Bring design thinking to your product

Thinking like a child could save your business cash at Stanford University: it draws from all of the graduate schools at Stanford giving students a greater confidence in their ability to be creative in their area of study at Stanford University: it draws from all of the graduate schools at Stanford giving students a greater confidence in their ability to be creative in their area of study

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 01:00

Ireland, though not a global design capital, is not a bad place to develop a new product. Dublin was shortlisted to the final three entrants for the World Capital of Design 2014, and next year will be “The year of Irish design”, a year-long programme convened by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland.

Sam Russell, head of product design at NCAD, believes that “there are rich opportunities for product designers in Ireland in the realms of medical device design and user experience design.

“Ireland has well established industry bases in both of these areas and there is clear potential for product designer graduates to find roles here,” he says.

But there is a challenge common to all businesses designing new products and services. US technology investor Dave McClure, coined a maxim that sums this challenge up: “Your solution is not my problem.” He had sat through many a pitch from start-ups seeking his investment before distilling this nugget. And the idea, once grasped, is obvious: entrepreneurs often produce products that do not solve the kind of problems customers actually have. An entrepreneur pitching for investment is keen to talk up their solution, but what counts, says McClure, is that there is a genuine problem to be solved in the first place.


Designing products that solve real problems is difficult. A process called “design thinking” can help a business to shape its product to meet customer needs.

The process has five stages, and begins with the “empathy” stage during which the business goes out to research the problem among the people affected by it. Using the insights discovered by talking to people, the team can progress to the “definition” stage where it defines the problem based on real needs of potential customers rather than the entrepreneurs’ assumptions.

The third step is “ideation”. This is a free-for-all binge of idea generation, attempting to find every conceivable remedy to the problem. The focus is on quantity of ideas, rather than quality. Judgment is deferred until a later stage.

The fourth stage is “prototyping”. The team quickly produces simple mockups or prototypes of several possible products that combine ideas discovered in the “ideation” stage. These prototypes are then discussed among the team in the final stage. This final stage is “feedback”, when the judgment that has been deferred from stage three is finally given.

The best prototypes are then selected and refined for testing in the real world among prospective future users, which is a repetition of the “empathy” stage. And so the five-stage process goes, repeating again and again, until prototypes are refined into something that real world users are enthused about buying.

David Kelley is one of design thinking’s leading pioneers, and co-founded global design consultancy IDEO and the at Stanford University.

“The beauty of design thinking is that it can bring many disciplines together and gives these disciplines a roadmap to take on innovation. The, for example, draws from all of the graduate schools at Stanford. Students begin to develop a greater confidence in their ability to be creative in their area of study and some wonderful innovations are a result.”

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