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The importance of design thinking for solutions providers

Recently, I hosted an event on design thinking. As part of the programme, I welcomed Alberta Soranzo, Transformation Design Director, Lloyds Banking Group, to share her expertise on the role design thinking has to play within an organisation.

Alberta spoke engagingly about what it means to create a product that really delivers on the purported proposition. Service organisations begin with, as Alberta put it, an “intentional foundation”. In short, this is what the organisation wants to do, i.e. the problem it wishes to solve. But key to the effectiveness of this proposition is how this intent is delivered.

This is where customer experience becomes essential, which got me thinking about how a design mindset should be adopted by product teams.

Most solutions providers have dedicated design teams. In my experience, it is most beneficial when these teams operate within an Agile framework, using 90-day innovation sprints. These sprints are divided into six stages, which follow the principles of design thinking:

  1. Empathy maps: These are visualisations that capture a holistic view of what users think, feel and say
  2. Personas: Representations of a customer group built on user research, distilled to a single set of traits
  3. Clustering & theming: This is a key technique to help identify patterns, repetition and exceptions within a collection of insights, i.e. the common issues identified by users
  4. Ideation: Drawing on the previous research and processes, this is a time-boxed and goal-orientated brainstorming session that aims to produce as many ideas as possible
  5. User journey mapping: A visual representation, in steps, of a typical user’s interactions with a product
  6. Prototype: A preliminary working model of a solution, used to test and validate the solution concept before it is sent off for development

These six stages help product teams create a solution that takes into account the nuances of a client organisation. Typical factors that must be accounted for include the number of users, individual workflows, time spent interacting with the product, and in what capacity. These are complex considerations, as individual user journeys may differ greatly within an organisation. But this is the problem design thinking aims to address. 

Falling short is not failure

One of the many things that struck me from Alberta’s talk was the undeniable truth that beyond any product there is an outcome. This seems self-evident, but there is a powerful message in this one simple idea. The outcome is determined by how users interact with a given product, which is not always the same as how the service organisation expects them to.

It’s all well and good creating a useful solution, but it’s important to remember that there are innumerable possibilities when it comes to how the end product looks, feels and functions, as well as how users interact with it. Consideration must also be given to the fact that design thinking attempts to provide as accurate a picture as possible of the product that will address all users’ needs, but it is unlikely that this picture will ever be perfect.

Missing the mark by a long way risks a loss of confidence in a product, and perhaps even the loss of the customer altogether. Design thinking ultimately protects against this as it helps to create a product that holistically addresses the needs of users, while aligning to the overall business goals of the client organisation. 

Design thinking for product teams

As software providers increasingly target continuous delivery and continuous integration, continuous feedback data from users is essential, as improvements and upgrades can be delivered in line with this feedback.

When an issue is flagged by a customer, it is beneficial for the product team to be mindful of design thinking. Empathy is a key aspect of the practice, and this is a vital attribute for those involved in the remediation process. Product teams will always have ideas about how a certain feature should be delivered, but understanding the users’ workflows, pain points, levels of technical knowledge and interactions with a product ensures a deeper connection to their needs and desired experience.

Developers, for example, have an advanced level of knowledge and intuition when it comes to interacting with software. Applications built by developers for developers, for example, would likely require very rudimentary UIs, as an advanced peer knowledge would be assumed. But most users within a customer organisation will not have this level of understanding. Being more UX-focussed enables developers to scale back and tailor features to match the ability of users.

A cross-functional culture

In a world in which Agile and DevOps are in the ascendency, the various teams involved in software development are becoming ever more conscious of, and are playing a part in, stages in the product lifecycle they do not directly own. We are used to seeing the uptake of security or testing practices earlier in product development, for example, so why not the adoption of a more UX-focussed mindset from the outset?

At the core of design thinking is a need to understand a customer’s business objectives and user needs. For product teams, who take point on the ongoing customer relationship once a product is launched, this mindset is invaluable, especially when it comes to remediation. 



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

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