinking is a collaborative work method that is essentially based on empathy. Workshops generally take place in five main steps: define, imagine, synthesize, prototype, test. Across these five steps, there are three key principles involved:
1. Understand your client
The first step is to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Better still, involve your clients in the design process. You have to understand how people feel to meet their business needs effectively. Design thinking starts by understanding users’ needs, so that you can then find solutions to their challenges together—and then test, adapt and improve those solutions with their input. New research on the neuroscience behind customer experience suggests that it is really hard for people to articulate their responses to emotional experiences. Design thinking allows you to see and understand their reactions more clearly.
2. Involve everyone
The complexity of our environment means it is now almost impossible to tackle a challenge alone. It is essential to draw upon the experience of each team member to benefit from everyone’s know-how. Design thinking gets everyone involved in solving problems, regardless of hierarchy.
3. Build a solution together
Drawing on everyone’s opinion and know-how means that you can build a shared solution that genuinely addresses real needs.
The benefits of design thinking
Design thinking has many benefits. The first and most obvious is that you and your client have developed a solution that will fully meet their needs. In internal business processes, the client becomes the internal sponsor of the project or the solution that you have designed and built together. This reduces the learning curve and improves the change adoption process.
However, there are also benefits from working together collaboratively. After design thinking workshops, you often hear very similar feedback, about how people have enjoyed being able to describe their needs, or to listen and understand other people’s needs. Putting the client at the centre of the design process is very powerful.
Finally, there are benefits for the customer. Design thinking allows concrete solutions to emerge, centred on clients or users. These workshops genuinely build teams around product or concept development. They allow you to draw on everyone's intelligence and create maximum value. The team often ends up using the client’s own language for both problem and solution. They have a better understanding of the issues, and can develop the most appropriate solution. Design thinking workshops tend to amplify intimacy between client and supplier, in a climate of mutual trust.
Using design thinking in practice
At SAS France, we have adopted a principle of no solution proposal without design thinking! We already had a strong customer culture and a focus on their needs, but this has been reinforced by using a design thinking approach to improve customer experience and satisfaction.
Teams are all trained in this methodology, which is now at the heart of innovation and the co-design of solutions that meet customer needs. Our offices in La Défense (Ariane Tower) have the space and tools necessary to carry out design thinking workshops, and we have worked with Novalist Thinking and its founder Karim Nafie, a graduate of the Hasso Plattner school in Germany, to develop our approach. We are always interested in ways to improve our customer experience. In future, we plan to look at the neuroscience behind customer experience, which is likely to inform our design thinking approach in new ways.
If you’d like to be part of this, why not try it with us? We would be delighted to welcome you to a design thinking session!