Many businesses could benefit from applying the principles of design thinking to their work. However, too many businesses focus on the wrong things when they use design thinking, which can actually keep them from realizing the innovation benefits of the whole process.
What went wrong with these implementations of design thinking? More importantly, what can you do to successfully incorporate design thinking in your own organization to fuel better business outcomes?
One way to make sure that you use this process the right way is to study some design thinking examples from other businesses.
1) Focus On People, Not Designs—Apple’s Mouse
Some companies focus so much on the word “design” that they forget all about the “thinking” part of product development. They create beautiful products or business assets that are aesthetically pleasing, but don’t really take into account the needs of the end user as much as they should.
Rather than focusing on how attractive a design is, businesses should focus on how they can deliver value to people inside or outside of the organization with their processes and products. However, this can be difficult, as Dave Evans, a mechanical engineer and former Product Manager for Apple, can attest.
In an interview for Big Think, Dave shared a story from the early days of Apple:
“The mouse was, of course, an electro mechanical device. It had this little ball and it had Schmidt trigger LED detectors in it that were brand-new technology and those things could be engineering prototyped. But whether or not you like the way it felt in your hand or rolling this thing around on the desk and then looking at the screen over there made sense to you, we had no idea how that was going to go. We had hundreds of prototypes. One button or two? I had long and religiously ideologically animate conversations with Larry Sessler and Steve Jobs about one button or two and modelessness and double clicking. There’s no answer to those questions, you have to try them. So we did lots and lots of prototypes of process or experience and lots of prototypes of shape and we ended up with the mouse and the many mice we have today. Couldn’t have engineered that, we had to design that.”
Basically, during the entire process of designing Apple’s mouse, the creators had no idea if what they were making would deliver the best user experience for people—it was a whole new technology accessory for a graphical user interface (GUI), unlike the old command line prompts people were used to at the time. Yet, the whole time, the central concern was: Will the user like the way it feels in their hand and will it be intuitive to use?
Apple tested numerous designs and interfaces in the search for what would provide the best user experience to the person holding the mouse. The elements of the design were secondary to thinking about the people who would actually use the product of that design.
So, when implementing design thinking, the important thing to focus on is people, not designs—even when you’re working on an actual product design.
2) Creating an Alternative That Improves Daily Life—Elon Musk & Tesla
Odds are that you’ve heard of Elon Musk and Tesla. This innovative car company and its business guru CEO have made quite the splash in the automotive industry. Despite the fact that Tesla didn’t invent the electric car, their particular electric vehicle (EV) line is one of the most-demanded EVs on the market—even though it’s a comparatively new, untested brand.
In fact, one of the biggest problems Tesla has with its sales figures is, according to a Bloomberg Technology article, “a severe production shortfall of 100 kWh battery packs, which are made using new technologies on new production lines.” This shortfall has kept the manufacturer from meeting production and delivery goals, causing a slight dip in the company’s sales.
Still, why are Tesla’s electric vehicles in such demand? One factor is an increased interest in these “eco-friendlier” vehicles compared to gas-powered cars, but that can’t be the only thing. If it was, every car manufacturer would be having difficulty keeping electric vehicles in stock.
What Tesla did better than the competition was turn their EV into a compelling, worthwhile product for their end user by looking at the limitations of existing EVs, and figuring out ways to make them better.
For example, many purely electric vehicles have a limited driving range—often between 65 and 97 miles depending on model, options used, driving speed, etc. While this sounds like a decent amount of range on paper, it’s not practical for most users who have to commute to work on top of other daily lives (grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, etc.). Combine this with the fact that, going from a near-zero charge to 80% takes many EVs 8+ hours without a quick-charge station (which is a separate item you’d have to pay for), and you have a vehicle that’s unsuited for daily life.
Tesla solved this problem by re-engineering the battery of their cars to have an average range of more than double that of most competitors. Their Model S has a range of 249-335 miles, and their “mainstream” option, the Model 3, has a range of 220-310 miles. As Tesla notes on their site, their vehicles have “adapters to plug into common household outlets” that “charge up to 52 miles of range per hour.” This one change makes them more viable as a daily-use car—even if their price range is a bit high for the average American consumer.
This is a simple change (conceptually, at least) that helps create substantial value for the end user and makes the product more compelling; which aligns with Musk’s business philosophy. In an interview with Big Think, Musk highlighted that if he were running GM, his competitor, he would “try to build a compelling product” as a key means of turning the company around.
Even When You’re Designing Products, Design Thinking Needs to Be About People
The two companies above were designing different products, but both applied design thinking by considering one thing—the people who were going to be using those products.
It wasn’t enough to have something that looked cool or different—the product needed to be convenient and add value to some aspect of the user’s life—whether at work or at home.
Big Think Edge Big Think Edge is a one-of-a-kind organizational development solution that brings world-class learning programs to entire organizations, at scale, in the form of short video lessons from the best global thinkers and doers. Click here to learn how to access our full library of 1,000+ videos and see previews of our content.