Creative problem solving can help brands improve products, services
Several Indian brands illustrate the benefits
By Manukrishna Nair
In recent times, “design thinking” has gained a greater voice across corporations and agencies alike—so much so that one could question if it’s just another buzzword. Is it all noise? Or is design thinking signaling something really significant? How might one apply design thinking? Can it work in India?
Let’s start with a definition. Design thinking is a style of creative problem solving that, compared with a linear analytical process, depends more on free association and inspired insights to reveal unanticipated possibilities. Professor Roger L. Martin, a major proponent of design thinking, explained it like this: “When design is stripped from forming, shaping and styling, what is left is the process of critical thinking and creative problem solving, and that is the essence of design.”
Consider this example: Passengers on Mumbai local trains experience several challenges during their daily commute. And because there are around 7.5 million people who commute each day (almost twice the population of New Zealand), the challenges are multifold. How might visually impaired people find their way to their special compartment? At some train stations, a continuous beeping sound emanates from the special designated boarding points. How might more passengers get support while standing? New split handles, with places for two people to grip, help solve the problem.
These are just two examples that highlight: (1) identifying the right challenge/problem is crucial, and creative solutions can be quite simple and effective; and (2) the principles of design thinking are not exclusive to designers, technology firms, and product brands; and (3) yes, design thinking is very much applicable to India.
For brands and companies to successfully adopt design thinking, getting into the mindset should become second nature. And the intent and action should be driven both from the top down and the bottom up.
So, how can Indian brands effectively adopt design thinking? While there are several open-source tools and techniques around the processes, design thinking needs a mindset for action. There are three aspects to this mindset that one should consider:
1. Encounter the world with empathy
To effectively identify the problem or challenge, the first step is to have empathy–to not simply sympathize or have pity for the problems of another human being, but to understand and even feel them in a profound way. To empathize, people must put themselves in the shoes of those they’re designing for, experience what they experience, and not just by doing desk research, but by spending time with users to understand them better. During interactions with users, while one can get a sense of what they say and what they do, it’s equally important to interpret what they are feeling and thinking. This can help articulate the need or challenge better, and one can gain interesting insights.
2. Embrace failure and reward risk
Unlike the traditional way of falling in love with just one idea, a design-thinking mindset makes one open to testing out multiple ideas or scenarios in the fastest, most efficient and effective way possible. To design an interactive experience, develop several paper prototypes of the flow. To design a product, use any material that can emulate the desired experience. And, critically important, get the desired users to experience the design. Capture feedback. See what worked, what can be improved. Rapid prototyping, with modifications based on user feedback, can help build a better product or service. Remember, design thinking is iterative, so why not get the user in the early stages of development before investing heavily on R&D? Fail faster and chances are that you will succeed sooner.
3. Encourage a design-thinking culture
The ownership of design thinking cannot just rest with a few in an organization. Infosys, the Indian IT consultancy where 80,000 employees are already trained in design thinking, has set a good example. According to Infosys’s recent annual report, even board members have all gone through what the company calls “immersion sessions” in which they have been trained on design thinking. With this design-thinking orientation, the Infosys board has a context for understanding and assessing initiatives proposed by the CEO.