How SMEs can benefit from Design Thinking

| April 11, 2019

New products and businesses always start out as somebody’s great idea, but unfortunately those great ideas don’t always work out. In fact, statistics show that up to 90% of new products fail each year and the same goes for new businesses in the initial 4-5 years. A couple of the key causes can be that the products fall short of the required standards and also don’t live up to the customers’ expectations and needs.

Below, you will find out how to address these key issues by identifying and understanding customer needs through the process of ‘design thinking’, which can help your SME thrive long-term.

Research and connect with customers

This step in the process is to empathise with your potential customers. Get out there and spend time with the public during their daily lives in order to observe which products or services they are already interacting with. Find out how they interact with these services, especially services that you are looking to directly compete with. Whilst looking at your competitors, you can find areas in which to improve upon the user experience by mapping out the journey whilst using their products.

At this point, you can engage with people to discover what their needs are, what they value, and also how they feel emotionally along the journey which will explain their behaviours. Before working on new products, you must identify the void in the market that it will fill for a substantial number of customers. It’s important to uncover insights that haven’t yet been realised, this will permit innovation.

Develop a point of view

The next step is to define the problem that you are trying to solve. By understanding your customers deeply and then borrowing their perspective, you will be able to develop a ‘point-of-view’ to help focus on ways in which to address the problem. From here you can brainstorm to generate multiple ideas to help fulfill the customer’s needs.

Before moving forward, it’s worth mentioning that if you’ve already had ideas for a business or specific product prior to going through these steps, then the insight you’ve recently gained will either help to reinforce your ideas or will indicate that the initial solutions that you came up with may not be the ones to effectively solve the customer’s real needs. If the latter is the case, you can further research what your customer’s needs are, allowing you to move forward with a clearer understanding.

Generate ideas

The third step focuses heavily on idea generation. The aim is to develop as many solutions as possible; including alternative solutions in case it turns out that your main ideas may not be the best fit for the job. It can be difficult to generate ideas with only a few people. As a small business or even a sole trader, it would be worthwhile persuading close friends from different professional disciplines to chip-in. The diversity in the people generating the ideas will enhance the quality and the number of original ideas coming to the forefront, so be over and done with the obvious ideas and encourage each other to create more innovative and unique solutions.

It’s important to have an open mind during this step as well as a positive and encouraging attitude that allows for a good flow of ideas.

Put your ideas to the test

Now it’s time to get your ideas out to the public so you can see what impact they could have. According to a current master programme in design management, better-informed decisions will greatly reduce the risk of failure of new products and businesses. You can prototype physical forms such as storyboards and working models of the product, or test out roleplaying for providing services. Here, you can receive feedback from your prospective customers which will help to increase your understanding of their needs, if need be, you can reframe your ‘point-of-view’ to better tackle the identified problems.

The process of ‘design thinking’ is non-linear and thus allows you to revisit any previous step at any time which gives the chance to gain new insight, improve your ideas, and eventually hit that home run. For these reasons, don’t spend too much time building prototypes, you will probably be redesigning them soon and becoming too attached to these test models won’t allow you to be very objective when receiving that all-important feedback.

Refine your products and services

The final step is about seeing what does and doesn’t work, which really refines and improves your solutions. This will involve testing the solutions in the environments where your customers will be, again observing and gaining essential data. This can lead you back to the step of generating ideas, but is always an opportunity to connect with the customers and to empathise with them whilst they interact with your products and services that offer them ‘solutions’.

Eventually, through all the feedback from product and service testing, you may find that your solutions work, which then puts you in a great position to introduce your new products and services to the market. Don’t get discouraged if this is not the case, design thinking is a cyclical process that often requires earlier steps to be revisited to gain a broader and more accurate understanding of customer needs and the required solutions. Implementing this creative way of thinking in your operations will help to refine great ideas that yield fantastic niche products and services, which in turn are essential for the users.