If design thinking is so powerful, why do businesses still fail at it?

Insights to improve your business performance

Thriving in the digital world is as much about people as it is about technology. Professionals from KPMG’s Digital and Mobile Solutions (DMS) are leveraging human-centric design to help their clients and users meet the complex challenges ahead. In the first of a series of five articles on the future of business in the digital world, David Glenn, Director explains KPMG’s Design Thinking approach. 

As many businesses have discovered, Design Thinking isn’t a magic wand that makes enterprise-wide transformation succeed. When businesses are confronted by complex challenges with multiple possible solutions, Design Thinking can be immensely helpful. It can define the right problem to solve, and create purposeful solution that solves those challenges, meets users’ needs and encourages adoption. But Design Thinking needs to be deployed by experienced hands to ensure that the user perspective is considered from the very beginning and remains the focal point of the solution.

The Design Thinking framework encourages a fully human-centric approach. Users – who might be consumers or employees – are the subjects of observation and intensive questioning. Being integrated members of the team, they provide inspiration and insights for meaningful change, helping to define the problem and ultimately solve it. A cross-functional and cross-discipline approach is welcomed, as true Design Thinking values diverse approaches, nurtures a range of possible solutions and is always alert to new opportunities.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a designer to think like one. Design Thinking is not about visual design, rather it’s about user experience design. It starts with identifying areas for innovation and generating fresh ideas. Fundamentally, however, it means designing an experience that ensures meaningful human interaction with a technology, process, or service. A good user experience will meet or exceed the expressed, implied, and observed needs of the user. It’s vital to create a seamless merging between digital and physical processes, as well as cohesive follow-through and support.

But if transformation is as simple as implementing this approach, why aren’t more businesses reporting success?

Businesses fail in Design Thinking when they view problems through the wrong lens. This might be organizational, technological, or data driven. Instead, they need to adapt to a more unfamiliar mindset that starts with empathy for the user and combines those insights with what’s technologically feasible and economically viable. It is people and their experiences that drive business change. But, all too often, businesses rely on data as the key input. Often, they believe that a problem lies with a piece of equipment, code that makes up software, the mix of features or a system or process, without thinking about who is operating, managing and using those tools. By taking a human-centric approach, businesses can minimize the uncertainty and risk that innovation often brings. Design Thinking is just a buzz-word unless it’s used as a way of focusing on the right problem first and delivering meaningful, highly functional solutions supported by traditional business metrics.

Another reason business transformation can fail is because various parts of an organization are not working together cohesively. It takes strong and open collaboration to identify the cause of a problem and develop a successful solution. With contradictory motivations and agendas at play, this can sometimes prove to be impossible. Design Thinking eradicates this problem by providing everyone involved with a shared framework through which to communicate. With a common language, understood path to move forward and an agreed upon business goal, design and technology requirements can be aligned much more easily.

Successful innovation and transformation will only work when businesses have company-wide buy-in on putting users first. That means considering different perspectives on the same user and business issues. When everyone can think, and talk in the same terms – and keep their focus on the end user – problems are more easily addressed and meaningful change is achieved. In this kind of context, Design Thinking is doing its job.