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Functional ways Brands used Design Thinking to solve specific business problems - Part 1

Design Thinking as a term dates back to the 1987 book by Peter Rowe; “Design Thinking.” But the idea that there was a specific pattern of problem solving in “design thinking” came much earlier in Herbert A Simon’s book, “The Science of the Artificial” which was published in 1969. The concept was popularized in the early 1990s by Richard Buchanan in his article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking”.

Ralph Caplan, the design consultant, sums up the need for design thinking as;

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”

Design thinking is a process for finding solutions creatively

Design thinking has a human-centered core on its approach. It encourages organizations to focus on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes. When you sit down to create a solution for a business need, as per design thinking, the first question should always be what's the human need behind it?

In applying design thinking, you’re matching together desirable essentialities from a human point of view with technologically feasible options that is economically viable. The best part is it also allows those who aren't trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges. The process starts with taking action and understanding the right questions. It’s about embracing simple mindset shifts and tackling problems from a new perspective.

The software and services industry often think that an individual transaction is the end of an association. It shouldn’t be. Digital solutions are long term panacea for multiple problems. Iterations, experiments, observations, insights, and action drive real change to create valuable products.

Despite its growing popularity as a process, neither every agency nor every client is clear about its application in their area. Here is an example of how design thinking has been used by the following NGO to solve specific business problems:

Better Service, Faster: Simplifying the verification process of GGRC

Golden Gate Regional Centre (GGRC) is a state- and federal-funded non-profit organization serving individuals with developmental disabilities in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

It provides services and financial support for people living with disabilities. Travel, assessments, home visits, evaluations by medical professionals, and months of waiting are just some of the challenges faced by parents of children depending on assistance. Before GGRC can determine which services, if any, are best for a child, staffers conduct a thorough assessment that entails meetings with parents, home visits by social workers, and evaluations by medical professionals including speech pathologists, psychologists, and nurses. Two Stanford students, Elizabeth and Saul learned that these assessments usually take three months or more and that parents have to drag their children to a daunting series of meetings and examinations in unfamiliar new places, which distresses the children and leads many parents to abandon the process. Although GGRC’s staff often develop great empathy for individual clients, going to heroic lengths to help clients navigate the administrative maze, the system was not designed to make life easy for clients or staff members.

GGRC staff members also discovered that while they each knew their own responsibilities, they didn’t know much about what other colleagues did or how their work meshed with the overall process. No single stage felt broken from the vantage point of individual staffers. But when the complete journey was framed from intertwined perspectives of the client and all GGRC staffers, it was painfully obvious that there were big opportunities for improvement.

Elizabeth Woodson and Saul Gurdus wanted to solve this problem trying something new. They facilitated GGRC brainstorming sessions about how to improve the process. At one point, Elizabeth and Saul encouraged staffers to generate a list of absurd ideas; one GGRC leader joked that it would be nice if they could all go into the community in a Winnebago to bring GGRC services to where clients live.

Design thinking entails a bias toward action. In that spirit, Elizabeth and Saul pushed forward with the Winnebago rental.

On February 14, 2014, Stanford students Elizabeth Woodson and Saul Gurdus drove a rented Winnebago to the San Mateo office of the Golden Gate Regional Centre (GGRC), where they picked up eight curious GGRC staff members. Elizabeth and Saul pulled up in that Winnebago to invite those eight staffers to participate in an experiment. The plan was to meet with potential clients in the neighbourhoods where they live. The GGRC team would assess each family’s needs and decide if they qualified for assistance right then and there.

That day, they did nine assessments in less than two hours.

Working with Elizabeth, Saul, and a former GGRC staffer who understood both the client and staff perspective because he had an autistic child, GGRC created a detailed map of the assessment process. The group used color-coded Post-its to identify each step and the emotions that clients usually felt, starting with parents’ initial contact with GGRC and ending with the day they (finally) began to receive services. Constructing this “process map” helped GGRC staffers realize that they were not attuned to numerous, unpredictable, frustrating waiting periods.

After interviewing clients in the Winnebago that day, it took staffers another week of concentrated work at the GGRC office to finish processing the assessments and begin serving these families. But that was 10 weeks faster than usual, and they had learned valuable lessons about how they could improve the process for all clients.

Business Problem: Potential beneficiaries of the NGO scheme abandoning the detection process of their validation midway due to long and arduous nature.

Solution: Meet families of potential beneficiaries where they are, both physically and emotionally in “open houses,” held right in the communities where eligible families live.

Want to learn more about effective Design Thinking is? Check back for our next part.

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