Using Design Thinking for Customer Development

Design Thinking starts with the end in mind, and focuses on the consumer and not the producer. This is very different from a problem led approach. By moving us firmly away from the perspective of product development, this approach is much better suited to actually finding out who your customers are and what they will pay for.

Here’s how it works.

As with the productive thinking model, we start by asking what is going on and doing some research into the situation from a number of perspectives. Before we even start coming up with ideas, we need to know who we are designing for, what they want and what others have done before us. A solid effort in these early stages is important if we want to stop ourselves from jumping in with our own preconceived notions of what the problem is and how to solve it.

The design community have a number of tools here:

  • User profiles: a bit more than simply stating who your users are. We want to know their demographic profile, personal likes and dislikes, and enough of a story about their expected behaviour to start to view the world from their perspective
  • Empathy Maps: what do our customers think, see, hear, feel and do when interacting with the product. Observations, focus groups and product trials can all come in handy here

Next up are two steps for coming up with new ideas, ideation and prototyping. In ideation, our goal is simply to produce a lot of potential launch points and concepts that we can use to sketch out and build prototypes. In prototyping, we want to see how our customers react to the product and whether or not the business model is viable. By the time we get to selection, we need to be sure of the following:

  • We know who are customers are, and whether or not they will pay good money for our product
  • We know what channels our customers respond to, and whether or not they will scale

Learning from the Customer Development approach outlined by Steve Blank, we are going well beyond product development. After all, we need to know more than just what product to build. We need to know who will buy it, where from, and whether or not our business model will scale. It’s no good designing a great product that solves all the right problems if nobody wants it.


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