Much has been written about “Design Thinking” ala Standford D School and IDEO’s methodology. In a nutshell it can break down to something like this:

1. Empathy for the user

• Talking to the customers and listening to what they say, how they feel and what their motivations are.

2. Divergent and Convergent Ideation

• Basically brainstorming a ton of ideas that address the needs of the customer (divergent) and then settling on a select few to advance forward (convergent).

3. Iterate

• Build and prototype a range of solutions and test with customers early and frequently.

The real challenge is actually implementing this methodology in a real-world situation. It’s relatively easy to do a workshop and engage employees for a day but once they go back to their desks, it rapidly becomes business-as-usual. There are always more tactical issues to deal with, fires to put out and major pressing company priorities.

To be clear, I do believe in the design thinking methodology but I believe it requires a few things to be in place before it can become effective. Based on my twenty plus years as a designer and creative director, I’ve come across a few principles that have worked for me.

Culture is key
There is no innovation without culture. Without fail, those companies I’ve been involved with that have strong creative culture have had extraordinary brands and attracted the best and brightest. It’s a virtuous cycle – as great attracts great. Humans are attracted to authenticity, both internally as employees and as consumers of a product. It comes from the top down. The CEO has to embody the ethos of the company values or it doesn’t work. Witness the massive success of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Brian Chesky of Airbnb.

Design as co-pilot
Design has to be at the table with product development or marketing at the start. It can’t be an afterthought. There’s a strong tendency towards a throw-it-over-the-wall mentality in the following order: technology to product to design at the end to “make it pretty.” This is an old school mentality and it is heartening to see younger, newer ventures implementing a more collaborative approach to creating. Again this ties into corporate culture as stated above.

Brutal honesty
It’s important to have pride in your company and product but you need to be relentlessly honest about its experience. Being in a bad company that you get used to is tantamount to being in a bad relationship – you often don’t realize how bad it is until you’ve gotten out and started a new relationship. How does your company’s culture and offering compare to the competition? Go outside. What does the landscape really look like and how do you and your company compare?

Design can be a powerful force for incredible products, offerings and marketing in a company or it can be cheap lamination. In the end people know the difference – design is a through-line that runs from the internal principles and values of a company out to the end result, the product, that touches the customer. And that is the power of design. To authentically connect people to people, people to products and people to brands.

John S. Couch
VP of UX at Hulu
Los Angeles xCHANGE – Keynote Speaker