Best Practices

Design Thinking: From Idea to Marketable Product

Everything starts with a simple idea. The most innovative products came to life from someone’s notion of “a better way.” It’s probably the No. 1 reason new products emerge. Some examples:

  • Nest. Tony Fadell, founder of the smart thermostats, pinpoints the origin of good ideas as everyday annoyances. “Designers, innovators and entrepreneurs — it’s our job to not just notice those things, but take it one step further and try to fix them.” He couldn’t find a model he liked to improve so he built a new one.
  • Tumblr. Founder David Karp explained his idea for short-form blogging to Charlie Rose: “There was a tool that I wanted to use that didn’t exist.”
  • SpaceX. Elon Musk had an idea, money and he was able to build an entire company around the “simple” idea to make space travel available to anyone. Of course, the outcome of his idea is extremely complicated.  Along the way, his company had build the reusable rockets — not so easy.
  • Jama. As business consultants, we saw the huge need for a better way to manage requirements than using Word, Excel and PPT. We couldn’t find one, so we built a software company to solve this simple problem.

Whether colonizing Mars or better defining product specs, getting from early ideas to reality requires a design thinking approach. You can’t go directly from idea to solution. It’s a process of discovery and decomposition. You need to make sure your concepts stay true to the inspiration of idea as they evolve. The degree to which organizations retain alignment and understanding through that process determines the degree to which they will succeed.

Keep it simple: as you evolve through your process, retain a digital thread of not only the WHY, the WHAT and the HOW, but also the conversations that created clarity and understanding. This notion ties back to original concepts of agile, which was concerned with developing a new language, so to speak, for software development. As we look at today’s complex development, we need to extend that shared understanding across multiple teams, using different mechanisms, or languages (think modeling, diagramming, simulating, prototyping, pretotyping). This is design thinking for product development.

I’ll be talking more about this transition from simple idea to complex, marketable system, using a design thinking framework, at the upcoming ReConf (Requirements Engineering Conference) show in Munich at the end of the month. The theme of the conference is “Connecting People / Overcoming Barriers;” I am looking forward to talking about how we think about design.