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Design Thinking – What’s it all About?

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Mention the word “design,” and many people immediately think of pictures and colors. But when it comes to designing for technology focused tasks, beauty is in the eye of the user. Design thinking is a discipline that solves problems and redesigns tasks by working from the viewpoint of the user to come up with a new approach to processes that addresses common pain points.

This user-focused approach to product development yields spectacular results. Companies that adopt a design thinking approach to development have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by an extraordinary 211%, according to a 2015 study by the Design Management Institute.

What frustrates customers

Design thinking is more important than ever as customers confront growing complexity in their day-to-day tasks. Software makers have historically enhanced their products by adding features, but this can have the paradoxical effect of making their software harder to use. Customers are confronted with scores of menus and options that aren’t relevant to their task. Their efforts to get a job done are confounded by the difficulty of finding the few basic functions they need.

Design thinking starts by interviewing customers to understand processes from their perspective. Developers seek insights on how customers engage in the most efficient ways to accomplish their goals. Then, through an iterative process, prototypes are built and tested with those same customers. In many cases, features are removed or surfaced in ways that makes them easier to find. Over time, developers arrive at an approach that closely resembles the tasks users are trying to perform.

This doesn’t mean handing over design to customers. Most people aren’t very good at envisioning new ways of doing things, so design thinking combines the creative strengths of designers with the practical perspective of the ultimate end users. The users are the domain experts and the designers excel at creating innovative ways to code their ideas into software.

The payoffs can be dramatic. Vale S.A., a mining company with 110,000 employees and operations in 27 countries, was struggling with a manual purchase requisition system that gave maintenance workers limited visibility into existing requisitions and inventory. The result: Up to 40% of requisitions were rejected, mostly because of contracts that were already in place or equipment that was on site. That added up to confusion and time lost tracking down duplicate orders.

Vale put its procurement team through an SAP Design Thinking exercise that led to a complete overhaul of the procurement system in just four weeks. The result dramatically cut down on rejections and the accompanying wasted time without requiring a significant IT overhaul. Access to design thinking templates in the cloud was a key factor in the project’s success.

New technologies present an excellent opportunity to apply design thinking principles. For example, mobile applications can empower workers in the field with access to information that was previously unavailable to them. Interviewing those users to find out what data would help them perform more effectively can uncover opportunities to apply mobile devices. A shipping logistics company may discover that tracking and reporting tasks that were once performed centrally can be delegated to drivers in the field, saving on administrative costs and giving customers better information about their orders. Salespeople may be able to close deals on the spot using tablets rather than returning to the office to type up proposals on paper.

Realizing those benefits involves rethinking user interactions. Rather than squeezing a desktop user interface into a mobile device, designers start with the user experience and work to give field workers only the functions they need. The result is a smaller, less cluttered screen that is faster and easier to navigate. Removing features doesn’t undercut the value of developers; rather, it demands that they use their skills in different ways. Instead of adding functions, they focus on improving the employee or customer experience, streamlining processes and improving efficiency. In today’s intensely competitive landscape, is there any better outcome?

Learn how the experts at SAP Leonardo can help you implement design thinking for new insights and ideas.