Design thinking is a concept most design firms don’t understand well enough to fully leverage to their advantage. It refers to “design” as to how a product is produced, not just how it looks. Therefore, designers should create a process where the consumer’s needs inform how the product is designed.

This may sound simple, but design firms who leverage the full power of design thinking can achieve a complex objective: to create a better product that’s easier to use and makes an emotional connection with its target audience.

Leading companies like Apple, Netflix, and Tesla have used design thinking to their great advantage by making three paradigm shifts in their design process.

1. Shift from siloed specialization to interdisciplinary teams.

Whether a company is developing a new home appliance, a medical device or a personal finance service, physical, digital and service designs are combining.

In a global economy and an era of the Internet of Things, these distinctions are increasingly blending and blurring in the eyes of customers. Companies that shift their focus from siloed “specialization” to cross-trained design teams have been the ablest to think outside the narrow box of “expertise.”

For example, companies that assemble international design teams composed of members with highly diverse cultural backgrounds, divergent professional skills, and seemingly unrelated personal interests are much more likely to generate innovative designs than companies that insist on maintaining department divisions that limit cross-fertilization and stifle creativity.

2. Shift from seeing design as a step in the process to seeing it as an ongoing part of the process.

Design shouldn’t be a stage but an end-to-end iterative process in product development. Concepting, logistics, execution, launch, support – design should part of it all.

Don’t be afraid to use the “toggle” approach when working with your designers. For example, stereo system architects create two product specifications. The first outlines basic functionality considerations, like size and output capacity. The second specification for “bells and whistles” allows designers to incorporate customer feedback and technological advances through iterative prototyping. Vehicle manufacturers are beginning to take this approach by analyzing driver data and remotely updating a vehicle’s software after the vehicle has been sold as informed by driver data.

3. Shift from applying design thinking to products consumers want to applying design thinking to metrics that determine consumer demand

This one’s a game-changer. Apply design thinking to your company’s business model, operations and culture to gain commercial success. Successful companies design with a deep understanding of their customer, and they gain that information through metrics for qualitative and quantitative variables that inform product development and design metrics. This helps them measure and calibrate design at every development phase.

Example: One company created design metrics that used weighted measures for specific product features. This allowed the design team to create the product over time, using hard data to inform each round of development. That data revealed what features customers cared about most and made it easier to design the product accordingly.

Perhaps most tellingly, the idea for what turned out to be the most popular feature didn’t come from the design team but rather from the conjoint analysis surveys — a testament to design thinking’s understanding that the active role of the customer in the design process is indispensable.

If you’re ready to make a paradigm shift in your operations or are trying to bring a product to either an international or domestic market, we can help. At Pivot, we have a track record of over forty years of expert experience in partnering with manufacturers to optimize their operations, and with businesses to help them successfully launch new products. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.