The roots of design thinking date back to the mid-19th century. Using a user-centred methodology, for example, the cockpits of bombers have been designed in collaboration with pilots and bomber aircrews; the crews were involved in the development process in order to design the cockpits to be as easy to use as possible under stressful combat situations. Very logical. In industrial design, user-centred design has been the starting point for decades. Products manufactured on an industrial scale must please the consumer regarding their functionality and appearance, and they must be able to be manufactured in mass at a price that consumers are willing to pay.

A framework for creative development

More than a toolbox, design thinking is a way of thinking. It is suitable for all design work, irrespective of culture, sector or the target of the development work. Its key themes are empathy, the understanding of the feelings of the end user, and rapid testing and fine-tuning of prototypes. Efforts are made to identify the latent needs of the end users by observing them in various ways.

In a broader perspective, design thinking is also a method for transforming a company so that it becomes customer-centred. Its ideology includes multisector hiring: development teams are made up of professionals representing a variety of fields and levels of expertise.  They are encouraged to think from the perspective of the customer and in an innovative way even when it is atypical to them. The participants let go of their normal work personality and place themselves in the position of the end user.

Design thinking processes are swift and agile. While the ideas are carefully gathered, the entire process is quick: the selection of the outline for the application, the construction of the prototype and testing are all carried out on a tight schedule, even in the course of a single day. The goal is to create understandable concepts and prototypes that customers then test and help to develop to become even better.

Make observations and iterate

The design thinking process progresses via five iterative phases. In the first phase, the observer places themselves in the position of the user by observing their behaviour. At this stage, the user will not necessarily be asked accurate questions about the product to be developed; instead, their behaviour is being monitored, including any problems that they may encounter.

At the second phase, focused on specification, the observations are analysed, interpreted and, finally, a plan is drawn up on the basis of which the problems detected are solved.

The third phase, brainstorming, is the most creative part. The team seeks to solve a problem which is set out by introducing innovative solutions and creative means – naturally bearing the end user clearly in mind.

In the fourth phase, the best idea, which is also the most functional one in terms of business, costs and the purposes of use, is worked into a prototype. Finally, in the implementation phase, the prototype is tested and fine-tuned in collaboration with customers. If the produced service is not yet fully functional, the process is iterated from the beginning until the planned service or product meets the expectations of the end user.

Sometimes, you must have the courage to accept the fact that the prototype does not meet the needs of the customers. In such a situation, development is terminated and the process starts over, in order to better understand the needs of the end user.

Why design thinking?

Design thinking weaves together several aspects, traditionally viewed as being separate. In application development, the design thinking model takes into account the enterprise offering the service, the developer of the service/application, the client and the end user using it, and other possible parties. All of these benefit from the design thinking model. This user-centred thinking model weaves together all the various parties creating solutions which thereby benefits all parties – while keeping the end user at the centre of development.

Call it whatever you like, but customer-centred application development work is here to stay, and it is necessary for everyone who want to be relevant in their own sector and operations. In order to succeed in business, one must understand the needs of the user; otherwise, the user will find a better service or product elsewhere.

Antero Kivikoski
Antero Kivikoski Chief Design Officer HiQ Finland


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