Daily Design Inspirations 34: When CX is Designed for the Nose! (#dailydesigninspirations)

s3-news-tmp-134998-tower_transit--2x1--940In early March this year, a news item struck me – the public bus operator in Singalore, Tower Transit, will pump the new scent into 100 of its buses, following a months-long partnership with the local marketing company AllSense. In an interview with the BBC, scent expert Terry Jacobson described the smell as having a “green note” that reflects the city’s biodiversity, mixed with a cool, refreshing aroma that soothes passengers in the city’s tropical climate. And while the smell is subtle, so passengers aren’t overwhelmed, Tower Transit hopes it’s strong enough to keep riders coming back—and more importantly, to lure people away from their cars.

While it is still early to see the results, those who have had a good whiff of the Transit Tower’s marketing ploy reported, for the most part, positive reactions. Most who spoke to the local news site The Straits Time and BBC welcomed the fact that it made the buses smell fresher and said it would make them want to take public transit.

That is the objective – reduce dependence own private vehicles and make the public transport option more appealing. Now, can those feelings translate to action? Time will tell. But it reminded me of how important it is to engage with customers at sensory levels, and how rarely it is practised.

And brings us to that question we are all trying to answer – in a hyper-crowded marketplace, how does a customer tell the difference between products and services? How do we create offerings that are not just efficient and beautiful, but also emotionally compelling? How do we engage with customers through other, innovative channels that are subtle, pleasant and non-intrusive? Beyond the typical mobile/computer UI approach?

The ideal customer experience should delight the customer by engaging all five senses, not just their mobile device. And smell is a key piece of that puzzle: Scents have been proven to eliminate stress, stimulate fond memories and inspire customers. The right scent has been shown to make people more comfortable at hotels, shorten the time they think they are waiting at banks, and improve sense of performance at a gym. Nike conducted research with the Smell & Taste Research Foundation that found a scented retail environment induced more favorable product perceptions in in shoppers – making them more likely to buy the shoes, and often willing to pay more for the product.

Using scents to not only enhance customer experiences but also to inspire certain behaviors is a growing trend in marketing. According to the latest research in the Journal of Marketing, “The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Preferences and Choice Behavior” by Adriana V. Madzharov, Lauren G. Block, and Maureen Morrin (2015), by using warm scents in store, more attention could be attracted towards high-end products.

Aromatherapy-vs-Herbology

Recall North Carolina’s steak-smelling billboard, or the many odors of the Magic Kingdom, or city streets’ infamous Subway Smell, or magazines’ scented papers, which are themselves the olfactory offspring of the perfume-strip ads that have been around since the 80s. Traditionally, however – to the extent that scent-based advertising is traditional — smells have been used bluntly. Scent is notoriously indiscriminate: It reaches all those in its proximity, promiscuously.

Back in 2012, a U.K.-based baked potato company installed ads that waft the aroma of “slow oven-baked jacket potatoes” at bus stops whenever you press a button. More aggressively, Dunkin’ Donuts in South Korea installed dispensers in public buses. Every time their jingle came on, riders were treated to—or bombarded with—a blast of coffee aroma.

Engineers employed by the shop’s marketing agency created a machine that, air-freshener-like, “releases a coffee aroma.” And they designed the device in such a way that its scent-squirt would be triggered only by the sound of the Dunkin’ Donuts jingle – so that, “When a Dunkin’ Donuts ad plays on the radio, a coffee aroma is simultaneously released.”

What’s fascinating is that, after the commuters were subjected to the olfactory factor, they were much more likely to frequent, Dunkin’ Donuts says, a Dunkin’ Donuts store. Over the course of the campaign, more than 350,000 people “experienced” the ad, Cheil estimates – and sales at Dunkin’ establishments located near bus stops increased 29 percent. The sound-scent combination – the synaesthetic approach to advertising – seemed to be, in this case, effective.

So the use of scents makes … well, you know. The power of smell when it comes to human cognitive connection is well documented; it’s fitting and unsurprising that marketers would want to capitalize on that power when it comes to brand associations. The Dunkin’ advertisers orchestrated their experiment to optimize immediacy; the point was to create a scenario in which commuters would hear Dunkin’ Donuts, then smell Dunkin’ Donuts, then see Dunkin’ Donuts … and then, you know, taste Dunkin’ Donuts. After buying Dunkin’ Donuts.

Design Thinking Simulation at Grace Hopper Conference 2016 @GHCI16

We love Design Thinking!

Somebody send us this link last week, on the 2 hour “Design Dive” simulation Anirban ran at the Grace Hopper Conference in December. For 130+ women leaders.

Disclaimer, while the flow and design is ours, the activity isn’t our original (it is a Stanford d.School free resource). But it was great fun, the entire journey from Empathy to Ideate to Prototype. And the response has been through the roof!

Thank you!

HBR: Use Design Thinking to Build Commitment to a New Idea

A great read:

HBR: Use Design Thinking to Build Commitment to a New Idea

Roger L. Martin
JANUARY 03, 2017

 

The logic we use to understand the world as it is can hinder us when we seek to understand the world as it could be. Anyone who comes up with new ideas for a living will recognize the challenges this truism presents. It means that to get organizational support for something new, the designer needs to pay as close attention to how the new idea is created, shared, and brought to life as to the new idea itself.

The Normal Way of Generating Commitment…

Normally, we commit to an idea when we are rationally compelled by the logic of the idea and we feel emotionally comfortable with it. In the modern world, we focus disproportionately on the logic, assuming that the feelings will naturally follow. Analysis has become the primary tool in this regard. A logically plausible proposition, combined with supporting data, is presented to produce a cognitive “sense of proof.” Hence the modern equation is: logic plus data provides proof, which generates emotional comfort, which leads directly to commitment.

More here.

Design Thinking News: How Design Thinking Creates Connected Health Devices That Matter

Design News: The Street – Why the Financial Services Sector Should Embrace Design Thinking

Kunal Vaed, a senior vice president and the head of digital at E*TRADE Financial in New York, shares how the company applied Design Thinking to transform customer experience. Appeared in The Street.

Design Thinking has certainly captured the zeitgeist of our times, moving beyond the realm of digital-product management. Financial services institutions need to evolve to rapidly embrace design thinking or they risk disruption at the hands of nimble start-up companies.

Design often connotes simply a beautiful product, without enough attention focused on its utilitarian aspects. This is ill-fated, as a well-designed product or experience solves a human need and is something with which users want to engage and for which they want to advocate.

Simply said, design thinking places the user at the core of an organization’s agenda. It spans traditional functions within product development such as experience design and visual design, all the way to strategy and innovation.

Through extensive customer research, designers identify not just the functional needs of users but build true empathy. Designers create propositions to best serve these needs and continually test these hypotheses with customers.

The financial services industry is the perfect sandbox for design thinking. The reasons are simple.

 The industry facilitates many of life’s biggest decisions: buying a house, saving for retirement and paying for children’s education. Planning for retirement is an emotional topic, so this makes thoughtfully designed experiences a necessity.

In addition, investors face an array of complex investment choices, which require scrupulous analysis prior to investing. Design can address the complexity of investing and empower users to feel confident in the decisions that they make.

 At E*TRADE, design thinking allows the company to help investors get smarter.

E*TRADE’s approach to design thinking takes its cues from the Double Diamonddesign process, developed by the British Design Council. There are four stages in this design process: discovery, definition, ideation and delivery.

In the discovery phase, designers and product managers conduct research to understand customer pain points. This phase is divergent as we search for new questions and unmet needs.

Techniques such as customer listening are effective enablers.

In phase two, E*TRADE synthesize customer research and converge to the problem statement. This requires ruthless discipline to ensure that the company isn’t boiling the ocean.

Creating customer personas highlights differences in needs and aspirations of various customer groups. Customer journeys illuminate the path of the customer as they complete a task navigating outside and inside E*TRADE.

Next, E*TRADE creates early prototypes to visualize potential concepts in the ideation phase. Customers are part and parcel of this process and co-create these concepts.

Last, convergent thinking is employed to deliver a high-fidelity prototype, which is ready for developers to code. In this final phase, customers play a vital role in testing the usability of the new experience.

Consider E*TRADE’s new Adaptive Portfolio offering, which combines automated advice with access to financial consultants. Early on, in the discovery phase, E*TRADE’s research showed that customers were seeking peace of mind and transparency in their search for the right investing solution.

So E*TRADE designed with a simple problem statement: to help users go from idea to investment in five minutes. During the ideation phase, E*TRADE paid special attention to create an uncluttered design for the risk tolerance questionnaire, with intuitive questions, actionable steps and persistent help.

E*TRADE also heard that customers were interested in confirming their tolerance for risk before finally signing up. So E*TRADE designed a series of engaging visualisations to compare and contrast the company’s model portfolios by risk tolerance.

Finally, in the delivery phase, E*TRADE conducted usability interviews with customers to further optimise the work flow. E*TRADE is measuring interaction data across this experience and continue to refine it based on user behaviour.

Employing a user-centric mindset in the brokerage industry comes with its challenges, given the spectrum of users. E*TRADE has sophisticated traders who have honed their craft over the years and instinctively deploy a virtual army of strategies as they move in and out of positions every day.

At the same time, E*TRADE has buy-and-hold investors who take long positions for income and are more interested in long-term performance. Finally, E*TRADE has delegators, who are interested in self-adjusting solutions such as Adaptive Portfolio that are professionally managed.

Making sure that the design is flexible enough to scale becomes paramount.

There are four key considerations that can help strike the right balance.

  1. Share the glory. Customers and stakeholders across the organization need to co-own the outcomes. The financial services industry needs to place particular emphasis on co-creation given the complexity of investment choices and the changing regulatory landscape. Connecting designers, product managers, engineers and compliance experts early and often creates a shared responsibility.
  2. Get commitment from the top. Senior management needs to set the tone for the importance of designing an exceptional customer experience. E*TRADE Chief Executive Paul Idzik listens to several hours of customer calls every week and encourages employees to “put themselves in the customer’s shoes” at all times.
  3. Create an aspirational north star. Every organization needs to find purpose in its customer agenda. This agenda needs to speak to all, from customer service representatives, to engineers to designers to operations staff. In fact, the company has memorialized eight design tenets in posters and digital screens across E*TRADE to remind employees of what it means to deliver exceptional customer experience.
  4. Test, learn, re-test and re-learn. The user-centric mindset means the process is iterative. Design thinking fits perfectly with E*TRADE’s continuing transformation toward an agile software development process. Continuously analyzing data on how customers are using products and services ensures that E*TRADE evolves and learns.

Investors have entrusted the companies in this industry with a major responsibility: to help them manage their money.

Furthermore, their expectations are being set by digital leaders outside the financial services industry, who are constantly upping the ante. As a result, their expectations will only increase.

This industry has a narrow opportunity to embrace design thinking and position the customer at the core of its agenda. This has significant implications on talent mix, product development processes and tools, and project portfolios.

The most profound impact is in transforming the industry’s culture to be design-forward.

 

Design News: Engineering as a Driving Force Behind the Design-Thinking Movement

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It’s wonderful that design thinking is now applied to so many different problems: designing better experiences for hospital patients, designing and implementing better client experiences at social-service agencies, starting new companies, teaching leadership, inventing new radio shows, changing organizational structures, and developing new products and services for people at the bottom of economic pyramid — to name just a few. Design thinking focuses on uncovering human needs, and doing so by not just relying on what people say, but by watching what they do as well. It entails developing a point of view about what needs to address, generating quick and rough solutions, prototyping like crazy and testing ideas with the users, customers, patients, employees or whomever the solutions are intended to help — and doing it all very quickly and not being overly attached to ideas.

There is, however, a part of the story that seems to be slipping away — especially in the business press and in business schools, as well as in areas such as education and healthcare where design thinking is being used. Many executives, students and journalists don’t seem to realize that engineers and engineering schools were among the main driving forces behind the start of this movement. David Kelley, the main founder of the innovation firm IDEO and the Stanford d.school, has been teaching mechanical engineering at the university for over 35 years(he is pictured above, with the Apple mouse that IDEO designed); and Bernie Roth, our academic director at the d.school has been teaching mechanical engineering at Stanford since 1962 (he is a pioneer in the field of robotics).

And consider two of the most revered design thinkers and teachers I know:Diego Rodriguez at IDEO and Perry Klebahn at the d.school (officially, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford). When I first met Diego, some 20 years years ago, he had just graduated from Stanford, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was working at IDEO. Diego did get increasingly interested in business, got a Harvard MBA, and now — back at IDEO for years as a partner — has become one of the most imaginative business thinkers I know (check out his blog and tweets). Yet, when I talk to Diego, listen to his ideas, and watch his masterful teaching and coaching, I can always see how the magnificent engineering designer inside him remains the strongest guiding force. His relentless advice to do things like get out and talk to and watch some real human beings, to develop a sharp point of view, to brainstorm, to “prototype until your puke,” and to view ideas as easy to get, important to throw away, and ultimately best to be judged by users and the market (rather than experts) all go back to his product-design roots. This really struck me when, a few years back, Diego was designing a new organizational structure for a client that, many years before, he had designed a product for when working as a young IDEO designer. He remarked to me, “The end product is a lot different, but the process I am using is remarkably similar.”

I see the same thing in how Perry approaches problems. Perry has always been a product guy, as he invented the modern snowshoe as a Stanford product-design student and then went on to grow a company that sold and spread the product called Atlas (the above grainy picture is of Perry on CNN with his invention back in 1997). Then Perry was a senior executive at Patagonia, and most recently was CEO of Timbuk2. Perry has also taught numerous product-design classes at Stanford over the past 25 years, and in the last decade, taught over a dozen classes for students and executives at the Stanford d.school. In fact, Perry has taught more d.school classes than any other faculty member since the d.school was founded in 2004 (even though he was CEO of Timbuk2 for five of those years, he kept teaching).

Over the years, I have watched Perry move beyond and expand his engineering-design skills to an ever broader set of problems, like helping software executives gain empathy for what millennials want and rethinking the strategy of a Fortune 500 company. Lately, Perry’s students in his d.school classes — which he teaches with others including Kathryn Segovia,Jeremy Utley and me — tackle problems ranging from finding ways for the San Francisco Opera to attract younger customers to improving the experience of buying a bra for women who have had mastectomies.

Yet Perry’s engineering roots are always evident. I remember watching Perry use his product-engineering background to guide a class exercise aimed at improving employee selection, recruitment and socialization practices for our d.school fellows program. He pressed the students to look for unmet needs, to identify the problem they were trying to solve, to brainstorm ideas for prototypes quickly, and then to test the emerging ideas with users — even though those ideas were unfinished and crude approximations of organizational practices. This process, although modified by Perry and many others to fit problems of all kinds, is simply a variation of the design process that Perry used as a Stanford engineering school student years ago to invent the modern snowshoe — and then to grow the company and customer base required to make the product succeed.

Yes, I am a tenured professor in the Stanford School of Engineering, but I am not an engineer. The core of what we do at the d.school, and of much of what they do so well at IDEO, is rooted most strongly in product-design engineering — especially the flavor taught at the engineering school. That is why, frankly, I feel better when I work with “real” engineering product designers like Diego and Perry in the d.school classes I help to teach — even though I recognize that there are master design thinkers from all kinds of backgrounds, including lawyers, journalists, computer scientists and psychologists. The aforementioned Kathryn Segovia has a Ph.D. in communication (she did her thesis on the psychology of avatars), and Jeremy Utley is a Stanford MBA and former management consultant). Both have developed into two of the most skilled design-thinking practitioners, teachers and coaches I know.

Like many people at the d.school, I get in regular arguments about what design thinking is, how it ought to be applied, and the times when it isn’t right to use it. It’s healthy for all of us to question what we do and how to do it better. But one thing we all share at Stanford, whether our students and faculty realize it or not (and some don’t, as the history is fading a bit), is that the brand of design thinking that we teach is a mindset and set of methods that was developed and refined at Stanford’s engineering school for decades — especially by product designers — before design thinking was ever a hot topic in business, entrepreneurship, education, healthcare and so many other places.

Original Post here

 Go to the profile of Bob Sutton
Bob Sutton
Stanford Professor who studies organizations. Books include bestsellers Good Boss Bad Boss, The No Asshole Rule, The Knowing-Doing Gap and Scaling Up Excellence. He first wrote this post about five years ago and update it every now then. The iteration before this one appeared a couple weeks back at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program eCorner site.

Design Thinking News: Infosys Continues to Drive Design Thinking. Even Upwards.

The Economic Times, May 25, 2016

Infosys on ‘design thinking’ treadmill to get its top gear acclimatised with latest technology

It’s not just the 194,000-odd employees at India’s second largest software exporter who are being put through the paces.

In what would mark the first such instance in India’s $160-billion IT industry, board members at Infosys are now being trained and brought up to speed with “design thinking” -an industry parlance that refers to the practice of solving traditional tech problems using newer, different and innovative methods.

Board members at top companies across the world, especially in the technology industry, routinely go through training sessions to help them keep pace with the rapid changes across the technology landscape.

However, this would mark the first known instance in India’s tech industry where a company is proactively aligning the board with the vision of the company’s top management, as part of a broader strategy to bring about a cultural shift at a traditional outsourcing company where coders and engineers have been content with following orders of customers, without asking questions. The design thinking exercise is one of the cornerstones of CEO Vishal Sikka’s broader strategy for the company and he has actively pushed executives and employees at the company to embrace the exercise. To execute this strategy, Sikka has even sought help from external mentors such as computer science pioneer and legend Alan Kay, who over the past two years has held sessions with company executives and employees.

Infosys chairman R Seshasayee said the decision to train the board on design thinking was taken recently during the last financial year.

“The adoption of Design Thinking at Infosys has been very encouraging, and we can see the enthusiasm and energy with which employees are adopting this philosophy. The Infosys board was keen to embrace this approach that is getting deeply ingrained into the company’s DNA. We introduced the entire board to these concepts during the year and I have found the application of its principles in our course of business very refreshing and impactful,” said Infosys chairman R Seshasayee in an email to ET.

According to Infosys’ latest annual report, at least six board members including chairman R Seshasayee, board veteran and former Cornell University professor Jeffrey S Lehman, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Bank of Baroda chairman Ravi Venkatesan have all gone through what the company calls “immersion sessions” where they have been trained on design thinking. Each of these board members have gone through ex tensive sessions on design thinking that lasted for at least 3.5 hours, according to the annual report.

A person directly familiar with Sikka’s thinking said that the board has also been put through immersive sessions on areas such as Artificial Intelligence and that Sikka is actively trying to “acquaint the board with concepts around design thinking as he looks to unleash newer, more executable ideas at the board level.”

Infosys has already trained over 80,000 employees on design thinking and hopes to cover the entire company in the near term, according to its latest annual report.

The design thinking exercise comes at a time when Infosys is starting to show signs of a major turnaround in its fortunes and increasingly resembling its former bellwether self, having trumped top-tier rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro for four consecutive quarters.

“Putting the board through design thinking is a must. Design thinking is the equivalent of Six Sigma for this generation. Until the boards understand what’s required to build for empathy and to understand the innovation process, they can not relate to the work required to deliver on innovation,” said Ray Wang, founder of enterprise research firm Constellation Research.

“Training the entire company including the leadership team on design thinking represents more than anything else a change in mindset for Infosys.However, Infosys needs to push change management in equal measure as training alone only gets you so far,” said Tom Reuner, managing director at HfS Research.

HBR: How IDEO Designers Persuade Companies to Accept Change

May 17, 2016may16-17-hbr-012-culture-1200x675

Every design project extends beyond the brief. No matter how straightforward and discrete a project seems at first, it will unfold in the context of a complicated, networked, and messily human organization. That means that part of a designer’s job must be to design tools, conversations, experiences, and environments that help the organization embrace innovation and change. At IDEO, we think of this as designing interventions.

We approach intervention design in a variety of ways, depending on the shape and scale of the organization and the innovation we are working to enable. But every intervention involves designing experiences for a project’s stakeholders that go beyond logic and engage the emotions inherent in the question “Why should we change?”

Here are the three main tools we use:

Transformative empathy

When stakeholders are having trouble imagining things being different than they are, or when they are extremely removed from (and even judgmental of) their customers, the experience of being wholly immersed in somebody else’s perspective can free up their thinking. The desired outcome is that stakeholders come away from the experience in agreement about the challenge we are solving and with a felt understanding of why things need to change.

More than any organization I’ve worked with, Weight Watchers employees are in tune with their customers’ needs and feelings. That’s because so many of them are members. But even for them, over time, it’s easy to lose touch with the intimidation and anxiety new members feel the first time they cross the threshold of a Weight Watchers meeting.

A few years ago, Weight Watchers engaged IDEO to create a vision for the future, ­which often implies a digital future. However, our early research pointed to some real value in taking a hard look at the meeting, the central feature of the Weight Watchers experience. With that in mind, we designed an intervention for our client team: a visit to a mega­church in Dallas, TX. A mega­church shares qualities with a meeting – convening people with a shared goal, while also triggering similar insecurities: “Do I belong? How should I behave?” We hoped it would remind our team of New Yorkers what it feels like to arrive at a Weight Watchers meeting for the first time.

Our hypothesis proved correct. The IDEO and client teams looked for every excuse possible to get out of attending the service at the mega­church. “There’s so much traffic, is it really worth it?” “We can just stream it on our phones!” We all but turned around on our way there. But we made it, and were surprised by how embraced we felt as we crossed the threshold. Even though we were late, parishioners greeted us at the door, provided us programs for the service, and guided us to an available pew – with no questioning looks, which was our unspoken fear. We all left with a new perspective, and without saying anything to each other, we knew we had to redesign the experience of showing up at a Weight Watchers meeting.

The transformative empathy intervention shifted the focus of the design challenge to not only include Weight Watchers’ digital future, but also the meeting room.

Co-­design

When stakeholders don’t feel capable of changing the way things work today, and when there are naysayers among them, we involve them throughout the design process — in questions, prototypes, and iterations along the way. The process of co-design should make everyone responsible for approving and implementing the new vision feel invested and confident in the design.

Interbank, a Peruvian retail bank, engaged IDEO to design a more accessible banking experience for the emerging middle class in Peru. One pivotal moment of co­design occurred during a day of live prototyping in a retail branch.

Our prototype was based on a question: Will customers trust a line­free experience of waiting? In other words: if I’m not physically in line, do I trust the line? To answer this question, we worked closely with Interbank staff, including senior leaders and tellers, to transform the bank from a room full of stanchions and queues to a lounge area with soft seating and a digital queuing system. We then watched the day unfold together, testing our hypothesis that people would welcome a break from standing in line.

Customers not only appreciated the new experience, but also used the time to talk to each other and to look at the educational materials on the coffee tables. They were less agitated and even friendly to tellers once it was their turn. At the end of the day, Interbank leaders, our core team, and the bank staff debriefed about the day.

Shared vision

When we need the support of a large and disparate group of stakeholders – perhaps more than we can involve in a transformative empathy experience or in co-design – we create a vision of the future that brings stakeholders together around where they are going and helps them imagine what it might look like. A compelling shared vision fosters a sense of belonging and inspires a group of people to create change together.

Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (CPBN) came to IDEO in early 2014 to create a future vision for their organization. As they approached their 50-year anniversary, they looked out at the next 50 years and knew they needed to make some big changes – but what, and how?

While CPBN is a relatively small organization, they sit within the national web of public media, and have multiple businesses from radio to education, each with a complex funding model. This makes it easy to get lost in the logic of what it will take for CPBN to embrace a future vision ­ but also all the more important. A shared vision is key to building a more resilient organization, one that’s primed to keep pace with an increasing rate of change.

During our project, we turned an open space at CPBN headquarters into a gallery that displayed work-in-progress components of the vision, including quotes from Connecticut residents, a draft purpose statement, and an audience promise. We invited everyone in the organization as well as board members and outside partners to walk through the gallery and participate in creating the vision. This led to a healthy dose of debate and discussion, enabling the organization to arrive at a strong and shared stance for its future: to be the bravest public media organization, exploring topics in ways no private organization can, and empowering its audience to make the world a more extraordinary place.

As you try out these approaches, remember that no single intervention is likely to change a system. You’ll need to employ different approaches at different stages of any project, depending on the stakeholders and the challenges involved. And don’t forget that intervention design is about emotion as much as logic; when we are creating something new to the world, by definition there isn’t enough evidence to get us where we want to go. Successful interventions are felt experiences, above all, so identify the emotional outcomes you hope to achieve, and then design a way to reach them.

Ashlea Powell is a Senior Director at IDEO New York with a background in writing and design research.

Empathy. The Cornerstone of the Philosophy, the Principles, the Process of Design Thinking

I conduct Design Thinking talks and programmes quite frequently. And during most of my sessions, for audiences as varied as Finance professionals, Sales managers, HR leaders, Engineers and Designers, someone from my participants always asks me: “but isn’t the idea of creating solutions based on User needs common sense? A no-brainer? A piece of wisdom from our grandfather’s time?”

And my answer is invariably and emphatically “YES!”

And yet, when we dive in to understand the and apply Design Thinking, I see participants struggle to do exactly that. Immerse themselves in the User/Stakeholder’s experience. Observe, Engage, Watch and Listen, for clues and signs that tell of habits and behaviours, needs and interests, fears and desires. The critical “why” behind decisions and actions, the “what” behind causes and motivations.

Everybody knows the need for Empathy. Everybody understands the significance and implications of User-Centred thinking, before designing and solutioning. Yet, very few can practice it.

Because years, maybe lifetimes of conditioning, experiences, frames of reference and biases come in the way of objectively looking at data and facts, to take in user experiences for what they are, and not judge and prematurely evaluate. The conflict between what we think “we know already” and the surprising realities of “what we find” when we observe are not easy to reconcile with. We are not listening beyond the noises in our heads, and missing important clues that can help us make sense of the world. What Tim Brown at IDEO calls “sense-making”.

And yet, there lies the only way ahead. The ONLY way to Customer Centricity, to meaningful solutions and products, to real innovation. To counter assumptions and biases, and understand, really understand what really matters. That’s why we start with Empathise, before we can even Define the problem to solve.

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To be clear, this focus on Users neither rejects nor diminishes the knowledge and experience the participants bring to the table. Subject-matter expertise is not only a critical multiplier of Design Thinking, it is also essential to developing meaningful, collective insights or points of view (as further source of data).

However, there is no alternative to Empathy and generating insights through Empathy research. And it is the cornerstone of not just Design Thinking, but getting better in life. As David Kelley puts it “The main tenet of design thinking is Empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing – building Empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.”

Empathy helps us understand other people, put ourselves in their shoes, and only when we are able to do that can we see things from different perspectives. And that is what we need to solve their problems, and improve our situations.

Here’s a great video on Empathy. Empathy is something that can make us better as human beings. And also create better cities where we listen to citizens, schools where we listen to students, relationships where we listen to partners. Empathy is our sign of success as a race, and our hope for the future.