Why entrepreneurs should include design thinking from the start?

For all the time I have been working as a designer, there is a notion that bothers me to a great extent. The behavior of a majority of businesses is to fulfill their design needs when they have the resources to focus on it, which is usually after the development of their product. But considering how the ideal process of design thinking works, including a designer or a team of designers closer to completion of the product is an under-utilization of a great field that only helps a product mature rightly.
To be noted: I am not talking about tech products only (as, far too much conversation is happening in that area and lesser in consumer material products or service sector) but of design thinking and its role in utilizing the market where a product is placed.

Design is primarily the study of people.

What they buy, why they buy it, when they buy it, where they buy it, when they use it, how they use it, and many such questions that should all be answered during the development of a product. What I would like to point out here is that this is the process taken to develop ‘design that works.’

Design is not just about the aesthetic, but about fulfilling the need and function of the business, to create a bridge between the product and the consumer.

To include design thinking in the beginning of the process is to include the crucial aspect of empathy in development of the product. Empathy is the heart of design, and ensures that the product is developed by including the consumer’s needs and preferences in mind.

There are only two scenarios where a good product can be made to exist and excel, a gap or an opportunity in the market. To cater to each of these, one must first understand where does the entrepreneur fit, and based on that, one should take steps forward. For a gap, a business would have to identify a need, both to penetrate the market and to cater to an area of consumer interest that was earlier missing. However, for an opportunity, one must first understand the existing market to see how the concerned players perform, what makes them work and what brings them down. After this, the business would have to decide the ideal direction to take for utilizing that market opportunity. Both these scenarios lead to distinct products, usually giving a business their USP that is appealing to the potential consumer. But businesses should derive this understanding not just from the experts of the sales or marketing force, but from the designer, who in order to create the best product, would have to understand who the product is serving.

Between the three steps of segmenting, targeting and positioning a product/business, the positioning step includes visualizing the product with its own distinct personality. Imagining the product as a person — giving it characteristics, language, behavior, loook— are all steps that should cement the foundation of a product. Each of these require a great understanding on empathy in design, of the ‘human’ that is going to be the end user.

How the consumer receives the product is the deciding factor of the success of a product.

To give your product a personality is to create a brand, and good branding comes from detailed understanding of the end users and the relationship they would have with the product. Even to project the product to the customer through inbound marketing (as outbound marketing is generic and very expensive, not focusing directly on the target audience), the entrepreneur needs to understand how the product would behave in person, what websites would it surf, who would it talk to, etc.

To sum it up, I am advocating including design thinking in:
(1) Research of the consumer and the gap or opportunity in the market
(2) Brainstorming for various possible solutions
(3) Developing the right product (the selected solution)
(4) Selling using the right spaces and tools suitable for the brand
(5) Repeat to analyse and execute learning at each step once the product up and running

It is a better idea to include the resource of design in the process of developing the product, and not when the product is decided and ready to have good aesthetics and visual appeal. Execution of design thinking at such a later stage can lead to a product that has not been done right. A good product deserves good design thinking. This shortcoming can turn out to be an unnecessary burden that could have been solved by serving design right from the start, when the research happens and a product is being thought of.

An entrepreneur must understand that as long as their business is serving people, both B2B or B2C, the need to understand the ‘human’ aspect is extremely important. Imagining a product without first discovering who would use it is the wrong step to take. which is why, design thinking can ensure the right direction of the product. Even the basic lingo of marketing, Product, Price, Place, Promotion (and Packaging), all require empathy and design as accelerators.

Yes, one can still roll out a good product by including design in the later stage, but the process is sweeter and the product is riper with design thinking molding the shape of the product with its understanding of people. That is the sure shot way of creating a good product that ‘works.’


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