Fred Beecher, The Nerdery’s Director of User Experience and Design, talks about design thinking focused on business outcomes with Nerdery CEO Tom O’Neill.
O’Neill: For business leaders who think design is just pretty pictures and colors, how does design go beyond aesthetics?
Beecher: Designers don’t just make things beautiful; designers solve human problems. While the aesthetic component of design is a critical component of these solutions, there’s a lot more. By uncovering unknown problems, identifying unsolved problems and finding opportunities to make people happy, designers can lead an organization’s innovation efforts and help point the way toward business success.
O’Neill: Regardless of their industry, how would you advise a business leader wondering why their competitors are hiring designers? Why should they?
Beecher: A human-centered designer isn’t out to create the next great piece of art; we’re in this to make someone’s life better. We sign up for impact and pursue outcomes. By uncovering unknown needs and involving customers in the process of developing a solution to these needs, we ensure that the businesses we work for are solving the right problems in the right way.
O’Neill: Some companies just don’t want to bother their audiences. Play devil’s advocate to a business leader who dismisses user research with, “No worries, I know my customers.”
Beecher: Sometimes we need to get creative. After facing that resistance from one client, I talked with a colleague’s personal friends who were in a similar business as the target audience. After a few 15 minute conversations, I went to the client with a few key insights and received approval to do a full user research engagement. Many companies think they know their customers, but if they never actually observe their customers, they really don’t. You can always expect people to do the unexpected.
O’Neill: You have to admit, though – this sounds like lots of trial and error.
Beecher: Absolutely. Designers know that their designs are not perfect, even when based on research. So we reach out to the target audience to identify where that imperfection lies. We want to fail fast, try something else, iterate. You can even use this process to run a business, which is called “Design Thinking.” Empathize. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test. (EDIPT for short) If you run a business by these principles, you drastically decrease your risk of big failures and increase your chance for success!
O’Neill: Let’s say a client is only focused on a business outcome. From the start, forget features. How do designers stay focused on that business outcome instead of a feature set?
Beecher: A recent example is our client, Valspar. We helped Valspar design a better way to help their clients pick paint colors and pick Valspar’s brand before even walking into a store. Valspar clearly articulated their business goal: win the chip rack war. Now, Valspar is poised to disrupt the consumer paint industry with AskVal.com’s Color Help tool. However, we had to move really fast and that’s actually great when you’re focused on outcomes rather than feature sets. Designers thrive when you put up a goal and say “hit that.” Valspar knew the business outcomes they had to accomplish, but they looked to us to drive key design choices in facilitating the conversation between paint shoppers and color consultants. Our user research uncovered many facets of this conversation to ensure needs of both sides would be met.
O’Neill: How did you validate your design team stayed aligned on outcomes consistent with Valspar’s business goals?
Beecher: Many ways. For customers, we did paper prototyping here with our Nerds. Most times that doesn’t work, but we’re a valid test audience – people with homes who want to paint them. We observed color consultants to understand how they created color palettes for customers. Then, we sketched out a representation of how they’d do that with a digital tool. We showed it to the consultants and they told us what we got right, what we got wrong and we figured out how to fix it.
O’Neill: So you’re saying that design can be about having a lot of ideas … that don’t work. And that’s a good situation?
Beecher: Exactly. Getting things wrong in a controlled and planful way is a critical part of the design process. What’s difficult is when the how and what of a project are etched in stone from the beginning. That cripples the design process; it leaves no room for innovation. What we really need is the why. Give us your goal and the constraints we need to operate within and we’ll achieve your goal by helping your customers achieve theirs.