How are others applying design thinking?

Author: Claire Maeter - Design strategist at Emakina

In October 2021, Emakina’s Digital Experience Design (DXD) team attended the 5th Design Thinking Summit from Luxatia in Berlin. The objective: to observe how other companies apply design thinking in their work, learn new approaches, and become familiar with new techniques and tools. 

“Tell me, and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me, and I learn.”

― Benjamin Franklin

What is design thinking again?

As experience design professionals, even we sometimes struggle to explain design thinking to friends or family who come across this term for the first time. However, speakers at the Summit came up with an explanation that anyone can easily digest.

Design thinking is like going to the doctor:

  • (Problem) When going to the doctor, a patient (the user) explains how they feel and the symptoms they experience (user pain/user need). 
  • (Research) Based on that input, the doctor examines the user. 
  • (User-journey/ Opportunities / Development) Once the doctor finishes the examination, a plan for fighting the symptoms is set up.
  • (Testing) If the following bullet point is the case, the above steps can be seen as a testing phase.
  • (Iterating) Usually, the journey ends here, but unfortunately, it is not always the case. Instead, a user might go back to the doctor again and again, requesting other medication that would work. 

In this scenario, you clearly see that for design thinking, everything starts with the user. What is their problem? What do they say they need? Then we look for a solution and set up a plan to fix what’s wrong or deliver what is needed. As a business, it’s extremely hard to get it right on the first try, so that’s why we test and iterate, to continuously improve and arrive at the desired result (or beyond!).

Main learnings from the Summit

In total, there were 19 speakers at the Summit, all working in different sectors but applying design thinking to their work. None of them mentioned an approach, template or tool that Emakina wasn’t familiar with, which only proved that our team is highly advanced. We’ve been specialising in design thinking for almost two years. Still, there are a few learnings that we thought are worth sharing with you.

1. Design thinking can be applied anywhere

Why? All Summit speakers had different expertise used in different industries. Luxatia made sure that the speakers had expertise in human-centred design, customer experience, service design & delivery, human factors engineering, product/ service innovation, technology & digital strategy, business transformation or strategic development.

2. How to provide proper guidelines for designers

A second learning was a statement from Andres Højmose: “Hiring great designers ≠ great designs”. His statement quickly started making sense. For your designers to create incredible designs, guidelines must be provided. When you learn something, build something or use something for the first time, you will always take your manual or a set of guidelines with to you. So why would it be any different when it comes to designers?

A first start would be to provide a clear and concrete brief and let your designers create a design system that would be used by all designers and developers working on that project. A design system is a book of guidelines where all components and their usage are listed, as well as when they should be used. This is to ensure that any designer can hit the ground running on a project and developers can better understand why component x is essential to implement. Finally, it also enables transparency (no more silos) and empowers and supports your designers.

3. With greater responsibility comes greater involvement

The notion of responsibility came up from Andres H. and Marco Pretorius’ talk. They argued that everyone in a project should take responsibility because ownership is key. Even when UX & UI hand over their screens to development, they still need to care about how it will look in the end.

Andres and Marco also talked about involvement in a project – something that should be a norm in any project. The most important thing they mentioned is to not work in a hierarchy! Instead, make sure everyone who should be involved is involved and that everyone communicates with one another. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, and you don’t promise something that isn’t feasible.

Why is this so important? A project where people aren’t synced and where important subjects are being lost (due to a lack of communication or people not being briefed) can cause a lot of frustration and failure. Plus, if you promise something that isn’t possible, it will put your client relationship in jeopardy. Remember: they are counting on you.

4. Inclusive design

Design thinking is not only applicable to designers. What about other roles? The final and perhaps the most inspiring/intriguing/insightful/challenging learning was a talk about something that often gets overlooked. Kim Helmbold decided to shine a light on inclusive design – a way to design for everyone, including people with disabilities. Disabilities aren’t always visible. Take, for example, dyslexia, ADHD, visual impairment…

If, for example, you have a user with dyslexia but your copy is too complicated or difficult to understand, then your user gets frustrated and ends up leaving the website. You’ve then created an unhappy user experience, which will result in other unhappy user flows as they can write a bad review, tell their friends, etc.

Keep this in mind when designing a user experience – not only for this specific type of audience, but also when you are developing work for other target audiences (users). The benefits of clear, easy and obstacle-free design reach far beyond offering an ‘inclusive’ experience. These benefits can be enjoyed by everyone.

Braille keyboard

In summary…

The 5th Design Thinking Summit showed that design thinking isn’t only a great tool to apply in your projects but also for internal use. For example, it made the term more digestible, showed its application in design teams, made ownership important, and stressed the importance of not dismissing less visible users. 

Design thinking is about much more than what we touched on in this article. Explore the topic further on our blog, where you can read all about designing an experience for your entire ecosystem, the DXD team and how we can help your business.

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