Is Grand Human-centered Design the secret recipe of WeChat’s success?
There is a need to differentiate Design Philosophies and Design Leadership Philosophies. Both are closely intertwined, but a better understanding of their distinctions are important in empowering Digital Transformation. Once we understand them better, it will be easier for us to pick and choose the best strategy for our product design and development.
The Kind of Creative Thinking that Fueled WeChat’s Success is a good example of how distorted and fragmented our understanding of Human-centered Design and Grand Design is.
Grand Design works well for visionaries such as Steve Jobs’ iPhone, or probably Allen Zhang’s WeChat. The chance of success is one in a million or less. Can you afford that chance when you are developing a new product?
When you are a start-up company with limited funding and time, this is an extremely risky model of innovation. Use it at your own risk, and conduct your due diligence before embarking on it.
Is Grand Design a sustainable innovation? No, it’s not. Look what happened to outdated Masaru Ibuka’s Sony Walkman. Look at what happens to iPhone’s declining sales, and a rumour of reverting to its old-size iPhone 7 model.
iPhone may survive its initial vision due to Apple’s embracing human-centred design. The question is, are they still doing it right? Many have questioned or argued what Apple has done in the last several years.
Is Human-centered Design better than Grand Design?
Design thinking works well in established and mature markets where user needs are properly understood and innovation tends to be incremental (Birkinshaw et al. 2019)
Does Design Thinking really work well with above-mentioned premises as claimed? I beg to differ.
Aside from the well-documented case studies in the literature, I can testify tens of case studies in emerging economies where Human-centred Design, including Design Thinking works well in emerging markets with huge black holes of uncertainties of user needs with leapy innovation.
This is actually the beauty of Human-centred Design, i.e. Market Agnosticism: Understand your users. Your users care less whether your product or service is in an established and mature market, or in a emerging market. Your users care less whether your innovation is incremental or leapy. What the users care is whether your product or service “cares” about them.
Dark Human-centered Design
Have I seen Design Thinking or Design Sprint abused? Yes, I have.
As an example, several months ago I stumbled upon an opportunity to facilitate a Design Sprint for a multi-national company. When I found out that the Design Sprint was only a means to justify corporate politics, I politely declined to participate in corporate politics impacting millions of users.
When the product was launched, the CEO shared a touching short video illustrating how the new product is used. It was a great publicity stunt for a low-impact and low-risk product with an enormous financial cost.
I wish them the best, but this is sadly an example of a Grand Design with a flavour of abused Human-centered Design in real-life. Is it sustainable? Only time will tell.
Human-centered Design supports the increasing chance of successful and sustainable innovation. One critical requirement is that one conducts the innovation process with the right vision and clear goals.
The authors of the article Kind of Creative Thinking that Fueled WeChat’s Success inadvertently outline UX principles enforced by a product authority, i.e simplicity, ease-of-use, listen to users with 10/100/1000 principle. In short, the article has more to do with Design Leadership, rather than contrasting Grand Design with Human-centred Design or Design Thinking.
The example of WeChat’s rise due to 4G should teach us a lesson how we should leverage 5G in emerging economies, and it is certainly not a free dial-up service to access voice-enabled artificial intelligence.