Three compelling keys for driving sustainable growth through human-centered design

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In our previous article, we described design thinking as a systematic approach to solve a problem, as a process that starts with a deep understanding of customer “empathy” as a fundamental step to ideate a better solution for our customers. The design thinking approach acknowledges that we don’t need to get it right the first time. It is “iterative” moving from prototyping, to testing, then we can go back to our customers to validate our hypothesis and assumptions and starting over again. 

As we are looking for real innovation that generates growth. The inner understanding of our customers will boost creativity. Many of us (me included) have been using market research reports and spreadsheets for information, but these analyses even if important and relevant to understand the ecosystem will never replace “empathy”.

Let’s explain this in 3 words empathize, imagine and iterate.

Empathize, to make a real difference

Make sure you empathize with your potential customers to reach a deep understanding of the people you are designing for. This means to put yourself in their shoes to understand their fears, problems, and stories. This is not only a customer-centric approach but a deep and personal approach towards customer needs, pains, and reactions. 

Empathy boost inspiration, that goes beyond solving the basic needs but inspiring consumer to create a connection. An example of how great designs inspire and create a connection with users is the Eiffel Tower. It was built for a temporary event but today it has become an international symbol of Paris and I have to confess that I fell in love with it the first time I laid my eyes on it.

The Eiffel Tower was built as an entrance to the World’s Fair (1889). The design was severely under criticism by leading French artists and designers but it has become an icon that represents France itself. It opens up to approximately seven million visitors each year out of which only 25% are locals. This also makes it the most visited monument in the world where people pay to visit. It creates a connection with the users from the first time they see it and many people travel miles to visit, they are not only visiting a monument they are fulling a need and creating a connection and an undeniable differentiator.

Imagine, think like an inventor

In this process, we must adopt the inventor’s approach, don’t ignore bad ideas, be open to new approaches. Many times, I hear that people judging themselves as n no being creativity. However, after experiencing multiples workshops, it is amazing to see how imagination flows (even from the most skeptic heads) through team collaboration and detailed customer understanding. 

Techniques like Brainstorming are very powerful to bring a load of bright ideas to the table. Remember that brainstorming is a team sport, a special form of collaboration, with specific rules of behavior designed to maximize idea generation and separate idea generation from idea selections. For doing so keep in mind and use the 7 rules of brainstorming created by IDEO’s.

Find also a PowerPoint version to share during your brainstorming sessions on my Free Ressources page.

To grow, we need to create something different from today’s solutions, something that is solving real-life problems and is making a difference. The combination of all design thinking process helps us to imagine this future. Remember that it is not about good or bad ideas but about finding new user-friendly solutions, new value for our users. Richard Buchanan, former Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design said: 

Great design occurs at the intersection of constraint, contingency, and possibility. Just combine the three and imagine some of the best new solutions that you can ever think of.”

Consider some projects that were just an idea and considered impossible without certain constraints. One such example is Uber Technologies (UBER) that grew exponentially and consistent controversy surrounding the whole idea made it more famous and one of the most fascinating companies to emerge over the last yeas. The firm, founded in 2009, soon grew to become one of the highest-valued private start-up companies in the world. Rumor has it that the concept for Uber was imagined on a winter night during the conference when two people were unable to hail a cab. Initially, the idea was for a timeshare limo service that could be ordered via an app that busted out as one of the game changers in the consumer transport industry. During its expansion the founders made the impossible happen irrespective of fierce resistance from the taxi industry and government regulators. We can spend a lot of time discussing many ideas that were considered impossible but make a real difference today. 

Iterate, learn and iterate

Design thinking prepares oneself to test and iterate. We need to see ourselves as life-long learners, ones who understand that a good idea will take several iterations before it becomes an award-wining (or hearts winning) one! Being open to acceptance of feedback to learn and go back again is a trait one must adopt, irrespective of the business niche. 

Let ‘s recall Thomas Edison 10 000 attempts to develop the light bulb, world-changing experiment. Another most recent example of iteration is BlaBlaCar who explained in this article (in French) how they had to iterate several times until they got it right

BlaBlaCar idea was born in the winters of 2003, an idea to build a mobility network based upon community participation. As with every start-up, the start of the road was bumpy as they searched for the best user experience model. Using empathy for iteration to build the ideal carpool model which was financially viable for the user took up to 5 years. In all these years the team remained optimistic and learned from their failures, added user experience in the mix and came up with a million-dollar solution. In the meanwhile, they tested six business models, from free model to advertisement-based models all in search of the perfect mix. 

Finally, they tested the winning model which was a transactional system upping on customer trust amongst each other. The earlier model was based on cash payment of drivers where the customer could cancel an hour before without any penalty. This model created a trusted system for the customers but an unreliable system for the drivers. Therefore, the drivers always overbooked citing cancellation bring a lag in the overall service. BlaBlaCar fixed this problem and brought down the cancellation from 35% to less than 3%. The current model is not only transparent but consistently growing with each user experience, enhancing the overall growth and appeal of the brand.

According to Einstein, madness is to do the same thing many times expecting a different result. True to the brilliant inventor, iteration encourages the opposite behavior. Careful analysis for the reasons of failure and then taking the time to ponder upon what went wrong and then move on with that experience makes the real difference. Iteration and empathy are a must to bring about the best solution from the face of defeat and failure. 

Don’t limit the possibilities, rather empathize, imagine and iterate your ideas till you get the right mix, remember that “perfection is enemy of the good” and we are here to learn and progress.

Therefore, if you face defeat or failure the first time, there is no need to worry. This is because with every failure you learn what not to do. However, as design thinkers, if you keep going back to the solution with the same mistake it will cost you money, time and motivation to succeed. Thus, always think like the customer/user at the start and especially when failure comes your way. This is the only way to succeed just like the Eiffel Tower designers, UBER owners or the people who build BlaBlaCar from scratch.

Never Back Down!!  Keep following and share your thoughts. Cheers!

References and Where to learn more

Design Thinking: From Insights to Viability course – Stanford LEAD by Professor Stefanos Zenios

The Seven Rules of Brainstorming. Created by Ideo.

BlaBlaCar – Fail. Learn. Succeed.

The Story of Uber


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