How Design Thinking Can Shape Your App Idea

May 22, 2019

Compared to companies that do not prioritize design thinking, design-driven companies have out-performed their competitors by 219% (Vatash 2018). This is due to the fact that design-thinking is comprised of three crucial elements – desirability to solve a user problem, feasibility to solve that problem using technology, and viability of business success for the product. When strategically executed, desirability, feasibility and viability will lead to the innovation necessary for a successful app.

Before designing an interface for an app, there are many steps to be taken beforehand.  A design thinking approach is not just colors and font choices, but also utilizing empathy, psychology, and research. To be successful, one must embody the perspective of the user and figure out how the product aims to improve lives and experiences. Here are the necessary steps to maximize a product’s potential using design thinking.

Part 1: Desirability to Solve a User Problem

Someone usually has the idea for an application when they are inspired by a problem. For instance, maybe it’s a struggle to find an affordable taxi in a major city. This might lead to an “a-ha!” moment where the person decides to create a product that will help others solve this same issue. In design thinking, it’s essential to start with the problem that needs solving, whether it’s a small scale problem, or a problem that plagues all of mankind. From there, two steps help to define the problem and narrow a few things down.

Empathize

The problem that the app solves should be one that is common to lots of people. That’s why the first step is to confirm that a good amount of other people share a similar sentiment. A great way to do this is to conduct discovery interviews. The goal of discovery interviews is to uncover pain points of potential users. Knowing this gives insights and inspiration on how to go about how an app can be used to solve the named problem. Later in the process, interviewees may be used again to test the ideas that have taken shape.

List the Possibilities

Now that the initial flurry of great ideas has a little bit more shape around it, it’s tempting to start coming up with more ideas about how to make and release a solution. Resist that urge, take a breath, and step back. This is where “how might we” questions come into play. If trying to make it easier for a user to catch a cab, one might ask, “How might we make it easier for our users to connect with cab drivers?” Or conversely, “How might we make it easier for a cab driver to know where riders are concentrated?”

The process of asking these questions is designed to spark imagination in order to see possibilities. Think of this as a brain-storming session where there is no wrong question, only desire to solve the problem. By asking every “how might we” question one can can think of, the creators are opening their minds to new ideas–which could, in turn, lead to some game-changing innovations. This will also help gauge the scope of the project and what the minimal viable product (MVP) aims to achieve.

Part 2: Feasibility to Solve the Problem Using Technology

Source: Ukususha / iStock

Now it’s time to become the Neil Armstrong of design thinking and begin the exploration phase. This means in intense session of brainstorming all possible solutions and seeing which ones have the most potential. This is where creators will explore the different ways that technology can be used to achieve a solution to the problem.

Ideation

The next step is to brainstorm around all feasible ways the target problem could be solved. For instance, going back to the taxi problem—could the app help people locate rideshares? Could the app call taxis on-demand? How about a private helicopter rideshare? Some of these ideas will seem more feasible and within the scope than others, but don’t eliminate any from the conversation until they are all out there.

Remember, innovation starts somewhere, and one “weird” idea might just have a kernel of brilliance that can be built upon. One word of warning though, it’s easy for an entire team to get hooked on one idea/solution, especially if the leader seems excited by it. For this reason, it’s a really good idea to let members of the team make their own lists first, so everyone has something fresh to bring to the table. 

Analyze

Now it’s time to see what everybody else is doing by conducting a competitive analysis. This involves looking into all known competitors, deciding who the strongest competition is, and analyzing their product, web presence, and more. How are these competitors solving the problem? What differentiates this solution from one that already exists?  If the exact app is already out there as a strong competitor, this may be a time to pivot the idea to something that addresses a different pain point.

Prototype

This is where the project really goes into overdrive. Now, it is time to take the best ideas and put real design around them. Start with designing information architecture and user flows–the basic design concepts of how users will navigate through the app using the technology that will solve their problem. Following this, low-fidelity sketches and mockups will allow the creators to get tangible feedback from the potential user group early on in the design process.  This information is invaluable and should help chisel away unnecessary design elements and processes.

After tweaking, reiterations, and many rounds of design enhancements, the lo-fidelity hand-sketch will transform into a hi-fidelity prototype that can be given to the user focus group to test the concept. Revision is a fact of life and should be embraced during every step of the process, especially when it comes to what focus groups have to say during interviews and concept testing. This practical and quantifiable information should help creators stay focused on where they need to go. Once the prototype has been revised based on the collected feedback, it is not ready to be developed into a functioning application. 

Part 3: Viability of Business Success for the Product

Test

Once the development team has turned the prototype into an actual product, the team might feel “finished.” The reality of this situation is that this has been Phase Zero. It’s once again time to test the application in a controlled environment and make any adjustments needed to enhance the product’s success. Taking early action allows for testing to eliminate bugs and glitches prior to release. No matter what the feedback is, especially if it isn’t positive, it’s important to take it seriously. The team has to be committed to designing with the user at the center of creation. Try to avoid the hubris that comes with thinking that their users are “wrong” or that “they just don’t get it.”  After all, they are the target audience!

Launch

At launch, the app becomes available to the market, not just the controlled testing group. The creators should continue to monitor the market and collect user feedback. Doing so will ensure the app is current with user needs, while allowing creators to be at the forefront of future innovation. An app is rarely ever a finished product, but rather one that continues to evolve and cater to user needs, which also tend to change over time. 

Some teams developing apps might only conduct some of these important steps. Others might think their idea is so great and unique, most of these steps aren’t needed. This type of design work reminds us of that fun old saying, “Pride cometh before the fall.” Taking a design thinking approach is imperative to creating a successful app and will lead to increased satisfaction from users and increased revenue for the product.