Innovate or Die: Design Thinking Works
One of the most dramatic developments in the creation of a new product or a new service to customers is to begin with the customer and build innovation around “design thinking”.

Jeanne Liedtka, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review (October 2018) that design thinking not only works but it has shifted the paradigm for what successful innovation is in today’s world. Everyone has to recognize that all of us have biases. Neuroscientists point out we literally see the past and present based upon our own view of the world and our own experiences. Lawyers have long exploited the differences of witnesses who see the same event but having different views of what happened. If that’s the case how can all of us driven by habits and personal biases possibly contribute to designing whole new offerings for customers? The answer lies in a disciplined approach now called “design thinking”. There is a step-by-step process that has to be put in place in all team members are required to follow religiously if it’s to be successful.

Stage I: Problem Identification:
It all starts with problem identification to ascertain opportunities for innovation. That in turn requires an immersion in the customer experience otherwise known as “ethnographic research”. Companies approach this from different viewpoints but it includes not only observing customers but actually doing live videos of their experiences that are then viewed by all team members. That information is collected and becomes the springboard to new design.

Stage II: Idea Generation:
Once the discovery process and the data is collected it is presented to the design team will begins the process of identifying solutions. This requires the serious  identification of ideas and alternatives to address the challenges identified. Previous studies show the more ideas generated the better will be the results. I highly recommend the matrix be developed to prioritize ideas based upon the criteria that must be met. This matrix weights the more important criteria and assigns numerical scores. Once that’s complete the team knows where they should begin the testing phase.

Stage III: The Testing Experience:
Historically testing occurred within the halls of the company isolated from the actual potential customers and users. Design thinking has evolved and now taking a lesson from early-stage entrepreneurs on this one. They create prototypes for “minimal viable products” but then those are presented to customers for actual use and feedback; or do mockups as part of experimentation.

For example she offers the experience of Kaiser Permanente that tested new medical office buildings by actually hanging bedsheets from ceilings to mark future walls and then asked nurses and physicians to interact with patients to see if they had the design process right. Changes were made based on what they learned. These real-world experiments are critical to testing the viability of any given initiative but more importantly getting potential customers involved is the gold standard as sometimes they become the first users once the product or service once it’s rolled out.

Locally the architectural firm of Zimmerman Architectural Studios Inc. embodies this approach to serving their customers. For more than a generation they have been able to offer state-of-the-art approaches to innovation in the design of facilities supporting a variety of sectors of the economy. The key to their culture is that “design matters”. They look for and hire people who are intellectually creative and curious, and have a passion for improving people’s lives through their good work. Those employees are encouraged and empowered to interact with customers and each other to develop solutions to problems through their creative architectural designs.

Steve Raasch, the firm’s President and Director of Healthcare Planning, has put in place a commitment to a process that ensures patient input and customer feedback in every step of the design process.

As an example, they used this process to forge an integrated facility for both the Froedtert Hospital Birth Center and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Many first-of-a-kind innovations were developed and employed, all with a focus on improving patients’ lives. They came up with a shared vision that resulted in an outstanding design and architectural accomplishment across 120,000 square feet on six different floor plates. That design resulted in their winning a 2017 Center for Healthcare Design showcase award. Just a visit to their corporate offices in Milwaukee is a real treat showing how they have even changed the paradigm of what an architectural office should look like in a historic facility.

As a result they are cutting edge when it comes to architectural innovation studying. Embedding design thinking into the culture of innovation is now crucial to success in the world of product or service innovation.

Dan Steininger, President of Biz Starts; and President of Steininger & Associates LLC that helps companies drive new revenues through innovation.