Understanding customers' needs and pain points is a constant challenge for any entrepreneur and executive. What problem to solve in order to differentiate your product, attract more customers, and gain a bigger market share? Is it even possible to evaluate what product or service feature is of the most value for customers before you make it? The design thinking methodology is the clue to these questions. To help our club to get practical experience of answering this questions, we organized a master class to explore what tools and techniques of “design thinking” are useful and how to apply them in a real case.
Being a member of the Stanford LEAD alumni community, Ryan Ferguson, founder of Advanced Environmental Group (AEG) desired to validate the concept of his new product and to better understand possible market niche, he volunteered to pioneer in our workshop. You can get acquainted with Ryan’s product concept - IoT connected waste bin - on OpenIDEO Challenge. The product represents trash bin for organic waste with weight sensor and wireless communication to keep track of GHG emission reduction during compost process. Having the carbon emission trading market, AEG can turn this environmental impact into money, engaging responsible enthusiasts.
Jonathan Lupo, design team lead and VP of Experience Design at the EPAM San Francisco design studio, kindly welcomed the idea to host our first meetup. Jonathan has extensive experience in service and product design through application of Design Thinking methods for many Fortune 500 companies, for instance he had the opportunity to envision multi-channel and immersive (AR/VR) customer experiences for YouTube, Google, NBC Universal, Thomson Reuters, Sony, Forrester Research, Adobe, Liberty Global, Comcast Xfinity, and many other leading brands. So we were lucky to have such an experienced facilitator.
To set up the point of our conversation Ryan shortly described his idea and business story therefore setting up the context for further activities. During his narrative, Jonathan’s team, began capturing all adjectives and adverbs that Ryan was using in his speech. In 15 minutes the wall was covered with colorful stickers with different words. These words were the first step of design thinking journey; they reflected the intrinsic values and implicit drivers of proposed product.
After we getting the idea, the next step was the brand positioning activity, so we were challenged to find the place of company among several competitors on the market. Currently there are few companies operating on that market and finding their strongest points and business/operational model would help to properly position our product therefore gaining initial market share and showing ways to grow. Prior to the meeting, Jonathan’s team did in-depth research of players, their offerings, similarities and differences. Having picked up several products Geobin, GreenTech Life - SmartBin, CarbonFund and Terrapas, the workshop facilitator's team outlined the following dimensions for the comparison: Product vs. Service, Focus on Individual Contribution vs. Group Contribution, Budget vs. Premium, Self Service vs. Full Service/Concierge.
Even if some of those dimensions look obvious, straightforward application rarely fits in your particular case. Instead, invest your time into deeper research to reflect distinctive traits of your market, since your particular market can be more complicated with varying dimensions. Along with dimensions, competitors were put on special essential profile cards, stating brand, mission, and list of main selling points. Having made these artifacts, Jonathan proposed to form 4 groups of 5-6 people and ask each group to pick one company, review it and put it on board according to dimension that it belongs to. It took about 10-15 minutes for teams to analyze the given organization, check youtube video and read website to find the spot for any given organization. Whiteboard below clearly has distinctive clusters reflecting dense competition and empty spots - great signs of opportunity. After that Ryan placed AEG stickers on same board, highlighting how his offering is different.
Ryan's thoughts: The exercise with sticky notes was very important since it helps to conceptualize the brand values, mission and key principles based on which I can shape the product and service. It was insightful exercise, and you need to spend more time to do it.
Having articulated the design principle, we focused on practical usage in form of the customer journey map where along with actual steps on the path of customer engagement we also can think about actual implementation, driven by those principles. Everything was on the way to culmination of this unusual evening. Development of elaborated and well thought user journey could take days, so on the workshop, we strived to show how chosen core values play their part in the game of refining user journey or how they make the team to think and rethink approach to implementation before fully invest the effort to implementation. To run this practice Jonathan and Ryan prepared the description of personas, portraits of people with the detailed explanation of their personality, habits, age, social status, etc.
Here is one of them George.
Along with personas, the team prepared the board with templated steps of an user journey (columns): Excite, Onboard, Use, Reward, and Recommend. Surprisingly though, the user journey starts neither from product or service usage nor even with first contact with customer: it begins from the "excite" phase, when the customer realizes the problem and starts looking for a solution, and this is the exact time when successful business engages with customer indirectly, pointing to the direction where answer lies.
Split by 3 teams of 6-7 people, we started thinking about a journey for particular persona. Going steps by steps, we started filling the template. The first row was “How might we...” with the list of questions we must answer for this particular person. For instance, on the Excite step, one team - working on George case - placed following challenges: “how might we reach George even if he is not technically savvy?" and “how might we prove to George that there is some value for him?” etc. Each persona has its unique challenges along the journey steps.
Having outlined challenges for personas, we proceed with specification of essential activities and product features to be addressed by AEG and its product. Challenges, identified earlier, shaped our thinking process, and we started to see what areas needed more focused attention, what features were crucial for this particular customer and what AEG as a company should keep doing in order to have the user engaged. At the end of the exercise, we found that almost all personas needed different product features and support activities to ensure their engagement with AEG! It was unexpected insight.
Ryan’s takeaways from workshop are the best conclusion of our joint effort:
Was very insightful - now I see that price, material and size are critical attributes of product and ease of use and simple interface are of utmost importance to involve potential customers
Reality check shows me that I need to think about alternative materials for my product to emphasize ecology oriented nature of my product. Partnering with restaurants, for instance, or other companies and maybe do a joint initiative/ cross marketing is possible way to do it.
I started looking more critically at the logic of business model, customers I serve and their different needs - seems that form factor is very important. I would like to think about different sizes/colors/ shapes of my product.
We highly appreciate the contribution and support of our team to make the very first blog post published.
Rimma Klokova thank you for photos, media, and content.
Evgeny Fedotov thank you for being our editor.
Misha Bykov thank you for content.
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