A few weeks ago we featured an article on design thinking titled “Why design thinking – not designers – creates more value for shareholders”.

With it being such a hot topic at the moment we couldn’t wait to get out hands on more around this subject and especially wanted to understand how design thinking influences creativity and business. We partnered up again with Nevo Hadas, partner and co-founder of the leading digital transformation and innovation consultancy DYDX and our industry expert and knowledge partner on our Design Thinking online short course to tell us more. Carry on reading below.

This article is about understanding how design thinking frameworks increase creativity – in all industries – even in mining. Most importantly it’s a case study about how an  ‘expensive’ business problem was solved cheaply. The context and challenges were understood clearly by applying design thinking principles. 

This is not a sexy story. It’s not the ones designers usually like (think famous name brands and mind blowing ad campaigns). This is the kind of design story MBAs, CEOs and Accountants like because it saved the company money. 

A design thinking case study – Design thinking is an ‘explosive’ business

A friend of mine was a product manager at an explosives business where they made electric detonators for mines. I’m going to build this design thinking case study around this example.

They had released an innovative new detonating device that was cheap and growing rapidly.  It generates over R1 Billion in annual revenues today.  However, their detonators were often returned as faulty from customers and they couldn’t understand why. The detonators worked perfectly in both lab and field tests, and had been approved by the relevant industry safety bodies – so the failure rates made no sense. Was it a manufacturing issue? 

Being very smart and steeped in the background of design thinking, my friend went to the mines and walked through the entire product usage lifecycle. He focused on Identifying all the processes from when it arrived, to when it was finally used. 

Identifying the  first problem and  working towards a solution

He realised that when the detonators arrived (despite being marked fragile) they were put into a general storage area before use. The process of putting them in the area was quite frenetic as the workers would grab and drop items quickly, focusing on efficiency. Furthermore, taking the detonators to the area they would be used in was rough, even though the boxes were marked fragile. Importantly the treatment of the detonators could potentially result in higher fault count and therefore bigger ramifications to the business. 

You’re probably asking  ’So what? What does this have to do with design thinking?’

This is a great example in understanding the journey. While the product is not designed for the warehouse packers, they play a critical role in the product’s success. 

So what did he do? How did he solve a problem that was happening in many mines, across many countries, all at the same time?

The first answer that’s probably popped into your mind is based on your previous experience. Maybe it was, but would you have considered exploring the following questions:

  1. To redesign the product to be sturdier – which is an expensive approach as it would impact manufacturing and require recertification. 
  2. Package the units in sturdier boxes that can absorb more impact – better, but also pricey per unit. 
  3. Train warehouse packers – an exercise that would have led to failure due to the turn-over rate and number of warehouses/warehouse workers you would have to train and then monitor. 

You might have thought about these things, however the answer is not as important as the process. The answer my friend came to was because of the knowledge he had of the design thinking process. It is applicable as a thinking model to many contexts. 

A design thinking process in action

Let’s explore my friend’s thinking. He:

  1. Methodically asked broader questions to solve the problem. 
  2. Observed the problem before jumping to solutions.
  3. Spent time speaking to the warehouse workers and the people who transported the materials. What was success for them? How did they perceive the detonators? Did they know what a detonator is or care?

What he learned was that their success was speed in and out the warehouse, and all the management KPIs were about that. 

They tried to be careful and nobody was purposefully being malicious, they just didn’t have the KPIs for not breaking things. However, there were other materials in the warehouse that were being treated more carefully in exactly the same context, why was that? What were they doing differently?

To be continued…

I’m going to leave this story with a cliffhanger, to be continued in another article about ideation and solutions. 

The important element here, is that design thinking in business is not just about sticky notes and workshops. It’s about getting people to use creative thinking.

It’s about the importance of: 

  • Training executives to ask more questions
  • Getting people to explore multiple solutions before selecting options. 
  • Building certainty quickly through a structured approach. This will increase your product’s success in the marketplace.

Stay tuned for more from Nevo in the coming weeks where we conclude the case study and explore how this example works through the design thinking process.

Author:  Nevo Hadas. Nevo is a partner and co-founder of DYDX (formerly &Innovation). DYDX is a digital transformation and innovation consultancy that uses this skill to solve tough business challenges for a diverse array of clients. He works with global leaders to unlock innovative concepts. He helps develop powerful digital products and services for consumers and businesses in emerging markets.

PS. Did you know that we have some short courses that teach you all you need to know about design thinking and creative thinking? Check out our 10 week online Design Thinking short course, that DYDX worked with us to build, and our 5 week Creative Thinking accelerator course.