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How Design Thinking Speeds Up Tech Solutions Development

In late June, here at CMS-Connected, we covered a Forbes Insights report in association with Alfresco entitled “The Great Rethink: How Digital Leaders Are Building Tomorrow’s Organizations”. As a result of interviewing over 300 top-tier executives, the study found that there are three levers that catalyze a rethinking of the way organizations leverage technology; Design thinking, Open thinking, and Platform thinking. According to one of the key findings, open thinking has the lowest adoption rate across the three levers explored in the survey, while design thinking has the strongest adoption, meaning that many organizations closely embrace customer experience (CX) and user experiences (UX), but innovation is still a work in progress for many organizations. The risk associated with a lack of innovation within some businesses has deemed to be so dangerous, that recently it has driven organizations to adopt a better go-to method for building the products and experiences that our customers need. Therefore, as the survey results suggest, design thinking, indeed, has been gaining ground in a growing range of industries over the last few years. 

According to Tim Brown, the CEO and president of the innovation and design firm IDEO, design thinking is “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” In his TED Talk, he said: I'd like to believe that design thinking actually can make a difference, that it can help create new ideas and new innovations, beyond the latest High Street products. To do that, I think we have to take a more expansive view of design, more like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, less a domain of a professional priesthood. And the first step is to start asking the right questions.”


Considering the end-to-end customer journey begins with the design thinking principle of empathy, one of the right questions that enterprises need to ask is: “What does the customer really want?”  To address this question, enterprises need to embrace design thinking as it is an empathetic cognitive process that strives to thrive in intuition, inspiration, and emotion while still focusing on the practical considerations of technological feasibility and business viability. 

Design Thinking in Action

To make their customer-centric innovations sustain a competitive advantage, more and more technology solution providers are switching their traditional product strategy to a more integrated cognitive approach such as design thinking. SAP, for instance, has lately been working on launching a collaborative tool called Deployment Cockpit that gives customers who have purchased an SAP Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS) instant access to everything they need for timely implementation. To make this product deployment materialized, SAP decided to apply this way of thinking to inspiring innovation. 

Ariane Skutela, product owner and design thinking coach at SAP, coached the design thinking team from research and prototyping through development and delivery. Her first priority was to make sure the Deployment Cockpit would give users the features and functions they wanted most. “In the past, teams might build tools people didn’t use,” she recalls. “We used design thinking to talk with consultants to find out first what they really needed before we developed something.” 

According to SAP, traditional development typically separates the product definition and development phases whereas, design thinking enables the entire team to work together from defining the product through implementation. On that note, Nabi Zamani, a developer on the team, commented: “Most other projects I’ve been involved with had predefined requirements. Combining the design phase with implementation gave everyone a sense of ownership, a shared purpose.” This type of collaboration sped up the development process because it allowed the team to quickly identify, build, and test their way to find the most needed solution in the most effective and efficient way. To put this into perspective, the feedback gathered through this collaboration resulted in changing the initial design directives from the internal management team at SAP. While the management team, for instance, emphasized the importance of early reporting, the consultants, however, said early reporting made no sense since everything would be documented in the tool over time. That way, the vendor didn’t need to develop everything that was technically feasible, but rather only what’s needed. This situation saved them so much time and resources in the end. 

While SAP is a great example from a product deployment standpoint, Toyota’s case study is quite remarkable when it comes to the impact of design thinking on customer experience. There was a significant customer satisfaction issue with the call center support for three major brands, Toyota, Lexus, and Scion, as just to get someone on the line was taking somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes. The torture wasn’t ending for customers once they have found a service rep as to find answers, service reps were using as many as 13 different applications, would have to speak to internal tech support, walk to filing cabinets for hard copy information or ask one of their more experienced peers. No wonder why customer satisfaction from the call center was suffering. Considering these three brands’ sizes, making a change on that scale was not an easy task. To address this issue, the organization adopt the design thinking approach. 

In this great book entitled Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, written by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett, this case study is being examined, noting that the service reps were included to the development of solutions which created for them a sense of ownership over the success of the project. The book also tells us that with new training, internal processes, and better software tools reps were able to solve customer’s problems with an average of two fewer calls, faster response times, and millions of dollars saved by empowering reps to answer more questions faster, so much so that the project actually became a model that the entire organization eventually adopted for the matters of problem-solving and change management. 

In 2009, Airbnb was about to announce its bankruptcy as the company was making only $200 per week. Today, the organization is disrupting the tourism industry. Do you know what transformed Airbnb from a failing startup to a billion dollar business? Yes, design thinking!

Following the “Silicon Valley mentality”, the organization has initially limited itself to the belief dictating that everything they did had to be ‘scalable.’ The postings, on the other hand, were not performing well at all and after spending a good deal of time to understand the underlying reason, the team figures out that the photos were too poor thus visitors were not attracted enough to book rooms. As an exact opposition to the initial mindset of the organizations, Paul Graham came up with a non-scalable and non-technical solution to the problem: taking a trip to New York to spend some time with listed properties and take high-resolution captivating photos of them. As a result, a week later, upgrading the pictures resulted in doubled weekly revenue, $400 per week. From there, the organization built a ground rule saying that every newbie in the organizations will be sent for a free trip in their first or second week in the company. In return, the employees will share back their answers to the structured questions as well as their comments with the entire company. That being said, neither design nor meeting their customers face to face played as huge a role as simply providing consumers with a product that they needed for its value.  

“If we were working on a medical device, we would go out into the world. We would go talk with all of the stakeholders, all of the users of that product, doctors, nurses, patients and then we would have that epiphany moment where we would lay down in the bed in the hospital. We'd have the device applied to us, and we would sit there and feel exactly what it felt like to be the patient, and it was in that moment where you start to go aha, that's really uncomfortable. There's probably a better way to do this,” said co-founder, Joe Gebbia. 

Design Thinking Is Less about Appearances, More About User Experience 

The on-screen design is so often the first and, most of the time, the only form that comes to mind. However, if we think about how organizations are working so hard to make their websites visible not only for humans but also non-human viewers such as Google boots, we can better understand why we have moved from design to design thinking. As Steve Jobs once said: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” 

Design thinking embraces user-first mentality and is focused on solving what the real problem is in a collaborative manner. However, many times, to define the real problem take a thorough investigation as it may not be found on the surface. This step, redefining the problem, represents the second phase, whereas the first phase of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem by developing knowledge through interactions about what the users do, say, think, and feel. This emphasizing phase helps not only to define the problem but more specifically define it with a human-centered problem statement. Once done, the third stage is ideating where all team members get together to brainstorm various ideas in a non-judgmental, positive environment. Then, it is time to see the winner ideas in action. To do so, the organization builds prototypes as representations for a subset of those winner ideas. At this stage, it is important to gather as much feedback as possible so what aspects of the ideas work or which do not could be found out and the necessary changes would be made. Ultimately, the complete product is developed based on the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. In this stage, testing is critical to emphasize how users feel the service/product and how well it is understood. 

MY POV

To me, the design thinking process has brilliant components in it. As simple as it is, emphasizing, for instance, is extremely important to redefine the real problem because when a team of developers tries to build a mobile app, the discussion is so often built around technological feasibility and business viability. While these practical considerations are still very important, they do not provide lucrative results alone, as Jakob Nielsen wrote in his article: “Even the best designers produce successful products only if their designs solve the right problems. A wonderful interface to the wrong features will fail.”  Collaboration, on the other hand, is another captivating component of the process, as people support and embrace changes better when they have a contribution to it. 

According to an assessment by the Design Management Institute, design-led companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by an extraordinary 219 percent. All those success stories naturally drove the demand for design thinking among enterprises. According to LinkedIn, the highest echelon of the technology industry is vying for more design talent-Facebook, Google, and Amazon have collectively grown art and design headcount by 65 percent in the past year - with much headroom to hire more. Whether your next initiative is an upgrade of your existing product or launching a new customer program for a multinational brand, the design thinking approach keeps your team focused on what really matters to customers while reducing time-to-market. 

Venus Tamturk

Venus Tamturk

Venus is the Media Reporter for CMS-Connected, with one of her tasks to write thorough articles by creating the most up-to-date and engaging content using B2B digital marketing. She enjoys increasing brand equity and conversion through the strategic use of social media channels and integrated media marketing plans.