If design thinking is a new concept for you or even if you consider yourself somewhat knowledgeable on the topic, you might find yourself asking how do I put design thinking into practice? The answer is that it does not have to be complicated and can start quite simply. What’s more, businesses might be using the principles of design thinking without even realising.
Let’s start with an example close to home here in Wellington. Picture your regular customers walking past your shop window and pausing to peer inside. Then, continuing on down the street and possibly even stopping in at one of your competitors to make their purchase. Now imagine it happening day after day. That is exactly what Roger Young owner of Fidel’s Cafe on Cuba St in Wellington was noticing.
In the case of Fidel’s, there are a number of local cafes serving great coffee and many of the great choices are on Cuba Street. This stiff competition forced Roger to innovate and invest to stay successful and grow his business. Roger and his team at Fidel’s might not have meant to use design thinking but that is exactly what they did. Roger knew he had a problem when, as he told me, he “would see regulars look inside and then keep walking down the street. That’s not good for business!” The first stage in design thinking is observe and understand your customer. So even though he did not realise, Roger was using design thinking.
Now Roger and his team could have chosen to delve deeper to uncover more customer insights but making great coffee is their business not design. While Roger just assumed that people were in a hurry and did not want to wait in line, a designer would have asked. But to his credit what he did do was define the problem in terms of a need not a solution: Roger asked his team, “how do we stop our regulars from walking past the door?” Framing the question openly allows for a variety of solutions and is the second and possibly most important stage in design thinking.
Next we come to ideating, coming up with potential solutions. Fidel’s didn’t follow a textbook brainstorming process they just came up with some ideas and decided to try them. Again, in line with design thinking, they didn’t just pick one idea but decided to try a few. One of the first of these ideas was to put a coffee machine on the street. So at the same time that Fidel’s expanded into the space next door he cut a hole in the wall to make coffee accessible to people passing by. “It was just temporary at first, a makeshift counter and coffee machine.” Just trying something and seeing how people react is known in design thinking as prototyping. What Roger did was good prototyping. It wasn’t supposed to last beyond last summer. He did the minimum necessary to test his idea before moving forward. After just a few days people, including those same regulars, started catching on. It has been a huge success and Roger decided to keep it open through the winter. Again he listened to his customers.
One of the ideas that hasn’t seen the same success has been the option to text in drink order from up the street prior to arriving at Fidel’s. And this is an example of another lesson from design thinking: it is good to ‘fail early’ before you have invested too much in the idea. Why this idea has not caught on, Roger isn’t sure, but he guesses not enough people are aware of Fidel’s text order option. This would be an example of where deliberately applying design thinking could help. Maybe with a greater understanding of Fidel’s customers we would learn the reason people instantly took to one idea and not the other; maybe we could design a better solution or look for more opportunities.
Regardless of what else Fidel’s could do, Roger is continuing to follow the design process, whether he knows it or not. He is taking what he learned from his prototypes to come up with new ideas and progress the street coffee business into a permanent fixture.
Look for the little window to take on a more permanent and finished appearance in the recognisable Cuban theme with a rusty tin roof and expanded offerings including take away food, ice cream, and what other than Rum.
So if you are wondering how to go about using design thinking in your business, start by looking around and noticing how people use your service or interact with your organisation. What do you see and how can you use those observations to start a design process?