Adventures in Design Thinking

One of the exciting things happening at Intel these days is our increased focus on user experiences. As a technology company, weaving UX into our culture has required new ways of thinking, innovating, and collaborating—particularly with software developers, since software plays a major role in translating platform features into meaningful experiences.

One user-focused innovation model we have adopted is design thinking. I was first introduced to this model in 2002 when I was working in the Intel Labs on a project to help identify user needs that future Intel technologies could address. (In a previous blog post I describe some of the great future-casting scenarios around agriculture and healthcare that came out of this collaboration.) As part of this project, our team partnered with the legendary innovation firm, IDEO. We spent a lot of time with IDEO, and learned a great deal about the unique way they drive innovation. They called their process design thinking.

What does a design thinking project look like?

IDEO Design Thinking Steps

In a nutshell, design thinking guides you through a series of phases that oscillate between divergent thinking (generate lots of ideas) and convergent thinking (focus on the ideas that have the most promise). Based on IDEO and Stanford University’s design school model, the phases of a design thinking project are:

  • Empathize with users, through open-ended interviews and observation, identifying needs, emotions, and insights you can build on. Who are your users and what do you know about them? Talk with and observe your users directly to infer, from what you learn, their expressed and unexpressed needs.
  • Define a focused problem statement based on the needs and insights you have gathered. The problem statement should be something you and the team can get passionate about and it should be extremely specific.
  • Ideate as a team using a number of special techniques to generate as many broad and bold ideas as possible about how you can address the challenge you’ve defined. Strive for diversity of thought among the team, quickly building on each other’s ideas. Cast a wide net for ideas, even crazy ones, for sometimes they can stretch you and lead to the next market disruptor.
  • Prototype your best ideas to create something that helps you learn more about your user and problem. A design thinking prototype is meant to be something you can create in hours, not months. It can be a storyboard, a cardboard and duct-tape representation, a role-playing session— whatever works. Get creative. This phase forces your team to deal earlier rather than later with tough questions around feasibility.
  • Test your prototype with users. You aren’t testing your ideas to impress or to validate, but to learn. Failing is totally fine, as long as you learn from it and use it to evolve your problem statement and your solution.

You iterate through these phases until you have arrived at what the team feels is the right solution to fully invest in. It’s actually a lot of fun, and when you get a good design thinking project going and you are iterating solutions around insights that were previously undiscovered, you begin to feel like you can really change the world. It’s a great feeling!

Design thinking and Intel

The process of user-focused design innovation is not new to Intel. What’s exciting is how it’s starting to go mainstream and how we are applying design thinking to actual business problems. We’ve led in-depth collaborative design thinking projects with more than 30 industry partners, from device OEMs, to software developers, to retail shopping companies, to airline manufacturers.

Roger Chandler leads a workshop for students from Portland Code School at CMD.

Here are just a few examples of how design thinking has helped the team become more user-focused and iterative as we define new ways for Intel to improve the lives of our customers.

  • We partnered with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) on a series of workshops, interviewing drivers and identifying hundreds of user insights, using foam cars, Legos, and devices duct-taped to dashboards to test ideas, which led to better ways for in-vehicle infotainment systems to track weather, parking, routes and arrival times. JLR is an incredibly innovative company that has also embraced the design thinking process and has since launched an innovation incubator in Portland to nurture in-car innovation in the local start-up scene.
  • In another project, we studied customer shopping experiences, which led to a foot scanning proof-of-concept—built with a software partner, Volumental, and using a depth-sensitive Intel RealSense camera—that will dramatically improve how users buy better-fitting shoes online, addressing a huge shoe-return problem. It went from idea to public industry showcase in less than two months, and will be in a major retail partner’s stores in an early form this year.
  • We interviewed teachers and elementary students to understand how to help young people become better readers. This design thinking project led to the Read With Me Chrome app co-developed with Clarity Innovations. The app, for K-3 students, assigns reading based on learning levels and combines speech-to-text algorithms and Intel technology. It offers students a tool to practice their reading skills, and digitally recognizes speech to give real-time feedback on reading fluencies and abilities. It just launched on the Chrome Web Store.

Design thinking is relatively easy to implement, can help a team establish a strong user focus, and can improve collaboration among teams inside and outside your company or organization. I can state from experience that if you do it right and commit to it, design thinking is a great way to introduce innovation into a team or a project.

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