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Synopsis

Are you tired of developing features or products that your target customers don't want or need? Avoid negative ROI and tunnel vision feature development and use the Design-Thinking Toolbox. Create products that are equitable, enjoyable, usable, and most importantly, useful. In this explainer, we'll share the top tools execs need to implement design thinking, including user empathy maps, user journey maps, the rose, bud thorn framework, system usability scales and feedback grids that you can customize for your needs.

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Outcome

Design thinking uses a design frame of mind for product development that modern companies need as a must-have. These tools take execs through the five stages of the design thinking framework to discover, define, ideate, prototype, test and iterate on a product or feature for continuous improvements. Design thinking enables execs to not just create features they think are cool, but actually address user needs and solve user pain points.

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While product designers might already be familiar with these tools, the average manager or exec without a UX background is still expected to know and employ this methodology. These frameworks are especially helpful for remote brainstorming and giving and receiving feedback remotely. While old school brainstorms required whiteboards or sticky notes to track ideas, digital-first remote teams need digital tools to help fill the void.

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Tool highlights

User empathy map

So, to understand your customer in the discover stage, you first need to be able to empathize with them. The most famous design thinking company is probably Apple. Apple began its use of the design-thinking process through the creation of products that are hyper-user friendly and user-focused. When computers were first introduced, they were just machines used by specialists in remote locations. But Steve Jobs' vision was for Apple products to be personal tools for individuals. His empathy with the end-consumer led him to realize that in order for personal computers to take off, people needed to:

  1. Be able to easily understand and use them
  2. Have an actual need answered by them and
  3. Love them due to their desirable design

Apple's latest innovation, the fully electric and self-driving car known as Project Titan, takes this idea to heart. Apple wants to redesign a car around the idea of a "hands-free" device with no wheel or pedal and has a goal to release it by 2025. Apple has supposedly already completed much of the core work on the car's processor and will now retrofit its fleet of nearly 70 Lexus SUVs to road-test its sensors and processor. The appointment of Kevin Lynch, the software manager behind the Apple Watch, has accelerated the company's plans and is seen by many as a sign of confidence in the project's likelihood of success. But the most important factor is Apple's empathy for the end consumer. Compared to rivals Uber, Google-backed Waymo, Aurora, and Baidu, Apple likely wants the self-driving car to be for the individual, not an enterprise robo-taxi fleet controlled and offered as ride-hailing services. This is because Apple understands what makes the car so important to people: its sense of instantaneous freedom for the individual. This is why Apple's self-driving car effort could actually work as a leapfrog product that jumps the competition.

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To focus on the consumer like Apple, execs can utilize a user empathy map, which is a qualitative tool to provide a glance into who the target user is as a person. It's an attempt to get to know the target persona, what they want, their pains and potential gains. This information is gathered from field studies, qualitative surveys or direct user interviews from one to a handful of typical user types. (Slide 8)

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As each product has multiple user groups, users can be grouped into cohorts. Empathy maps can be created for persona types from each cohort to "wire" the designer and product manager's mental frame into the shoes of a real potential user. Everything from their attitudes and behaviors, what they hear, see, think, and do can be used. These user empathy maps can ground team members as a source of truth so that subtle biases don't take over the design process. Empathizing with the users helps determine what features or improvements are not just worth your time, but will also create positive feedback loops.

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User journey maps

Discovering and understanding your ideal customer is one thing. Next you have to define how they interact with your company or product. The travel tech company Airbnb implemented design thinking to take the customer's perspective to improve their product. Its founders learned early on by using their own app that one of the major flaws that kept customers from booking was low quality photos of the locations in question. The company then realized they had to replace user-generated photos with their own high quality images.

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By becoming the patient zero of their product and trying their own medicine before they shipped it, Airbnb was able to solve a huge user-pain for both guests booking trips and hosts trying to attract guests. Amazon also famously spins out products it uses for itself first, like with the launch of AWS cloud computing and again with its Amazon Care healthcare service.

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To mirror this tactic, you can use a user journey map to define your customers and how they interact with your company or product. User journey maps are not limited to digital products, but can be used for physical experiences as well. Phases change depending on each company's individual user case. Emotional experience levels need to be plotted for each phase. The needs is the purpose why the customer is here, doing is the tasks that the user undertakes during each phase, and opportunity is the company's opportunity for improvement. When you observe the needs and the tasks the user takes, you can discover new features that your company can implement. (Slide 13)

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Rose, bud and thorn

You've discovered your target customer and defined their needs. It's now time to ideate and come up with features that answer these needs. Many car companies have come up with amazing features over the years, like heated seats and built-in infotainment consoles. But as the current microchip shortage has ravaged the auto industry, automakers have begun to focus on cutting some features — and even whole products from their product line. For instance, GM will stop selling heated and ventilated seats in its newest 2022 SUVs and trucks to cut down on the chips it needs to ship vehicles.

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Ford, however, decided it would change its whole business model to focus solely on its most popular brands like the F-150 truck. Toyota, one of the most successful companies that uses the design thinking framework, had to scrap the "just in time" business model for production that it essentially created. Instead, it will now ensure it has more than enough parts than it needs so its sales won't be harmed by supply chain backlogs.

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Because all these car companies need chips, chipmakers TMSC and Samsung are both spending double-digit billions to invest in their own chip-plants in the US. Samsung's $17B plant in Texas is part of the company's $200 billion pledge to invest more in pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, AI and robotics. Samsung also uses the design thinking framework and even created an internal team to use empathy, visualization and experimentation to develop new features that customers need.

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A tool execs can use to prioritize features or products to design is the Rose Bud Thorn framework. Roses point to features that are working well. In the above example, this would be Ford doubling down on its most popular products to save costs. Buds are features that could be developed and even overtake roses. This would be Samsung's bet on its semiconductor business. Thorns are features that aren't working. This would be Toyota's just-in-time business model or GM's focus on cutting the heated seats from its 2022 models. (Slide 22)

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Not every feature that's created is an actual value-add, which is why execs can use the Rose Bud Framework to assess ideas contributed by all stakeholders. Everyone has a voice, and everyone develops a shared understanding of what features to keep, improve, or get rid of based on a mutual place of agreement.

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System usability scale

Once you have created your feature ideas to implement, it's time to get feedback on how the ideas are received. Companies like Nordstrom and Starbucks are well-known consumer-focused brands that are extremely successful in their respective areas. Starbucks was able to poll thousands of customers to discover a greater emphasis on a comfortable atmosphere was needed in their stores, so they implemented round tables to make solo customers feel more welcome.

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Nordstrom wanted to design an app specifically for trying on sunglasses in store and used a design team at its flagship location to survey customers for feedback on its designs. Through this process, the company learned customers wanted a way to compare pictures of themselves in various sunglasses in real-time and link the pictures to the actual model number of the glasses. This is also why many companies have begun to roll out "AR try on" features for e-commerce. Since over $428 billion products were returned in 2020, and returns can range from 15% to 40% of online purchases, reducing returns could save up to a trillion dollars a year by 2025.

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A system usability scale or SUS, is a common UX-related KPI that teams and companies can use to rate their success via surveys. This questionnaire is used to measure the usability of a product. Users are asked to agree or disagree about the usability of a design, ranked from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The SUS tallies the points up for a score that tells execs where their UX ranks in terms of high or low. Because asking survey takers to rate between 1 to 5 is easier to manage and assess, the total is multiplied by 2.5 to get a score out of 100 for easier grading and understanding on the company side. (Slide 25)

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Feedback grid

Finally, design thinking can be applied not only to external feedback but to internal teams to iterate and continuously improve their internal processes as well. Execs can use a feedback grid to gather feedback from users as well as internal team members. Feedback grids allow internal teams to analyze where they succeeded and where they failed from a workflow and team dynamic standpoint.

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Feedback is gathered by team members and stakeholders involved in the process and organized across four quadrants: things that worked well, things that need to change, any unanswered questions and new ideas to try. The best way to create better products is to consistently improve your internal functionality because stronger internal communication creates stronger teams, and learning to empathize with team members is just as important as empathizing with customers. (Slide 27)

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Conclusion

For more resources on Design-Thinking Toolbox, you can download the full resource. You'll gain more tools like Sailboat retrospective, Affinity Diagram, HMW Statements, 6-3-5 brainwriting, and usability test plans that you can customize for your needs. You can also gain more business frameworks and book summaries from our library, just check the link in the description for more.

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