The Idea EnthusiastThe Idea Enthusiast

Tag : design thinking

By Greg Roth

Design thinking comes to banking and credit unions

If you are at a company or in a field where design thinking hasn’t been welcomed, here is a piece targeted at the financial sector — specifically banks and credit unions — that serves as a good introduction.

Before diving into what design-inspired creative problem solving is, the article looks at the central struggle for these institutions:

Design thinking revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people for whom you’re designing products and services. It helps you observe and develop empathy with the target user.

This is the reverse of how banks and credit unions traditionally design products and services. Instead of focusing on the consumer experience, financial institutions tend to develop products to meet their own internal processes and operational efficiencies. They then tend to put a pretty wrapper on the product and call it a day.

Financial institutions then wonder then why so many consumers get frustrated — e.g., they abandon the online account opening half-way through the process. The online account opening doesn’t meet the user’s need or address their problem; they want to open an account without having to go to a branch. Design thinking, in theory, would solve that problem.

The post then goes on to talk about IDEO’s model, although, thankfully, first clarifies that design thinking is not a new phenomenon (it’s been around since the 1960s). It is, however, widely misunderstood, difficult to grasp, and the product of an entirely different school of thinking outside most information economy jobs. Surprise, folks who have never been exposed to design program aren’t that well-equipped to start thinking like a designer, no matter how much we tell them that’s who they are.

But, you have to start somewhere. I believe it starts with knowing how to talk about ideas that are still works-in-process.: the power of critique.


By Greg Roth

The rise of the executive “design professional”

We often think of CEOs as a certain ilk, mostly steeped in “non-creative” pursuits like finance, operations, administration, or marketing. But a recent story on CNBC namechecks some bosses with design backgrounds, including Jim Hackett, the new head of Ford and first designer to lead “big auto”. That’s fairly remarkable, when you think about it. Design backgrounds learn the art of subjectivity and exploration in their thinking — a stark contrast to the spreadsheets and quarterly reports of many C-Suiters.

It’s not entirely new phenomenon: Nike’s CEO has a design background and moved into the top seat in 2006. Many notable Fortune 500 companies use some form of design-influenced leadership these days. The difference is, it causes a shift to how teams, especially the product development teams, are expected to solve problems:

designers are problem-solvers, and they are constantly taking in their surroundings. “There’s a lot of observation, listening and research as you are developing products and solutions. … They are more likely to be supportive of innovative efforts, no matter where they come from or who they come from,” she said.

It’s a serious “soft skill” to want to find the “truth” without caring about its’ origin or ownership. Moving in that direction is difficult, as a VP at Whirlpool found out on his first project after joining the company:

When his design team had decided to try a charcoal black interior in their Jenn-Air refrigerator model, the marketing and engineering departments originally said it would be a waste of money — no one would want black.

“The mistake I made was telling people what we were doing,” he said. “Sometimes design just needs to do something we believe in, build it, then bring in people to see it.

After the design team built a prototype, the engineering and marketing teams approved it and the product sold well.

“That started to help us have a little bit of momentum as a design organization, and people began to believe in us a little bit,” said Schiavone. “The next time we came up with something we wanted to show, it was a little easier. … As things started to sell better, we earned that right to be at the table.”

Not much different than sports teams. Small wins pave the way for more wins.

Intuit, who produces TurboTax (everyone getting psched to do their taxes right about now), is even more aggressive:

Soon after being hired, Walecki put 500 people from the TurboTax team onto buses to go across different segments of San Diego and talk to people. They gave out Starbucks gift cards and asked people what was important to them. The very last question was about how people were paying their taxes. Intuit discovered it had “fallen in love with [its] own solution” more than consumers, who expressed a preference for software different from the one the company had been making.

Long before design thinking became a buzzword, Intuit co-founder Scott Cook would wait for people to purchase the software off the shelf in a store. Then he asked customers if he could go home with them as they installed it so he could learn which parts of the process were too complicated and needed correction.

Not sure what I’d do if a senior exec at a major corporation would ask to drop by my place for a software party, but it would probably not being able to use said software in the first place. Hope he or she like saisons and holiday ales.

Finally, and the reason why this is more than a story about corporate executives, is that, like all processes that gain buzz status, teams and orgs that use design thinking need to understand it’s uses and misuses:

Jen argues that design thinking is too often made to fit into a step-by-step diagram for fields outside of design. There is no specified outcome, and criticism is eliminated from the process. Iconic designers like Charles and Ray Eames defined the needs and constraints of all of their projects before they began designing. Steve Jobs used intuition in his way of design thinking as he focused on people’s desires and needs.

Design thinking isn’t linear, Jen said. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, it shouldn’t be a list of steps, and it does require evidence.

Trash the checklists. You have to learn how to experiment, how to be OK with not knowing the answer (yet), and how to talk through ideas and decisions in the middle stages.

As more companies — big and small — have senior leaders who understand how “designing” works, chances are workplaces will be more receptive to different modes of thinking.

By Greg Roth

Collaboration and the Alchemy of Individuals

Team collaboration is a hot topic in business and leadership circles, for obvious reason. It’s the foundation of “workplace culture”, a sometimes ambiguous yet very real aspect of our professional lives. We can’t always define what culture is, but we know it when we see it. We feel it, good or bad. Even if it’s hard to measure or pin down, it’s there, everyday. Some organizations even hire someone to be in charge of it.

But, it’s not just for knowledge workers in cubicles or at tables in open office environments. Teams exist in every industry, and creative work, in all its forms, is a constant exercise in negotiation, both with new ideas and with the people all around those ideas. It’s an imperfect art getting a collection of individuals to bring their unique perspective and skill to a project, yet function, in some way, collectively as a coordinated, intentional entity.

Take, for example, rock bands.

Tucked away at the end of this American Songwriter profile of The National is a look into their creative process and how they attempt to engage and involve all five members of the band in creative dialogue. (Emphasis is mine).

With the National back in the studio together in Hudson without any immediate deadlines or time crunches, the band was able to experiment and create more freely, and more collaboratively, than they had in years.

Devendorf characterizes the band’s recording sessions as opportunities for each member of the band, “a five-headed monster,” as he puts it, to constantly give each other feedback and advice.

“There will be times when I think I’ve messed up a whole section on the drums and think it’s terrible, and Aaron will say, ‘That’s the best thing you’ve done on the whole record,’” says Bryan. “The band helps me see what’s working. Otherwise, I would just try to make things too complex.”

For their most recent sessions, Berninger introduced a few gags to help lighten the mood and foster directness. He instilled “Honesty Hour,” when the band would give unfiltered opinions about each other’s creative ideas. He also embroidered a knit cap with the word “Producer,” and whoever wore the literal “Producer’s Hat” would get to make production decisions at that moment. “Matt wore it a lot,” says Scott Devendorf. Indeed, Sleep Well Beast marks the first time Berninger receives an individual co-production credit on a National album.

Seven albums and 15-plus years into their career, the National are still finding ways to reinvent and fine-tune the way the band harnesses the talents of all of its individual members to write interesting songs and make lasting records.

“It’s kind of a cliché, but bands are all about the alchemy of individuals,” says Bryce Dessner. “There are fairly well-worn relationships that play out, and then we subtly challenge them. That’s part of keeping it interesting — we have to keep growing. How do you do that? Especially a band that becomes mildly successful, it’s easy to get overconfident. Part of it is that our self-deprecating personalities allow us to challenge ourselves. It’s like, ‘Actually, though, what we do is not that interesting, so let’s keep improving it.’” 

This is some straight-out-of-design-school thinking. Interestingly enough, all five members of the band met through the University of Cincinnati’s graphic design program in the early 90s.

Turns out, rock bands are just like companies. Some have of alot of turnover and end up being centered around 1 or 2 individuals. Others find a way to keep talented individuals together for years, offering them ways to explore and grow beyond job titles.

Design thinking comes to banking and credit unions
The rise of the executive “design professional”
Collaboration and the Alchemy of Individuals