In the book the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, two programmers named Lunkwill and Fook were asked to propose the ‘Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ to Deep Thought, a supernatural computer programmed to calculate the answer to this question. Seven and a half million years later, when the descendants of Lunkwill and Fook – Loonquawl and Phouchg – presided over the Day of the Answer, Deep Thought revealed that the Ultimate Answer was 42. When the Magratheans expressed their concern that 42 was the answer they had waited millions of years for, Deep Thought scolded them for not understanding the question.

So why am I telling you this story?

Because organizations today are faced with a similar challenge. Businesses are more focused on building products based only on their own experiences rather than solving their customer’s pain points. They are more focused on diving into solving the problem rather than understanding the situation. But more often than not, the actual problem is always broader or different than it originally seems.

At a high level, the steps involved in a design-first approach are pretty straight forward:

  • First, try to understand the problem fully;
  • Second, ideate and explore a wide variety of potential solutions;
  • Third, iterate continuously through prototyping and testing;
  • And finally, execute the solution.

A design-first approach emphasizes “How do we define the right problem so we can design the best solution?” rather than “How do we execute a solution?”. And that seems fair because we are just taking a shot in the dark without knowing our audience.

Many teams completely ignore the design aspect because they believe it helps them save time and launch their products faster. However, these products must be redesigned, rebuilt, and relaunched in most cases because they later realize that they do not add real value to their customers. So, if implemented correctly, a design-first approach shortens the total development time and creates real value for the customers. It even reduces the risk associated with launching new products and services because the customer provides us feedback at all steps of the process. It helps us generate solutions that are revolutionary and not just incremental.

Organizations need to learn and iterate faster in today’s fast-paced competitive world to implement a successful product design strategy. This makes adopting a design-first approach more relevant because it helps them communicate directly with their end-users and build products for them and with them! Teams can apply this approach to any challenge that needs creative problem solving – from rethinking their product offerings to growing their markets and even innovating to stay relevant.

So, how can you adopt this process and embed it in your organization’s DNA?

Building such a culture doesn’t just happen overnight. It is time-consuming and involves making changes, one at a time. A design-led organization will have the following attributes: A mindset to discover the right problem, an assumption to identify the wrongs more than the right, a focus on identifying and measuring the business impact and built on sound principles of people-centric Design. It focuses on maximizing value to all stakeholders and the business.

Organizations can start doing the following to build a design culture.

  1. People: Create a variety of roles as a part of the design team. These should not be limited to visual or interactive Design but must also include elements of research, wireframing, and other processes for interacting with customers and uncovering pain points and opportunities to delight. This provides a unique opportunity to create solutions rather than push pixels in pursuit of trivial visual perfection.
  2. Processes: Encourage design leadership across roles and org structure and make designers core members of agile teams. They should actively contribute to the Design of experience development across the entire customer journey. The insights of such designers would prove valuable to the whole organization.
  3. Systems: Create cross-functional design systems and promote them throughout the organization. The design mentality should become a part of the organization’s DNA. To do this requires conscious effort involving hands-on exercises, shared learnings, cross-functional project teams, and vocal advocates.

If you would like to accelerate the adoption of this process at your organization or learn more about our offering, we would be happy to help you. We at Lean Inception Studio can enable you to solve real-world complex digital challenges by integrating technology with a human-centric design-first approach. Start a conversation with us today to begin your design-led transformation journey.

About the Author

Priyanka Palshetkar, Product Manager with the Design Thinking practice at Accolite Digital.

This article was originally published in CIOL.

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