Create transformative innovation

The benefits of knowing your customers

  • Design Thinking is an approach to product development which seeks to overcome constraints by increasing the number of potential solutions.
  • It involves a high level of collaboration, and a level of customer knowledge which goes beyond demographics.
  • It also involves an iterative testing process where customer feedback can be put back into the product development cycle.

In a small room surrounded by a rainbow of sticky notes, Dori Miller is starting a customer-centric revolution.

As the User Experience Lead at Telstra, she’s charged with turning the traditional approach to product development on its head, using an approach based on Design Thinking.

Develop the products to suit the customer

Design Thinking seeks to increase the number of alternative solutions to a problem through collaboration, in-depth customer research, and problem analysis. According to Tim Brown, the chief executive officer of innovation consultancy Ideo, and one of its principal proponents, Design Thinking allows companies to integrate opposing ideas, and by opposing constraints, to create new solutions. In September 2009, Brown presented many of the ideas which underpin Design Thinking in a Ted X presentation.

The benefits of knowing your customers

“Design thinking starts with what humans need. You need to understand culture and context before you start to come up with ideas,” Brown says.

“Design may have its greatest impact when it’s taken out of the hands of designers and put into the hands of everyone, because rather than basing new projects on existing options you increase the options available.”

Telstra’s Miller begins this creative process by leading teams through a process which seeks to know the customer beyond simple demographics.

Focusing on customers

“We spend a lot of time finding out who the customers are, how they use our services and how we can improve their lives,” Miller says. “We even have their photos on the wall and know the names of their pets.”

Miller then helps product teams process this information so it can be used as the basis for product development.

“Collaboration is one of the best ideas to come out of design thinking,” Miller says.“The product teams work together to first get to know the customer, then to jointly create and understand the solution.” While the actual product development process takes longer than many alternative approaches, the result is a more effective solution, Miller says.

“Without design-thinking projects become a competition of ideas or solutions,” Miller says. “But if you take the time to understand the customer first, and then define the problem deeply, the solution is often far more effective, because it is built on knowledge, not just guess work.”

A four-step guide to user-centered design

Telstra has adopted a four-step approach to user-centered design, which derives much of its ethos from Design Thinking. The steps provide some structure to the process as follows:

  1. Determine – find out what the problem is you’re trying to solve, not just from a business point of view but from the point of view of the customer. The ideal is for the solution to not merely address the problem, but that it has broader positive ramifications.
  2. Discover – a phase of customer emersion featuring comprehensive interviews covering their goals and challenges, their concerns and preoccupations, where and how they use the services or products, who else is around them at the time and what drives their consumption.
  3. Design – once the problem has been more clearly defined, and the customer is better understood, it becomes possible to begin to design a solution or product which addresses these requirements.
  4. Deliver – the product is created so it can be sent to market. Unlike other development approaches, however, delivery within user-centered design is an iterative process. This means that a product can be delivered to market initially in a test phase, to check usability and acceptance, before it is brought back in house. With user-centered design, the test phase is ongoing.

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