Design Thinking. We’ve all heard it, we all nod along when it’s mentioned, and we’re all guilty of tossing it into our conversation as if it were some particularly zesty salad topping capable of transforming the humblest romaine-and-vinaigrette of ideas into a gloriously robust, stand-alone feast of strategic business plans. But what actually is it, and why do we need it?
The truth is that Design Thinking, roughly defined as a user-centric philosophy and set of principles, has rightly earned its buzzword status due to the immense value it’s been proven to generate for businesses across the spectrum of industries, geographies, target markets, and cultures. Just like Agile Methodology, there’s a reason it’s invoked at every turn - in a nutshell, because it works. Like all buzzwords and bywords, however, there comes a point at which the meaning is blurred and obscured.
There are hundreds of articles readily available to explain, define, and sing the praises of design thinking, so this one doesn’t aim to add to the melee. Instead, at Avenue Code’s .Design division, we’ve decided that 2021 is the year of Design Being, and we’re focusing on how to get these principles into action to add business value for our clients. Below, you’ll find 4 practical applications of design thinking, along with a brief explanation of how they work.
1. Design Thinking Workshops
The only thing worse than a vague concept is a workshop about a vague concept, right? Well...not really. Our Design Thinking workshops are a whirlwind 1-3 days that gently force a cross-section of your company’s leadership from the C-Suite down to the humblest scrum master together to participate in hands-on activities and exercises to generate a value map for your product or service. Using design thinking principles, we tackle a concrete business challenge your company faces, and in the course of the workshop, we’ll facilitate discussions that generate assets including the following:
- Stakeholder Map
- User Proto Personas
- Technical Considerations
- Success Metrics & KPIs - Recommendations & Next Steps
When was the last time you felt that all relevant decision-makers in your organization were aligned on who you were creating something for, aware of technical dependencies and potential blockers, and agreed on what success would look like? If the answer is never, don’t feel bad - you’re far from alone. But also, don’t put off talking to us about a design thinking workshop, because this is a powerful tool that can set a project in motion in less than a week.
2. Design Sprints
Chances are you’ve heard of this methodology from Google that gives a whole new meaning to “fail fast, fail often.” Design sprints have become their own kind of trend, with endless variations and adaptations. At Avenue Code, we stay pretty close to the tried-and-true 5-day process, and we've become adept at running it remotely (thanks, COVID). Here’s how it looks:
Imagine your company’s executive, operational, technical, marketing, sales, and product teams coming together for five full days dedicated to framing a business problem, collaboratively ideating on how to solve it, and then building, testing, and validating that solution idea.
Often, teams who on day one can’t even agree on what the problem is or if it exists at all, end day 3 mutually agreed on not only the problem itself, but also the likeliest solution for it. Which is great! But as design thinkers, we have to continually come back to the users, so the most critical part of a design sprint consists of prototyping and testing the solution and gathering actionable data from actual users.
The idea is that by the end of the week, you have not only agreement on the problem and a host of ideas for solutions, but also a go or no-go criteria for the particular solution being test-driven in the design sprint. The average cost of an IT project is somewhere around $167M, with most taking several years to complete (Harvard Business Review). It’s a huge risk to undertake a project anywhere near that expensive and time-consuming without some kind of validation as to whether or not it will actually solve the problem as intended. Design Sprints do the trick admirably and are well worth the small investment of time.
3. Service Design
Imagine this scenario: your mobile application has rave reviews, 5 stars in the Apple store, and record download numbers. But your customer service team reports high customer turnover, and the rate of referral-based customer acquisitions has been dropping over the last quarters. Something isn’t adding up.
While it may sound like something out of a business school mystery novel, it’s actually not all that uncommon. Most businesses tend to operate in silos and focus on the metrics surrounding individual customer touchpoints - mobile applications, web interfaces, call center satisfaction, etc. But customers, whether individual consumers or businesses, don’t see your company like that. They’re looking more broadly at the overall experience your company provides - or in design terms, the customer journey.
Service design is the discipline of examining your customers’ journeys from the moment they glimpse your logo to the final day of their contract and everything in between. Service design isn’t new - in fact, it’s been around since the '80s. For whatever reason, it’s gone out of vogue, but we’ve found that it’s still one of the most powerful and effective disciplines to uncover institutional blind spots, increase customer loyalty, and significantly grow your NPS.
We generally run an initial service design engagement with 2 experienced consultants for 8-12 weeks depending on the complexity of your scenario. At the end, you’ll have a holistic view of your customers’ journey(s) through their eyes, as well as a deeper understanding of where gaps exist between their expectations and the touchpoints as they currently exist. You’ll also understand where there are dependencies and how to create seamless experiences for your customers while reducing friction internally.
We highly recommend that our clients continue to invest in service design, because the payoff is always there. So as part of our engagement, we can also help to build out a team of service designers to keep the practice going long after the initial engagement ends.
4. Design Strategy
So, you’re sold on design thinking principles as a way to inform strategy, and you want to ensure that your own design organization is equipped to implement the types of practices we’ve been discussing above. Not sure where to start?
Let’s get really meta for a minute here - one of our most popular design service offerings is about designing how you design within your organization! That means everything from interviewing various groups to identifying key pain points and opportunity areas to helping you define your mission and vision, creating success metrics, cultivating a design culture, and collaboratively building the roadmap to get there.
Because this offering is totally customized for each client, the focus may look a little different depending on the outcomes of the situation analysis. But what it always has in common is that it’s built to set you up for success as a design thinking-driven organization in the future, with efficient design processes, a working design system, a thriving design culture, and a clear mission, vision, and roadmap.
Design Thinking as a philosophy has hundreds of applications. As we at Avenue Code’s .Design division continue to explore our commitment to Design Being, we’re always uncovering new ways of engaging with our clients. We hope that you enjoyed reading about a few of our more popular service offerings, and we’d love to hear about what’s worked well at your organization! Please leave your thoughts below and don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to talk about these or other types of services we offer.
Holly Camponez is the Director of Design & Creative Services at Avenue Code. She is passionate about the potential of design thinking to create a positive impact both socially and economically. Holly lives in Northern California with her husband, son, and three cats.