I’ve worked at multiple agencies before switching to an in-house design job. Working at those agencies I was surrounded by a large pack of seasoned designers. Delivering great design was the primary craft we delivered as an agency. It was our reason to exist.
At the time we made a fool out of the design thinking revolution. We felt it was overrated, it was nothing new. We didn’t understand why product managers talked about design thinking on conferences like it was magic. Ridiculous, we’ve been doing this for ages, this is what we’ve always done!
I thought it was nonsense.
Making things pretty
When I started at the Jumbo Tech Campus, design was only focused on creating a user-interface for our e-commerce platforms. Product owners described our requirements and we designed the user-interface. To put it plainly: the business defines the strategy and design makes it look pretty.
Design is so much more than just making things pretty. I struggled with the fact that this is how our business was seeing and using us. I felt the need to explain that our design tools and methods can drive innovation strategies and business viability in their projects. People with a background in design can probably relate to this.
But how do you convince colleagues to use design when they don’t (fully) understand what it can do for them?
I needed to sell design.
Adjust the angle
The challenge is to reach a shared understanding of what design can do for the business. I needed to speak their language. This reminded me about the product managers speaking at conferences talking about design thinking like it was magic. That’s the enthusiasm that I needed.
While first having the dilemma that I believed design thinking was nonsense I decided to let go of that (arrogant) mindset. I discussed the topic with colleagues and design leaders and tried to understand why design thinking seemed to work with product managers. And I got it.
The term ‘Design’ has an artistic vibe. It feels like it’s about colour, shape and style. Telling product managers that they need design involvement often results in a mismatch. That’s often not what their challenge is about.
Instead, design thinking is focused on process. A process to solve complex business challenges. This definition is a lot more specific and easier to understand for stakeholders no matter what their background is.
In order to sell what design can do for your organisation, you need to understand the point of view of your stakeholders you're trying to sell design to.
How to sell design thinking
Some practical tips that can help you when spreading design thinking in your organisation.
Have a lot of introduction meetings with product managers (or other strategic decision-makers in your organisation ). At first, this made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like a salesman selling cars.
After a few meetings, I started to see these chats as a way to empathize with product managers to learn more about the challenges they faced, what’s important to them and what they’re trying to achieve.
Use words that your stakeholders can relate to
If terminologies like a design or discovery sprints are unknown to your stakeholders, look for other ways to describe these activities. If you’re talking with product owners you can refer to this as a spike or a sprint-zero on the teams’ backlog. If you’re talking with stakeholders with a technical background you could refer to it as setting up the architecture of a product.
Be flexible about the process
Design thinking is very specific in describing what steps to follow. This can be a big investment for stakeholders that have never experienced such a process. Think about what steps are critical for success and what steps can be reduced or skipped. Try to make the investment from your stakeholders perspective as small as possible. Forget your idealistic design process. Be flexible.
Build a track record
If you completed your first design thinking activity, make a case study. Create a video or write an article about the challenge, the process and the result. Don’t forget to mention who you involved. It’s perfect if they can tell the story for you. It’s their business achievement, your job is to facilitate the process.
Do a roadshow
With your first case study, you can reach out to your relationships and show them what’s been achieved. This makes it easier for your stakeholders to trust this process since it worked for others in your company.
Develop a training program and create a toolkit
In this stage, you have successes and you have to think about embedding design thinking in your organisation. If you’re part of a bigger organisation, like me, you can’t be the only one facilitating these activities. You’ll become a bottleneck.
To solve this issue, start to create a toolkit with practical guides on how to e.g. conduct interviews, create customer journey maps or develop prototypes. Next to that, set up a training program where colleagues can experience the design thinking tools and methods. Think about the setup of your training based on the experience and interests of your audience.
Is it magic?
The past months we’ve focused on spreading design thinking across our organisation. We’re starting to create an impact by discovering viable business opportunities and strategies. We’re not there yet but we are making progress.
I hope this article can help you with your journey to spread what design can do for your organisation.
Reflecting on my time working at design agencies I’ve transformed from being a sceptic (arrogant) designer into someone that is able to look at things from a different point of view other than my own. This enabled me to move forward in involving design in strategic decision making.
Maybe there’s magic in design thinking after all…
Thank you Thijs Kuin for taking this journey together at Jumbo.