How to use design thinking in your daily work
While the design thinking process can be used on a macro level to transform brands and even entire organizations, it can also be used on a micro level. You can use it in your daily tasks for quick wins, and to create greater efficiency within your teams. It’s a more creative way of approaching problems, that focuses on the end result – and user – instead of the problem.
If you give the same problem to a roomful of scientists and a roomful of designers, they will approach the problem differently. Scientists tend to focus on the problem and how to solve it, whereas designers tend to look at the solution and focus on that to help solve the problem. Hence the name ‘design thinking’: it’s a designer’s approach to problem-solving. So, how can you use design thinking in your workplace?
Using design thinking in the workplace
Because design thinking is a problem-solving approach emphasizing empathy and experimentation, it can be used to approach various scenarios in the workplace. You may be trying to improve internal processes or develop new products and services for your customers. However, whether it is an internal or external challenge is not the most important. Putting the needs and desires of the end user, whoever that may be, at the center of the design thinking process helps to reframe it.
The design thinking process typically involves 5 phases, which we will take a brief look at:
This is not a linear, static process: all these stages may include various iterations and the continual reframing of the problem and the solution.
What are the 5 phases of design thinking, and how do they apply to daily working practices?
This involves gaining a deeper understanding of the end user’s needs, desires, and challenges so that a solution is relevant and effective rather than simply an answer to a problem. Using customer or employee personas and empathy maps can help you understand the needs, motivations, and pain points of the people you are dealing with.
When you understand the end user’s needs, it becomes easier to define the actual problem you are trying to solve. You need to identify the root cause of the challenge. Team workshops or meetings where you drill down into what the challenge is are an effective way to do this.
This stage is all about brainstorming and generating ideas and options, no matter how unfeasible or far-fetched they may seem. Teamwork and collaboration in workshops can help identify more diverse and wide-ranging options and strategies giving you more to work with, more quickly.
Prototypes can be created once you know what should help solve the problem. They only need to be relatively basic. The idea is to test the concept so that if it becomes clear it is not going to work you can quickly discard it and move on to the next one. This approach helps reduce time and money on solutions that are not ideal and can be applied to internal processes as well as products.
This involves testing the prototypes with end-users to find out how they hold up in real-world scenarios. Feedback will then inform the next iteration of the solution. Seeking feedback with the aim of looking for ways to make improvements will help your daily work run more smoothly.
Collaboration, teamwork, and innovation
Design thinking helps you stay ahead of the curve by encouraging experimentation and therefore innovation. Sometimes, it might be easy to choose a solution or way of working and stick with it because it seems like the right answer regardless of the evidence (or without any real evidence!). Adopting a design thinking approach of continuous improvement and iteration means that anything that is not working is likely to be identified more quickly. Then, something can be done about it before it becomes a problem.
Collaboration and teamwork also lead to greater innovation. Because the design thinking process encourages all stakeholders to work together to create solutions, it helps ensure that everyone's perspective is taken into account. Again, this is more likely to result in a solution that works.
Similarly, you can create a more positive and fulfilling work environment where collaboration, teamwork, and innovation are encouraged and lead to more positive outcomes. This improves engagement and motivation in the workspace and leads to a better employee experience: which also leads in the end to a better customer experience.
Creating a solution for a problem, not just a solution
The design thinking process can help organizations create products and services that are more user-friendly and relevant to the needs of their customers or employees. And if you can create products that are tailored to the needs of your target market, you are more likely to increase customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty.
How can design thinking increase efficiency at work?
Developing new products and services
You could spend a long time coming up with new products or services that may not have any real application, because they solve a problem that either does not need solving, or just creates a new one.
Braun and Oral-B wanted to create toothbrushes that were singing. Literally – they were supposed to play music as well as tracking your toothbrushing and telling you how well you were doing. However, the designers that were tasked with the project discovered that no one wants even more guilt added to what can already be a stressful task. Would you want to be told you are not brushing your teeth properly or had missed a target? The manufacturers were trying to solve a problem that nobody had.
Instead, the design thinking process led the designers to the conclusion that they could add value in a different way. They realized toothbrush users would benefit from ways to more easily charge their toothbrushes when they were away from home (via USB) and to order replacement heads (by creating a Bluetooth connection to an app that sends a reminder notification to buy new ones when you press a button on the toothbrush). They solved a problem that the customers actually had, rather than what they assumed would be valuable.
Improving user experience
Design thinking can be used to improve customer experiences. Maybe you have a website that is clunky and hard to navigate. Perhaps the customer journey is fragmented and leads to frustration. By reducing the friction in the customer journey, you are less likely to lose potential customers who give up because it is all too much effort. By putting the end-user at the center of the design process, organizations can create experiences that are more intuitive, user-friendly, and relevant to the needs of the user.
The LA County voting system, with its 5 million registered voters, was designed in the 1960s and had become no longer fit for purpose. They needed an intuitive and accessible way of voting that would work for residents from all cultural backgrounds and those with physical and mental disabilities too. The design team engaged for the project looked at the end user and the issues from their perspective. They were then able to create a customizable system that navigates voters through the process and provides a printed paper ballot that goes into an integrated ballot box. The solution was accessible to all, met the requirements, and is adaptable going forward.
Improving employee engagement and motivation
Employees who work in a more positive and fulfilling environment are more engaged and invested in their jobs. This makes for more productive workers. By investigating the employee experience from their point of view, you can identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in processes and work out how to create new, more effective ones. This leads to better talent retention and lower rehiring costs.
Teamwork, collaboration, and innovation are at the heart of design thinking. These all lead to improved engagement and motivation, so even using the design thinking process to approach challenges can help build a happier, more fulfilled workforce. A Deloitte report found that various companies including GE and Nestlé use design thinking to improve their employee experiences.
Like products and services, it is easy to assume that you know what will serve your business going forward. However, by approaching business strategies with a design thinking methodology, organizations can get a deeper understanding of their challenges. This allows them to develop effective strategies based on relevant information, rather than leaving it to guesswork. And this can apply just to your team: it does not have to be all-encompassing.
Encouraging employees to reframe problems and solutions, think outside the box and brainstorm ideas in a collaborative team environment will lead to more experimentation and effective risk taking.
Employees who know they can experiment and if it doesn’t work they can go back and find another solution that might work better are more likely to take the risks needed for real innovation. Organizations with rigid structures and ideas will find it harder to stay ahead of the curve and create relevant, innovative solutions for their employees and customers. Collaboration among team members will lead to better outcomes, so do everything to encourage teamwork and brainstorming in meetings and workshops.
Inter-departmental and cross-functional collaboration
The design thinking process considers all perspectives to co-create solutions. It encourages teamwork and collaboration between departments and disciplines, and takes a more holistic approach. It can break down business silos which can lead to many benefits including lower costs: work is less likely to get replicated within departments, and greater innovation should result from more diverse input.
Summing up on using design thinking to bring in added value
- Focusing on the user's needs and wants means that solutions meet those needs better: saving time, money, and energy.
- Bringing people together into teams, and teams together from different disciplines, can lead to a more diverse range of ideas and perspectives.
- Teamwork fosters engagement and greater understanding of the business as a whole, as well as other people’s wants and needs.
- It can generate ideas and solutions quickly and effectively.
- Encouraging experimentation and iteration can lead to greater innovation and agility – once again saving time, effort, and money.
- Improving the customer experience can increase overall customer satisfaction, and boost brand loyalty.
- Improving the employee experience can lead to greater engagement and better retention levels.
Everyday tools for the design thinking process in the workplace
There are various online tools that can be used in the workplace and in workshops to help teams with the design thinking process. As we are looking at problems from a user-centered basis, it is important to understand the persona of the target audience. Templates of techniques like empathy maps and customer journey maps, visual tools that can help teams understand the needs, motivations, and pain points of their target audience, are invaluable. They can be used to gather insights and identify areas for improvement.
Brainstorming is a team activity where team members generate ideas and build upon each other's suggestions. It encourages creativity and collaboration, and can generate many potential solutions in a short amount of time. Mind maps can structure brainstorming sessions, prioritize ideas, and help teams communicate the results of their design thinking project.
Online whiteboards are also a great way to centralize all these design thinking tools, and ensure all team members are able to contribute equally and collaborate whether they are in the same room, all based remotely, or a combination of the two. Working through the design thinking process in a structured and iterative manner can apply itself to so many scenarios, as we have seen.
Using design thinking in your everyday work
Design thinking tools offer a powerful framework for solving complex problems in the workplace. You can embrace design thinking as a problem-solving approach for your teams, and more easily adapt to changing market conditions, develop new products, and deliver better employee and customer experiences.
You do not need a formal, extensive project with a structured approach: you can apply design thinking daily to challenges that crop up. Whether you are in a workshop or a meeting, teamwork, collaboration, and tackling a problem from the point of view of the person with the problem should help you get to the solution more quickly and with better outcomes. Make your team more efficient by giving them the tools they need. Why not check out our resources page?