A critical review of design thinking at NZZ Media Group.
This research paper is part of the part-time digital management MA at Hyper Island. Furthermore, it is a working paper for the NZZ Media Group (NZZ).
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” (Tim Brown)
- Design thinking is a proven, repeatable and reliable problem-solving process.
- Design thinking is a problem-solving tool that can be applied to problems of any size, in any industry and for practically any product, service or process.
- Design thinking should become a vital tool at NZZ for building and developing products.
Thinking like a designer is nothing new. However, it has become considerably more fashionable over the last couple of years. Nowadays the term design thinking is omnipresent. In today’s fast-paced world companies are struggling more than ever to come up with new ideas, products and services to satisfy instant gratification. Coupled with an even more crowded market and increased competition, companies are constantly challenged with the need to stay relevant and attractive in order to retain customers. Product and service design is a complicated process and resources are limited. Companies understand the importance of finding new ways and resources to build, develop and produce future products.
Media companies like the NZZ, in particular, need to change how they are designing their products. With falling ad revenues and a steady decrease in print sales, the NZZ has to find new sustainable ways to sell its content. There is an imminent need for new processes and techniques of working to identify the client's needs and to provide appropriate solutions. Design thinking is a proven process to design user-centric products, which can support the NZZ to remain a sustainable and profitable company.
In this paper, we explore the crucial factors of design thinking and suggest several new ways how it could be applied within the NZZ.
Design thinking is an innovative problem-solving process to tackle the unknown. It’s a means of going on an expedition, without a map, without even knowing the destination, but with the confidence that you’ll end up somewhere great. Whatever the challenge, design thinking is a powerful tool to reveal new ways of thinking and doing. (Daylight, 2013)
The origin of design thinking
Nowadays it is assumed that design thinking is a silver bullet for solving humanity's problems. It is viewed as a modern, cutting-edge tool to help companies achieve all of their unreachable goals. However, design thinking is neither a silver bullet nor some new, fancy way of operating. The methodology of design thinking has been around for decades. Herbert Simon published the sciences of the artificial already in 1969. A body of work that has given new insights into the classification of design. In his more work, Simon (2008) stated that everything designed should be seen as artificial. In 1972 Horst Rittle and Melvin Webber coined the term Wicked Problems. They were one of the first authors to emphasise the importance of human perception and experience within the design process (Rittel and Webber, 1973).
Five years later, research in the field of human-computer-interaction started investigating the use of design methodology. His work focused on the way designers think and how their decision process differs from other professions (Cross, 2010).
Combining the theories of Rittel et al. (1973) and Simon (1969,2008) and the hands-on practice of Ezio Manzini, Richard Buchanan reintroduced the discussion of wicked problems and the role of design solving them. His pioneering research made an important link between innovation and design thinking.
In 1991 IDEO forms out of a three-way merger. With building multidisciplinary teams supported by experts out of business strategy, anthropology, health care or education, they became an awarding winning agency quickly with global recognition. IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown is an advocate for design thinking and his book Change by Design (2009) became a definitive book for design thinking enthusiast around the world.
By 2003 selected universities across Europe and the USA started teaching service design to its students. The new methodologies which were focusing on complex problem solving also created a new wave of design tools. New processes, like co-creation or participatory design, emerged. The shift towards multidisciplinary teams and collaborative design has opened internalised creative processes and new mindsets to build more transparent and usable solutions for everyone.
Models of design thinking
There is a wide variety of different models explaining how design thinking can be used to solve complex problems. In this paper, we are focusing on three well-known models
Design council’s “Double Diamond”
The double-diamond model covers four phases. First, the discover phase helps to gather insight into the problem. Second, the define phase helps to make sense of all the possibilities identified in the discovery phase. The outcome should be a clear brief that frames the fundamental design challenge. Third, the develop phase is the breeding ground for new concepts. Here, solutions are drafted, prototyped, tested and iterated. Through the process of trial and error, ideas are improved and refined. Finally, in the deliver phase, the solutions are finalized, and the product or service is launched. The double diamond shape tries to visualize how the team loses and gains focus again during the process (figure 1). The problem, its definition and the final solution should not leave room for interpretation (Design Council, 2017).
Figure 1 – Design council’s double diamond bit.ly/2fSMSPs
The digital product development team at the NZZ is working with a refined version of the double-diamond model (figure 2). The main differences are a more definite separation of each phase and its purpose and an appreciation that it is a non-linear process. We combine the double-diamond model with the Google Design Sprint Kit. The Google design sprint framework was created in 2010. Over the years, working alongside Google Ventures, Google studied and tested 300 different business strategies, design thinking, and user research methods. Google took the most effective strategies and evolved them, arranging them into a framework that supports both divergent thinking and convergent thinking. The methodology has developed over time and continues to be refined and tested. (Knapp, Zeratsky and Kowitz, 2016)
Figure 2 – Double diamond bit.ly/2z0Hezt
The famous model of Stanford University’s Institute of Design follows a very similar approach as the double diamond model (figure 3). The d.school model acknowledges that empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process. During the empathize stage of the model, the focus is on understanding people, within the context of the design challenge. The define stage is all about bringing focus and clarity to the design space. The ideate phase provides the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of the users. The prototype phase allows for an iterative generation of artefacts helping to answer questions to get closer to the final solution. Finally, in the test phase, user feedback is gathered. Another chance to understand your users better.
Figure 3 – d.school design thinking process bit.ly/2wO4vTm
IDEO’s innovation and design process
IDEO’s human-centered design model consists of three phases (figure 4). The inspiration phase is the first step to build empathy with the people you are designing for. It is an immersive experience to understand the needs of your target audience better. The ideation phase helps to make sense of all the gathered information and the things you learned. New opportunities are identified, and prototypes of possible solutions are built. Finally, during the implementation phase, the solutions are brought to life and might be implemented in a real-world scenario. (The field guide to human-centered design, 2015)
Figure 4 – IDEO’s innovation and design process bit.ly/2yJScrY
A critical approach to design thinking
Design thinking by itself will not save the business world. The concept lacks in topics of team dynamics and change management, especially from the view of academic research. We have to understand what prevent teams from reaching innovative solutions and what stops them from solving complex problems. Many underlying factors can have an impact on the design thinking process, such as egos, mindsets, language, skills, team constructions, culture, time, money etc. It is essential to be aware how small and seemingly unimportant obstacles can affect a team's progress. People tend to want to be spontaneous in their reactions when facing a challenging situation. It is easier to pinpoint the obvious factors rather than analyzing more subtle but perhaps more influential issues. This is known as attacking symptoms of the problem instead of understanding it as a whole. Truly innovative and impactful solutions require an empathic and holistic understanding of the problem. Teams need to resist the urge to react impulsively. Design thinking is very ideation-based. Coming up with new ideas without the burden of understanding constraints will not necessarily solving wicked problems (Malbon, 2016).
Also, people tend to agree with group decisions. This can be for reasons of peer pressure, self-confidence issues or fear of being rejected. The result can be groupthink. This is a phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. (Turner and Pratkanis, 1998) In design thinking ideas and decisions must be based on user insights and user testing. Groupthink might result in a less critical approach when trying to solve a problem. To avoid this scenario, team managers need to create a safe and playful space for individuals to express themselves, throw ideas out there, and not feel targeted (Dam and Siang, 2017).
Furthermore: “To the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” (Charlie Munger) For reducing the cognitive load, the human brain works in following familiar patterns. This can result in solving problems, which appear similar to previously solved ones, with the same set of methods. Working with design thinking it is essential to form cross-disciplinary teams to avoid this issue.
Developing a holistic understanding of the problems and needs of our target users remains one of the vital elements of design thinking.
Design ethics is a complex but highly relevant topic. The ethical concept spans all areas from spanning several categories from professional responsibility to confidentiality and behavior to conflicts of interest. The difficulties arise from the variety of explicitly right or wrong answers that exist when it comes to ethics. In fact, if one were to ask five different people about design ethics, you would probably obtain five different answers. The concept can be culled down into two basic ideas:
- Design ethics establish behaviors and actions which are accepted in the profession.
- Design ethics help to raise the standard of work and representation.
Putting these ideas together results in the following definition: Design ethics helps to raise the standard for work by establishing behaviors and actions that are acceptable in the professional community and for clients (Cousins, 2017).
Design professionals have certain basic obligations to society, to clients, to the profession, and to peers and colleagues. Ethical Standards are more specific goals to which design professionals should aspire in professional performance and behaviour. (Designproacademy.org, 2017).
Especially for a brand like the NZZ delivering ethical work to its customers has become more and more important. The NZZ enjoys the immense trust of its readers. Furthermore, for providing new data-driven and personalised products, ethical standards need to become core values and need to underline the design thinking process. Not acknowledging that ethical design is essential could result in the imminent loss of trust from our readers.
Furthermore, ethics have a direct impact when it comes to design thinking. Working user-centric implies having close interactions with real people. Having their trust is not self-evident, and this comes with great responsibility. We have to ask ourselves how we are gaining and sharing insights about people in an ethical way. A good starting point is The Little Book of Design Research Ethics by IDEO. Responsibility, honesty and respect are forming the core principles helping to ensure that interactions are safe, fair, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial (Kelley and Suri, 2015).
- Design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over ten years (Harmer, 2015)
- Design-led firms consciously put the customer first, with 46% of design leaders citing an emotional bond with customers as a defining characteristic of an advanced design practice. (Abramovich, 2017)
- 71% of respondents on a large-sample survey of design thinking report that design thinking improved their working culture on a team level (Schmiedgen, 2015)
- 69% of respondents on a large-sample study of design thinking perceive the innovation process to be more efficient with design thinking (Schmiedgen, 2015)
- 50% of design-led companies report more loyal customers as a benefit to having advanced design practices. (Murray Brozek, 2016)
These three case studies illustrate how design thinking, as a process, empowers teams to build exceptional products and services. It emphasises that working user-centric is not an issue of monetary resources or rare creative talent. We think it shows that by following a clear problem-solving process and focusing on the users, a real impact can be achieved.
Bank of America
IDEO was challenged to increase the usage of people's savings accounts. During the interview process, one woman stood out. She was overpaying her bills by rounding up to the next dollar every month. She did not like to owe anybody anything, and she enjoyed to receive a check for a few cents every month. After further investigation, IDEO found out that people liked the act of saving more than the actual saved amount. Based on these insights Bank of America introduced a system where clients automatically could round up every transaction and transfer the difference to a savings account. Ever since the program was launched in September of 2005, more than 12.3 million customers have enrolled, saving a total of more than 2 billion US dollars. Of all new customers, 60% enrolled in the program (DesignBetter.Co, 2017).
NZZ Companion project – Google digital news initiative
As participants of the Google Digital News Initiative, we were given one year during which to develop a personalised news experience that could help users find news relevant to them with less effort. Providing everyone with their own smart, adaptive and context-aware news stream. Perfect information. No unnecessary distraction, but also no filter bubble — a news stream that is highly relevant and upholds journalistic standards. The NZZ Companion project was also one of the first projects where we used an entirely cross-functional team. A mix of product development, product design, data science, user research and technology working as a fully autonomous team. The group decided to work one day per week in a collaborative workspace, to eradicate the disruption that comes from constant meetings. Any decision made was tested with real users, and new iterations of the algorithm could be deployed weekly.
Figure 5 – Personalised NZZ Companion-Stream within the NZZ Companion-App bit.ly/2xTovbQ
Our data shows that around 84% of beta testers believe that the personalised content created added value to them. More importantly, this perception changed and improved by 20 percentage points compared to the beginning of the beta test. The team delivered exceptional work that solved, reached all the project goals and delivered a very satisfying product to our readers. The technology and learning will now be rolled out to all our digital readers.
From all that was learnt from the NZZ Companion project, the NZZ decided to launch the NZZ Redesign project. The goal was to define a new digital identity for NZZ.ch. We were given two months to redefine and unify the design and functionality of web, mobile-web and our NZZ-App. A new team covering all important departments of our corporation was put together – product management, editorial, product development, design, data and analytics, technology, user research and customer experience. The project was organised into four design sprints:
- Definition of the design language
- Refinement of the design language
- Screendesign for app and mobile-web
- Iteration and screen design for web
The deliverables of each sprint were tested with users. The feedback was incorporated into the next sprint. When the product was launched on the 12th of September 2017 customers were thoroughly happy with the new design. Something that has never happened before with a digital product launch or relaunch at the company.
Figure 6 – Iterations Sprint 2-4 «Mein NZZ» bit.ly/2gRqH9v
Furthermore, we started the new process which we are calling design selling. The idea is to transfer project knowledge to internal stakeholders and to help them to better understand the processes and decisions made by The informal 30-minute workshops were held as an open door event every Friday. Key benefits of this process were:
- Stakeholders felt well informed
- Decisions from C-Level could be made swiftly
- There was no more need for tedious update emails, information meetings and project steerings.
- All involved people stuck to made decisions and eliminating moving targets
To the current day, only the digital product development team within the NZZ is using design thinking as a standardised process. The whole NZZ Media Group offers a variety of products including print, radio, media, services and much more. During 2017 we launched multiple new products like «A» or the Global Risk Newsletter. But these products are still driven from an inside view without any empathy for the client and his needs. Design thinking can be applied to create, improved or refine any product or service our company has to offer.
In the late summer of 2017, we had multiple trial workshops with different departments helping them to use user-centric design to craft better solutions. Every workshop resulted in new ideas, tangible prototypes and unique solutions which we tested and are now starting to implement in real products. But more importantly, all participants were excited how easily and focussed their complex problems could be solved. Rolling out design thinking over the whole company is an unrealistic venture, but we suggest that design thinking must become a part of our product development process for any new product. We recommend that design thinking becomes an additional and integral part of the INPRO-process. By doing so, we believe that products and services can be built faster and risks can be reduced. More importantly, we can start building products and services for our readers that make a difference in their lives.
We know from our experience in the area of digital product development that design thinking is a proven, repeatable and reliable problem-solving process any business or profession can use to achieve great results. The critical element is thinking and ideating a solution to solve a problem or a need. Companies often miss investing the time to understand the problem truly, to iterate the solution and then to measure the result. Design thinking should be at the core of strategy development and organisational change to create a culture that is focused on this way of solving problems. This form of thinking can be applied to products, services, and processes; anything that needs to be improved (Forbes.com, 2017).
Design thinking can be implemented in any company. NZZ is a prime example of this; an established company which has an over 200-year-old culture and history. We are aware that becoming a design-centric company will take considerably longer than it would for a young startup. But, design thinking is a user-centric approach, and most teams already have the client at heart. Processes are not ideal and generated ideas still serve the different groups more than they serve our customers. Decisions are made in isolation without the full context which can fail once rolled out to the customers.
Design thinking is about applying design strategies to different teams and functions. It helps to minimise the uncertainty and risk of new ideas by letting the customer challenge them.
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