From ‘lean’ methods and ‘agile’ innovation to design thinking and customer development, a number of useful tools are emerging for startups and innovators. Design thinking is a human-centered approach towards problem solving and product generation which is driven by creativity, customer empathy and iterative learning.
Based on research, case studies and workshops conducted in this field, the following research suggested the ‘8 Is’ of design thinking for startups: intent, insights, immersion, interaction, ideation, integration, iteration and intensification.
Intent to launch a new product or service is driven by the awareness that something profound has changed, inspiration to do something new, or a hunch that the market needs a new kind of offering. This can be due to personal motivation, an external problem to solve, or a resolution to make some dream come true. This desire can create a vision and mission for a founder or a strategic conversation in a larger firm.
The next step consists of primary and secondary research to gather more intelligence about the domain, ecosystem and potential customers. Interviews with experts and trend reports from market research firms help set the broader context. Personal anecdotes and even notable travel experiences are useful here to frame and re-frame the issues.
Inspired by ethnographic and anthropological research (customer/user journey mapping, etc), this step consists of suspending judgement and taking a ‘deep dive’ into the customer environment. Immersion can help discover blind spots and get past prior bias, and converts hunches into informed guesses.
With specific objectives as well as empathy in mind, this step now consists of dialogue and interviews between the startup team and potential customers. The key aim is to test and validate assumptions about current and unarticulated user needs in a specific problem area.
Brainstorming sessions now commence about what approaches and products may work or how existing products can be modified, with divergence (accumulating a wide range of ideas, including wacky and crazy ones) and convergence (whittling the list down to more feasible options). Clustering techniques, storyboards, provocative ideation, role play, visualisation and creative documentation are useful techniques in this step. More interaction (previous step) may also be needed here to flesh out ideas in detail. Product components and features will be conceptualised in this stage, possibly with multiple versions.
Multi-disciplinary perspectives are now brought in at this stage, with inputs from development, design, marketing and competitive intelligence perspectives. These feed into the creation of a series of prototypes, demos, mock-ups or virtual renditions, to be tested in parallel with different user groups.
Ideas, assumptions and actual prototypes are now subject to systematic iterative testing. It may be necessary to recast the original intent and even gather more market insights at this stage; further immersion may again be needed to see why the use case scenario perhaps did not work out as anticipated. Failures or mistakes here should be cast more as assumptions which have been invalidated, and development paths or features can be ruled out. Feedback loops should be short, and pace of testing should be fast to weed out unwanted options. Experimentation can lead to pivots if major changes are needed, in which case the original intent may need to be modified.
Only at this stage are you ready for a full launch of the first minimum viable product or service, with subsequent marketing plans and customer support once the final product is ready. You will now some have clues for what the product roadmap may look like, what adjacent or new products can be planned in different scenarios, and how you can differentiate from and outpace the competition. But these too will need to go back into the loop of the ‘8 Is’ above.
Madanmohan Rao is research director at YourStory Medi and editor of five book series (http://amzn.to/NpHAoE). His interests include creativity, innovation, knowledge management, and digital media. Madan is also a DJ and writer on world music and jazz. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao
Useful resources for further engagement with the field include:
- ‘101 Design Methods’ by Vijay Kumar
- ‘Eight Steps to Innovation’ by Rishikesha Krishan and Vinay Dabolkar
- Design methods of the Stanford d.School, design toolkits of IDEO and collective action toolkit of Frog Design.