Potential Of Design Thinking - Understanding Customers' Needs Irrespective Of Industries And Cultures

Reetu is Chief Human Resource officer at Quick Heal Technologies Limited. She has held HR Leadership roles previously with Sterlite (Vedanta Group), Amdocs and HDFC Bank. Prior to HDFC Bank she has worked with Godrej and Tata AIG Life insurance. In her over two decades of experience in HR she had led various transformations.

In today’s world where we are seeing blurring demarcations between man and machine what is becoming a key factor for success of any business is how to create emotional content in Robots.

The bigger question here is how we can do that when the foundation of robot is programming and logic. This exactly drives us to the point that machines which we create are going to be used by humans and if that is the case, we need to create an experience based on user.

The moment we talk about experience based on user we start talking design thinking.

Design thinking as a concept that brings those elements in process of designing product and process which relates to experience of user. While the logic had started ruling the world in industrial era, with advent of computers it gave further boost to logic and technical expertise. Over a period, man and machine boundary started blurring and the success of technical expertise was defined by the ease of access and user experience. With man machine demarcation blurring user experience started seeping into every facet of product or a process.

Design thinking as a concept that brings those elements in process of designing product and process which relates to experience of user

Design thinking as a concept started being more relevant to every innovation whether product or process.

When Man meets Machine the way we have technical specification for machine we need specification for users

We create user specifications by understanding the needs of customer and users. While we understand the needs of user, we must understand the context in which user operates. Context can be culture, or it can be industry. Needs and behaviors cannot be generalized and will exist irrespective of the industry and culture. When we are designing a product like a car, we do create country specifications depending on the norms of driving in the country like left or right driving and habits like speed of driving coffee place holder etc. This specification will change from country to country.

Let us take another example which is based on context of industry. The best example to share here is how design thinking was used by MacDonald’s when they entered Indian Market.

India is country with half population vegetarian, and you'll find a gazillion vegetarian options on the menu. Interestingly, the restaurants also have separate sections in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals are prepared.

McDonald’s penetrated the Indian market in 1996, six years after American fast-food businesses were allowed to enter. During those six years McDonald’s developed penetration ideas and considerations; those including employed research methods, Ethical and social issues had to be taken into consideration, and McDonald’s had to identify challenges or problems that will occur and continue to develop, and it was design thinking which was being applied here.

McDonald's did not enter the Indian market until 1996. Instead, they spent around six years in planning, extensively researching Indian consumers’ tastes, they were understanding customer behavior based on Geography. McDonald’s market mix research consisted of everything that affects buying decisions. These buying decisions can often be affected by factors wider than just the product itself, but 'cultural factors.

Design thinking means keeping the customer in mind all the time while driving innovations which are technologically feasible and economically viable. Manufacturers around the world have drawn their attention to design thinking as a concept of innovation management as the organizations have opened their minds to learn from designers in being creative and innovative.

A design thinker sets the customer at the heart of thinking, is collaborative by integrating different point of views, and focuses on the future instead of considering how things work today. A design process model includes four vital steps: the analysis of the problem, designing the solution, the implementation, and the evaluation of the solution. And customer does have context and the context is culture from where he comes, and his user behavior are getting defined by that culture.

It is imperative to start, by deeply understanding the customer, defining solution success in customer words and then continuously looking to improve. Leaders need to drive the change by maintaining a customer focused mindset in every communication and decision made. Leading organizations today are using open and collaborative approach to innovation. The collaboration here is not just within the design thinking team members but also with the customers to deepen the customer understanding and increase the odds of success of the solution. An amalgamation of diverse perspectives is the thumb rule here.

In conclusion, I would say that design thinking is as much about mind shift as it is about innovation. And even though implementation might take a couple of years to find its ground, the solutions brought about by design thinking shall prove to strengthen relevance, application and most importantly sustainability in the coming days. It is the user who is at the heart of design thinking and user does have context of culture which will define his behaviors and can impact potential design of the product or process. Similarly irrespective of the industry whether you are designing a application, a car or a fast food outlet you have think customer at the center and create specification to enhance the user experience.