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Think Like a Designer

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on July 11, 2011

If not for the emergence of design thinking, some of the world’s most innovative companies might not have the edge they do now. There are 10 tools that I teach my students to expand their thinking about corporate design beyond the development of new product. They are aimed at better identifying customer needs, just as some of the most successful people in business do today.

1. Visualization. Use imagery to envision possibilities and bring them to life. Post pictures or drawings on the wall, sketching out what a customer using your product or app might look like. Visual thinking not only engages the imagination, it gives concepts more presence than written words do.

2. Journey-mapping. Assess the existing experience through the customer’s eyes. Write down the steps a customer has to take when using the technology or service you are replacing or improving. These are the blind spots that are often overlooked during an analytical and data-driven decisionmaking process.

3. Value-chain analysis. Assess the current value chain that supports the customer’s journey. How does your solution deliver the value that a customer will pay real money for? Good design thinking doesn’t ignore business realities, but factors them into a more creative process.

4. Mind-mapping. Generate insights from exploration activities and use them to create design criteria. Draw a diagram to record your thinking and the analysis you’ve been doing. Use this map to set the framework for your design or to make visual order from visual chaos.

5. Brainstorming. Generate new possibilities and new alternative business models. Don’t work in a vacuum. Bounce ideas off a small group of trusted friends or co-workers. Let insights generate more insights.

6. Concept development. Assemble innovative elements into a coherent alternative solution that can be explored and evaluated. How does your puzzle fit together? Can you take it apart and put it together differently in a way that will add more value?

7. Assumption testing. Isolate and test the key assumptions that will drive the success or failure of a concept. What are the must-have components of your value proposition? (In other words, what are the elements that must work in order to succeed?) Then determine what data you need to test those design elements and go on to figure out where you’ll get that data.

8. Rapid prototyping. Express a new concept in a tangible form for exploration, testing, and refinement. Don’t just sit there. Build it or sell it to see how your idea really works in the marketplace. Make adjustments on the fly.

9. Customer co-creation. Enroll customers to participate in creating the solution that best meets their needs. Ask and listen. What do your customers feel and think about your concept? What do they think would make it even more valuable?

10. Learning launch. Create an affordable experiment that lets customers experience the new solution over an extended period of time. Test key assumptions with market data.

Jeanne Liedtka
Professor of Business Administration
Batten Institute, Darden School of Business
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Va.

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