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Making design thinking work

Discussion board: Design Thinking

Sonali Chowdhury & Ankita Rai 

Inspired by the spectacular rise of Apple and IDEO, design thinking is increasingly being seen as a better way to deal with the growing pressures on growth and innovation. But it remains a mystery for many people interested in introducing this approach into their decision-making processes. Demystifying it is the focus of this discussion. Our experts attempt to answer two questions: One, is design thinking better than the traditional approach to problem-solving, brainstorming and decision-making? And two, what sort of training do managers need to successfully implement design thinking within their organisations?

It is not an alternative to problem-solving and decision-making: Nitin Pai


Design thinking is definitely starting to be talked about. Some companies that manufacture and market consumer-facing products tend to be slightly ahead in their understanding of design thinking as there is direct feedback from customers who use the product. This kind of thinking hasn't seeped to all service providers, especially firms in the B2B space that are also beginning to realise the importance of putting the end consumer in the centre of their design and development process.

It is possible to do several things involved in a product/service creation cycle with technology but unless you bring the whole framework of design thinking into what you are doing, you will be solving problems that are being manifested today, and not have a foresight or vision in developing solutions for the future. At Tata Elxsi, we have pioneered the I-Cube framework for guiding design thinking. This I-Cube (Insights-Innovation-Implementation) fosters a design-thinking way for all company activities.

Executive leadership in organisations are interested more in the external results-based metrices - these could include sales from new products, number of patents filed, customer satisfaction scores etc. If we can connect the measurement to the impact of the use of design thinking on the top or bottom line of the company, that would be a powerful metric to measure and monitor in the long term. Design thinking provides a context to considering what would make the product or service better without automatically focusing on the problem but going beyond it; for example - Apple's retina display, which is a combination of superior technology and best-in-class customer experience.

Some organisations and executives tend to think that design thinking is an alternative to problem-solving, brainstorming and decision-making. It is not; these are among the many methods that we can use in the process of design. On the contrary, design thinking is about putting the consumers first and being able to envision the consumer journey in the process of consuming the product or service.

As a starting point, every employee in the company should be exposed to how the company's product or service is actually delivered and consumed by the end consumers; this extends to internal consumers/customers and their needs too.

Nitin Pai
Senior VP, Marketing & Strategy, Tata Elxsi

Decisions are not based on what and how much, but on why: Ripul Kumar

Traditional problem-solving is outcome driven, while design thinking is a process and not an outcome. It is usually applied when humans are a part of the problems (they usually do) and deep innovation is required. Design thinking starts with an enquiry - deep human enquiry. The enquiry is about humans, their lives, beliefs, goals, motivations, environment, and how they interact with systems. Design research is empathetic in nature - feeling what users feel, do as users do - be in their shoes. With this, the solutions are more focused, innovative, and are iteratively tested with real people at all stages of innovation.

The role of CIOs across the world is changing drastically. The traditional tools of analytics or market research are inadequate when it comes to offering organisations deeper understanding of why people are behaving in a certain way - they only provide the how much and what. Product design decisions are no longer based on what and how much, but on why. Many of these decisions directly impact customer experience. These customer experience decisions cannot be taken if people in the organisations don't understand why consumers behave in a certain way with their products.

There is a need of strong design leaders who can inject design thinking within an organisation. We have worked with the US, European and Korean companies for design research and innovation projects in India and found that only a few companies use design thinking in India. While companies sound excited, they back out because it is a new process and they cannot justify it to '' It also demands high involvement of people from the organisation, higher time and the cost for design thinking experts.

Dr. Reddy's, for instance, has taken the journey of design thinking-based innovation by collaborating with global design firms on a few projects. Some of the Indian companies are also trying to set up internal design teams.

Employees need to be trained in tools for design thinking. The four key tools for design thinking are empathy, visual thinking, quick prototyping and iterative testing with real users. Each tool is new and difficult to master; however, with a lot of practice, teams can master some tools to make their products a great experience for users.


Ripul Kumar
CEO, Kern UX

CHROs and CIOs must collaborate for people-friendly platforms: Vinodh Chelambathodi

Today when boardrooms are busy trying to decode the human factor connected to a product or process, we foresee design thinking altering the landscape of and perspectives of people. It is making organisations and start-ups think what people really look for, from a product or process.

The uniqueness of design thinking is that the fundamentals on which it is built and the metrics of measurement are one and the same - desirability, viability and feasibility. To implement design thinking across the organisation, CHROs and CIOs must collaborate for people-friendly engagement platforms and take it to every corner in the organisation. At Intellect Design Arena, we have built an enterprise social network (ESN), which is rooted in design thinking. ESN has led to more collaboration, talent through engagement and performance dialogue improvement in productivity. Not to forget the high engagement and reduced attrition, a challenge for any organisation.

An interesting way to implement design thinking is to follow a benzene structure, similar to six-edged structure of a benzene molecule, which is formed by six members - a product architect, an engineer, a tester, a quality person, a pre-sales consultant and a sales person. All these members play a crucial part in the life of the product and pool together their ideas at every stage of the product evolution. This results in a product that challenges engineering, meets quality and offers product as per requirements.

Now comes a crucial question, how to train people to brainstorm on the lines of design thinking. Let them start thinking as to what they make is at the meeting point of of three circles - a venn of desirability, viability and feasibility. Let them prototype it; it would take few iterations for them to arrive at the best solution. That's how it happens. Design thinking is a highly explorative pursuit.


Vinodh Chelambathodi
Executive VP & chief human resources officer, Intellect Design Arena

It is no longer a business catchphrase, but a working model: Mahesh Nayak

DDesign thinking is a suite of tools, methods and processes, which is used to present new solutions to any kind of challenge. It is a process for innovation that uses the product designer's sensibility and methods to match people's needs with technologically feasible and marketable solutions. In essence, it refers to a way of building products or solving problems with a holistic and multi-dimensional approach. As a methodology or style of thinking, it combines empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality and feedback to analyse and fit solutions to the context. All this helps create a solution that meets user needs, while generating revenue and driving business success.

Design thinking is no longer a business catchphrase, but an actual working model that supports successful product development as it provides a way to channel creativity into more relevant business solutions. If implemented correctly, it can enable new products and not just better iterations of previous products. It is not only a process but is also a mindset within an organisation. It is essential for this mindset to be reiterated through workshops and engraved in the DNA across various functions of an organisation. Employees need to understand its importance and, therefore, it is important to create a constant flow of communication. Keeping the booming start-up culture in mind, how companies use this model inside their development strategy will shape the next decade.

At SAP today, design thinking is a key focus for which classes and coaches are provided. Individual lines of business conduct workshops to ensure the inculcation of the culture of design thinking.

Mahesh Nayak
Chief Operating Officer, SAP Labs India

First Published: Mon, March 23 2015. 00:09 IST
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