Design thinking is all about users, not about designers.

January 2, 2020

“We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.”

Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity.

Coming up with an idea is now easy. You get inspired by many examples and products. Thinking of how it serves the purpose of a customer requires empathy. Design thinking starts with empathy for the user. 

Designers sometimes indulge in the process of making a ‘cutting edge product’ forgetting the potential human experiences it can ultimately create. User empathy is a designer’s new weapon to outperform the competition.  

Most of the startups first decide to solve a particular problem, and then start thinking about the wide variety of possible solutions. The next step is to iterate extensively so that the product is refined through intense discussions centered on user experiences. This is what we call the ideation stage. This stage is most interesting as multiple perspectives, deliberations, and user research can happen. The ideation stage is not about filtering. It is about trying to get out of that dimension where the problem remains as a problem. 

So it follows this principle – the problem cannot be solved in the same dimension where it is created. So entrepreneurs and engineers who want to use the design thinking model to solve problems need to understand one thing – there is no criticism in the ideation stage. Any wild idea needs to be broken down into a set of actions for further deliberations. Most of the problems are solved when we see things beyond the laboratory of our thinking and experience. That is why design thinkers sometimes use people who are no way related to the problem they are trying to solve. You get an outside perspective. The way an engineer sees a solution is way different from what a user is looking for. The engineer is limiting the solution based on his skill and available technology. 

The ideation stage is a breakthrough period. Once we arrive at a solution, it is time for prototyping. 

How a product would look like, feel like and taking a shape. That is prototyping. In a fast-changing world, we need rapid prototyping. There are many tools for prototyping with lesser coding and investment. The user-centered prototyping is about involving users in designing the prototype. It is called the empathy-based design of prototypes. If you want a mobile app to be built, there are dozens of great prototyping tools available (even for free) to get your idea to take shape. 

Every idea to prototype stage is crucial as the product takes shape almost there. The rest of the testing, iterations and user feedback based improvements are all done on the prototype. 

The great entrepreneurs I know are all great listeners. They listen to users, customers, opinion leaders, engineers, and decision-makers, constantly to define the problem as precisely as possible. 

After the prototyping, it is time for testing. This is when most of the engineers lose heart. The big ideas which they propose through the latest technologies come falling down in front of a layman user. A moment of truth in the whole process. Most of the engineers and entrepreneurs defend the users or sometimes even may ignore it. 

Design thinking is all about users, and not about designers. 

Krishna Kumar is CEO of GreenPepper and does Design Thinking Workshops.