Design Thinking: An Introduction

Ed Wenck
Apr 03, 2018

Photo ©VisitPhoenix

CEDIA Business Xchange 2018 (May 16-18, Phoenix, AZ), will feature an interactive, hands-on workshop on a concept called Design Thinking. Here’s more on this approach to creating great experiences for the end user — and better processes for your business, too.

There’s a trick radio programmers have long used to develop on-air talent: Conjure The Target Listener. The concept is fairly simple — create in the broadcaster’s mind a single, individual representative of the station’s target demographic, then talk to that person as if they were the only one listening.

(This is a thing. Trust me, I’m a former radio guy.)

Let’s say your target demo is 25-to-54-year-old women. That’s a big range, so you’ll need to get more specific: so you imagine a married 37-year-old mother of two driving the kids to school or soccer practice — or listening at work.

When one thinks about this person’s experiences, wants, needs, turn-offs, whatever — connections can emerge. What you talk to her about will be informed by her experience and environment. Example: Anything that’s too racy — tough to explain to the kids or, heaven forbid, the boss — is out.

By this point, you might be thinking your morning show host really ought to be a married 37-year-old mother of two. Since that can’t always happen, you need to find hosts who can empathize with that listener.

And that strategy — using empathy for the customer to create a better product — is one of the concepts that lie at the heart of “Design Thinking.”

The Concept

Don’t be thrown by the name — “Design Thinking” isn’t just for designers. It’s a problem-solving approach that can be applied to nearly any challenge you can think of. Rich Green — a CEDIA volunteer who’ll be pitching in at the Xchange — explains further: “Design thinking has nothing to do with engineering, making things pretty, or designing systems. It has everything to do with gaining empathy for the end user of whatever it is you're inventing. It could be a product or a process or the architecture of an entire home.

“When you design anything, whether it's a product, a system, a process, you are always designing for the intended user. And that's not necessarily the person who writes the check. It's not necessarily the Mr. or the Mrs. of the house. It could be a visitor. But you get into the lifestyle and the needs, the specific needs, of the people that you're designing systems for.”

"This is how learning happens now at CEDIA: Hands-on workshops, which are completely immersive."

Peter Aylett of Archimedia is another regular CEDIA instructor who’ll be digging into the concept of Design Thinking in an interactive workshop during the next CEDIA Business Xchange. As Aylett noted when he presented this very workshop to the entire CEDIA staff, a question he asks each one of his clients during the discovery phase of a job is: “What has been your absolute worst experience with technology?”

It’s that kind of empathetic line of questioning — along with other techniques including observation and immersion (or experiencing what a user experiences) — that forms the first stages of the design-thinking process. This “empathy mode” allows an integrator (or app developer or, well, anyone) to dig into what a true design solution might be. Often, those using this process come to realize they were attempting to “solve” something that wasn’t really a problem to begin with.

The 2007 Smartphone Disruption

In 2006, the “smartphone” universe was essentially monopolized by RIM’s Blackberry.
In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone — which is an excellent demonstration of the concept of Design Thinking.

What was Apple trying to do? Build a better texting device? A better mobile browser? A better cell phone, iPod, or alarm clock?

Well, no. The product was obviously much more holistic than that. Imagine if Apple had gotten bogged down in any of those narrow questions: The result could have been a clunky monstrosity that still required a stylus or physical keys and was limited to pre-loaded apps like the game “Snake.”

Apple realized that with a shift in the form factor — coupled with a GUI that changed the look of the screen to fit each task, and could be rejiggered infinitely by apps — they could turn a phone into a small, customizable computer. Nearly overnight, a single device could suddenly become a fitness tracker, music library, or e-reader. The “phone” was now literally a “digital assistant.”

Design Thinking

The Design Thinking workshop — using course materials developed in part at Stanford’s d.school — will be presented by Aylett, Green, and Stanford’s Michael Shanks (pictured at right) at CEDIA Business Xchange 2018. The examples we’ve given only scratch the surface of the process, which runs from empathetic conversation and observation to fundamental prototyping and testing.

The process — wildly creative and at times a bit messy — is designed to give participants the tools to solve problems in a way that truly satisfies the end user. Green adds, “What we're gonna do in Phoenix is a full-on, roll-up-the-sleeves, dive-in workshop. There's gonna be Post-It notes all over the walls. There's gonna be people jumping up on chairs, there's gonna be people taking materials and prototyping products that don't exist yet. And it is an absolutely thrilling experience to see this.

“This is how learning happens now at CEDIA: Hands-on workshops, which are completely immersive. And we've got Professor Michael Shanks coming in to facilitate this for us. He was the founding faculty of the design school at Stanford University. And he's taking time out of his schedule at Stanford to come to Phoenix and facilitate an actual design thinking workshop in the style of the Stanford University d.school for us.”

Ultimately, it’s an experience designed to turn your present way of thinking on its head and improve your business outcomes and your bottom line.

Registration for this year’s CEDIA Business Xchange at the Camby in Phoenix is now open. Find more details and register here.



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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