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Leveraging Communities to Implement Design Thinking

Ray Poynter
July 28, 2021
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The hottest topic in the creation of new products is Design Thinking, as popularised by companies like IDEO and design gurus like Don Norman. Design Thinking is a human-centred way of matching innovation to people’s real needs. A key aspect of Design Thinking is a multidisciplinary approach that connects human needs with product feasibility and with financial viability.

The Double-Diamond – and its focus on people

One of the best ways of representing Design Thinking is via the Design Council’s Double-Diamond – which links together Discover (what are the problems that people face), Define (what needs solving), Develop (what would solve the problems) and Deliver (what is the solution).

Putting the ‘Human’ in Human-centred Design

The key principle of Design Thinking is that it is human-centred, which means putting the human at the centre of the process. This needs to happen at every phase:

Discover – focus on people, look at their ‘lived experience’. Don’t assume you know what the problem is, don’t just ask people what they want, explore the root causes of why there is a need or problem. This is a divergent process – the possible causes and descriptions of the underlying problem should grow and expand at this stage.

Define – from the research, observations and analysis in the Discover stage, narrow the issues down to get to the real, underlying problem – checking your assumptions with real people before progressing further.

Develop – explore the possible range of solutions, drawing on the insights of designers, engineers, marketers and crowdsourcing from customers and users.

Deliver – use iterative and agile research to converge on the right solution – often employing the test/build/lean approach popularised by Eric Ries.

Communities and Design Thinking

Designers want and need to connect with users and customers at all stages of the process, particularly when defining the problem and creating the optimal solution. However, the needs of the design team can be exacting; they need the right people, they need them quickly, and they need to be able to work iteratively – as in ‘less research, more often’. Communities offer this because:

• Community members are invested in the brand – they want to help.

• The deep profiling of members means the right people can be selected to take part.

• The ‘always on’ nature of communities means that research can be organised quickly.

• The longitudinal nature of communities means that designers can go back to the same community members to test revisions and alternatives.

• The low marginal cost of using a community avoids putting obstacles in the way of working with customers.

Examples of leveraging communities for Design Thinking

• Speed – talking about research at Nestlé, Ysaline Lannoy describes how projects can go from design to report in 4 to 5 days using their Potentiate community – read more here.

• Focus – talking about Australian insurance giant IAG, Sarah Dixey says “I consistently get really good feedback about how engaged they are, compared to using other sources.” – when talking about customers recruited from their Potentiate community to take part in design-related qual research – read more here.

• Empathy – Samsung used its Verve community to dig deeper into how Samsung fits into people’s lives – read more here (Anna Williams, presenting at NewMR 2020).

Five Key Principles for Leveraging Research in Design Thinking

Here are five key steps that you need to follow to utilise communities in Design Thinking situations:

1. Design Thinking is human-centric, so include customers/users at every stage – remembering that ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.

2. Use the Double-Diamond approach, which means being Divergent before Converging – twice.

3. Do less research, more often – test your thinking and ideas quickly, refine them and test again.

4. Use customers and users who have skin in the game, people who want to help improve the product or service – not random strangers (or work colleagues).

5. Remember design is not a research project, it is a design project. Research helps the design team create their project in a human-centric way.

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