How De­sign Think­ing Will Change the Face of the IT in­dus­try?

In­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ser­vice providers are in­creas­ingly work­ing on tech­nolo­gies which of­fer im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences for their end cus­tomers. In the process, they are faced with chal­lenges such as in­creas­ing com­pet­i­tive pres­sures

Dataquest - - C9ONTENTS - (The au­thor is Vice Pres­i­dent & Head, Mpha­sis NEXTLabs)

The de­sign think­ing process de­mys­ti­fies in­no­va­tion and ex­pands its scope be­yond the lone in­ven­tor par­a­digm. It places in­no­va­tive ideas within the reach of mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary groups, based on the premise that true in­no­va­tion hap­pens with a com­mon cul­ture, and then builds upon the in­ter­face be­tween dif­fer­ent opin­ions and per­spec­tives. Tim Brown de­scribes de­sign think­ing as a dis­ci­pline that uses a de­signer’s sen­si­bil­ity and meth­ods to match user needs with fea­si­ble tech­nolo­gies, while also mak­ing sound busi­ness con­sid­er­a­tions. The def­i­ni­tion has ex­panded to go be­yond ex­ist­ing prob­lems to an­tic­i­pat­ing fu­ture sce­nar­ios over sev­eral years.

How­ever, the def­i­ni­tion of de­sign think­ing has of­ten been ex­pressed in mul­ti­ple ways. What’s com­mon amongst all def­i­ni­tions is the in­tense focus on the end user’s ex­plicit and im­plicit needs, and how they can be met. De­sign think­ing is noth­ing but an end user

fo­cused col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to solv­ing prob­lems and cre­at­ing prac­ti­cal solutions. De­sign think­ing brings to­gether var­ied el­e­ments of end users, dis­parate teams, and busi­ness and tech­nol­ogy ex­perts, to com­bine them with a col­lab­o­ra­tive method­ol­ogy to build solutions and ex­plore op­por­tu­ni­ties. The de­sign think­ing cy­cle in­volves in­ter­twined states such as Un­der­stand, Ob­serve, De­fine, Ideate, Pro­to­type and Test (See Fig. 1) so the sys­tem build­ing pro­cesses un­fold as a dy­namic in­ter­play of these ac­tiv­i­ties in a non-lin­ear fash­ion.

The In­dian IT ser­vices in­dus­try is cur­rently undergoing large- scale dis­rup­tions driven by ad­vances in Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence ( AI). These dis­rup­tions are mov­ing tech­nolo­gies a step closer to nat­u­ral hu­man be­hav­ior. Mean­while, we also need a process that helps in­no­va­tive con­cepts to be more hu­man­ized. Streaming data from ma­chines, hu­man logs from de­vices, search queries, so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, multi- me­dia ex­changes, shop­ping sites, lo­ca­tion data and more, presents op­por­tu­ni­ties to an­a­lyze them and en­gage with end users in in­no­va­tive ways.

This in­volves con­nect­ing and en­gag­ing end cus­tomers while they ac­cess prod­ucts and ser­vices via mul­ti­tude of de­vices such as mo­bile, TV, sen­sors, ap­pli­ances as well as via de­liv­ery and in­ter­ac­tion chan­nels. It re­quires em­bed­ding sen­sors into the ecosys­tem and sup­ply chain for en­hanced in­sights with re­gards to hu­mans, goods, prod­ucts and ma­chines across their life-cy­cle and of­fer­ing lo­ca­tion-based ex­pe­ri­ences, ser­vices and pay­ment pro­cess­ing by lever­ag­ing bionic sen­sors and hand-held de­vices.

How­ever, most new dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies have been cre­ated by peo­ple more fas­ci­nated with the tech­nol­ogy itself rather than find­ing a con­cept that is based on hu­man needs. The tra­di­tional mod­els of soft­ware devel­op­ment teams in the IT in­dus­try have fo­cused on func­tion­al­ity com­pre­hen­sive­ness while the user ex­pe­ri­ence has been largely ne­glected. De­sign think­ing adopts a dif­fer­ent ap­proach by plac­ing hu­man be­hav­iour and needs as the start­ing point for de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness or tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tion.


Based on de­sign think­ing ex­per­i­ments, we find that most emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies work best when mixed with com­ple­men­tary tech­nolo­gies and not solely on their own. For ex­am­ple, while build­ing solutions for end user pro­fil­ing, we found the need to com­bine im­mer­sive user ex­pe­ri­ences with lo­ca­tion data, nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing, as well as streaming log an­a­lyt­ics. This is pos­si­ble across mul­ti­ple cus­tomer touch points by us­ing tech­niques such as text an­a­lyt­ics, nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing and so­cial net­work anal­y­sis.

While this presents IT providers with the op­por­tu­nity to extend the scope and im­pact of im­mer­sive user ex­pe­ri­ence tech­nolo­gies across mul­ti­ple in­ter­faces such as PC, TV, mo­bile de­vices, head mounted de­vices and re­tail kiosks, It also presents op­por­tu­ni­ties to extend, repli­cate and re­use such ex­pe­ri­ences across mul­ti­ple user screens. So­lu­tion de­vel­op­ers also need to extend ac­tiv­ity anal­y­sis to other in­dus­try user sce­nar­ios by ex­plor­ing the ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of the de­sign think­ing ap­proach. This can be com­bined with al­ter­na­tive forms of re­search de­sign and data col­lec­tion such as ethnog­ra­phy based ap­proaches, for in­stance.

In the IT in­dus­try, key stake­hold­ers in the process are – the re­quire­ments team, the devel­op­ment team, the de­sign team, as well as sam­ple re­spon­dents who

are po­ten­tial end users of the so­lu­tion. De­sign and devel­op­ment teams in the IT in­dus­try need to en­gage in phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal ethno­graphic stud­ies which may in­volve de­sign think­ing work­shops, or ground work such as vis­it­ing re­tail stores, shop­ping malls, su­per­mar­kets, bank branches, hos­pi­tals etc. End user in­ter­views and ob­ser­va­tions of peo­ple across vary­ing age, gen­der, ed­u­ca­tion level and so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus are also crit­i­cal in­puts for the next steps. This of­ten in­volves ac­com­pa­ny­ing end users and watch­ing them per­form tasks such as shop­ping for a new phone at the mall, or in­ter­act­ing with them in im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence plat­forms such as vir­tual worlds.

The ob­jec­tive here is to learn as much as pos­si­ble about how they per­formed rou­tine tasks, in­ter­acted with oth­ers and their en­vi­ron­ments, and to de­vise al­ter­na­tive ways in which they might wish to ac­com­plish these tasks. The sam­ple selec­tion needs to be as ran­dom as pos­si­ble to ob­serve end users with­out them be­ing aware. In case of ex­cep­tions, the end users can even be ob­served upon a re­quest to ig­nore the ob­server. Such sce­nar­ios also give the de­sign think­ing team a chance to ask ques­tions about what they felt dur­ing each trans­ac­tion to record per­sonal in­sights. This ex­er­cise helps the so­lu­tion build­ing teams to ar­rive at the user’s point of view and fol­low it up with in-depth ex­er­cises around ideation, pro­to­typ­ing and test­ing.


In many cases, de­ci­sion mak­ers are faced with the choice of go­ing with de­sign think­ing or not. The choice of de­sign think­ing method arises from sev­eral con­sid­er­a­tions, key amongst which are the fol­low­ing:

The need to cre­ate a new so­lu­tion for ex­ist­ing user needs, rather than im­prov­ing upon ex­ist­ing solutions to en­hance user ex­pe­ri­ences. This needs a unique start­ing point that is free from any bias.

Given the di­ver­sity of skills and ex­pe­ri­ences, the need for a process that would guar­an­tee the max­i­mum har­ness­ing of a team’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Par­tic­i­pa­tory de­sign ap­proaches in the past have not lent them­selves to any sin­gle the­ory or ap­proach.

Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, fast ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, peo­ple and places, as well as the na­ture of chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties that arise from this chang­ing global en­vi­ron­ment, all hint at solutions that may tran­scend any sin­gle area of tech­ni­cal or pro­fes­sional spe­cial­iza­tion.

While it has be­come nec­es­sary to com­bine the en­tire spec­trum of ex­pe­ri­ence from novices to ex­perts drawn from di­verse back­grounds such as en­gi­neer­ing, an­thro­pol­ogy, busi­ness and de­sign in cre­at­ing solutions for the next prod­uct, city or even work en­vi­ron­ment, we are chal­lenged with cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that sup­ports such di­ver­sity and fos­ters cre­ativ­ity. The de­sign think­ing process pro­vides just the right scheme.

Given the na­ture of de­sign think­ing where teams opt for num­bers, de­fer­ring judg­ment, build­ing on other’s ideas, shar­ing and vot­ing, it­er­a­tion and learn­ing from the user dur­ing the en­tire process, bet­ter solutions than those cur­rently em­ployed are likely to emerge.

For ex­per­i­men­tal pur­poses, to try a new process as an al­ter­na­tive to pre­vi­ously used meth­ods.


In­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ser­vice providers are in­creas­ingly work­ing on tech­nolo­gies which of­fer im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences for their end cus­tomers. In the process, they are faced with chal­lenges such as in­creas­ing com­pet­i­tive pres­sures, the need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate, ex­pand consumer reach, im­prove con­ver­sion and sus­tain cus­tomer loy­alty. The fu­ture of end user ex­pe­ri­ences in­volves com­bin­ing the phys­i­cal world with an in­ter­ac­tive, three-di­men­sional dig­i­tal and vir­tual world. The need is for solutions that blur the line be­tween what’s real and what’s com­put­er­gen­er­ated by en­hanc­ing what we see, hear and feel.

User ex­pe­ri­ences are pre­dicted to grow ex­po­nen­tially with an in­creas­ing focus on lo­ca­tion-based ser­vices across sev­eral in­dus­tries such as bank­ing, in­surance, re­tail, ed­u­ca­tion, hospi­tal­ity, health­care etc. Wide­spread adop­tion of mo­biles and the in­creas­ing adop­tion of wear­ables and sen­sors also in­creases the avail­abil­ity of de­vices with cam­era, GPS, dig­i­tal com­pass and gy­ro­scopes, as well as tilt sen­sors and mo­bile broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity.

Since im­mer­sive tech­nolo­gies in­ter­con­nect the real and vir­tual worlds, they present new chal­lenges with re­gards to con­ven­tional user in­ter­ac­tion de­sign meth­ods. Go­ing be­yond the tech­no­log­i­cal com­plex­ity of build­ing im­mer­sive sys­tems, there is a larger challenge of in­volv­ing var­i­ous sys­tem stake­hold­ers dur­ing the sys­tem de­sign process, and this is where the de­sign think­ing ap­proach has a key role to play.

Fig­ure 1. The De­sign Think­ing Cy­cle (Cour­tesy Hasso Plat­tner In­sti­tute)

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