TinkerLabs' co-founder Kunal Gupta writes about how Smart Experiments are the way forward to bring about constructive change through Design Thinking concepts in todays dynamic and ambiguous world.
Failure is innovation's evil twin, and smart experiments may be the magic wand!
So, in the design innovation world (is there really a place like that!), there was first massive euphoria about the Empathize-Define-Ideate-Prototype-Test model. It stuck on for quite some time. It prompted some to align more closely with real needs of end users, some others latched on to the making aspect of it which showed up in the mushrooming maker culture, while some simply gained from it a basic structure to creative problem solving.
Great! With time however, there emerged counter voices too. Some started calling design thinking old-wine-in-new-bottle, while some found it too simplistic and its advocates overtly optimistic. And so the story goes on. Meanwhile, four years into the so called design thinking space, the basic five step framework still gives me broad guidelines for my work, and keeps throwing enough questions at me to answer. One of these questions is when and how, where all and how much, to involve the end user in the design process.
On the face of it, the framework seems to suggest we should do it upfront in the Empathize phase, and once again towards the end in the Test phase. What we have to come to realize about design driven innovation, however, is that the user is best kept involved through out. Why? Because, while failure is inevitable in an attempt to innovate, we do want to minimize it. Avoid it when it's avoidable, or else prepone it as much as possible. And given that the most common reason why new ideas fail is a mismatch between solutions and users' expectations, it is only wise to keep the boss (user) involved!
To that end, we speak to, observe, and engage with, the user in the Empathize phase; primarily to build a clear understanding of the user's personality, her environment, her needs and aspirations.
When we get to the define phase, we do not just craft the How-Might-We or Point-of-View statements, we storyboard the user's problem scenarios, share them with the user to check if we are 'telling their current story right'.
When we ideate, we try to distance ourselves from the user for a while. Well, we need to disconnect from reality to re-imagine the reality. But we soon hit the ground again, as we begin to storyboard the solution scenarios. This is simply our imagination made more tangible for users to understand, relate with, and (most importantly) react to!
I have personally grown most fond of listening to users in this phase. And we don't simply ask them for opinions, we simulate for them the end experience that a new idea is proposed to deliver, and get them to react. These reactions are gold mines, as they guide our next steps. See, while I love design and have a fancy for innovation, I am a businessman. I like to know where to set foot and where not to.
A storyboard (or pretotype as Alberto Savoia calls it) helps us do just that. It is an experiment that helps us validate our hypothesis (or nullify, which is even better!). It helps us fine tune our solution approach to make it more meaningful to the user. It helps us be a little safer (and saner) in this game of innovation.
At TinkerLabs, we believe setting up such smart experiments is the best way to learn and move forward. To beat the inherent ambiguity in the current 'VUCA' environment. Are you sitting on some insights, some ideas, but not sure which will work? Are you confused why some recent attempts at user experience or innovation did not pan out the way you expected them to? You need experiments! Let us talk.