Mark Zeh was already developing products using a methodology that was very similar to what IDEO was doing when he joined them. The approach has since been coined Design Thinking. He views the use of storytelling coupled with prototyping as the keys that make Design Thinking work so well.
Mark started his design career in the US creating custom mountain bike frames in Minneapolis that carried his name. He worked for product design giant IDEO in the US and helped to lead the office in Germany. He also consulted independently to numerous companies, applying Design Thinking, and is now at Bose, the audio technology powerhouse. In addition, he leads the Entrepreneurship program at the Munich Business School. I invited him to share his insights on using Design Thinking, which he recently wrote about in the PDMA Essentials book titled Design and Design Thinking. His chapter is The Key Role of Stories and Prototypes in a Design Thinking Product Development Process.”
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- You use a Design Thinking product development framework. What are the components of that framework? (1) identify customer needs, (2) the cycle of build, test, iterate, and refine, (3) validate and communicate what you found to the organization, and (4) a product development process (not shown in diagram). The activities need to be performed in this order– jumping ahead only leads to problems.
- What is the role of story in Design Thinking? Knowledge is captured in stories, not raw data. When examining a need and how customers are behaving, building a narrative is important to communicate to others on the product team. Stories are the foundation of the process. They begin by understanding what already exists and then envisioning the future.
- What is a prototype and how is it used with story? A prototype is something you can engage with physically. It is a tool to help you communicate and test ideas. It is refined through iterations as the value proposition is further understood. Putting prototypes into the hands of customers actually causes them to think differently than simply talking about the concept. As a product designer, you need to get customers engaged in the concept and this is accomplished through the prototype. Don’t start building the product early – first get feedback by iterating through prototypes.
- How can story and prototyping be combined to improve a product development process? Story and prototypes are intertwined. The prototypes are props for the story, allowing for the story to be acted out. A prototype is a more effective communication tool than words for aspects of the story.
- Can you share an example of a successful product that resulted from applying this framework? The Lemond G-Force RT Recumbent exercise bike is one of the few examples Mark can share publicly. Mark learned that many women were buyers of recumbent exercise bikes but bikes were not tailored for their purchasing process. The design of the bike was influenced by observations of the purchasing process of women: who the buyer is, how they interact, how the exercise bike gets home, and where it is placed in the home. The key insight learned was that the exercise bike should look like architecture – a design feature of the room where it is placed. Those insights drove the creation of prototypes and ultimately the final product.
- With all the design experience you have accumulated over your life, if you could, what would you tell the 25 year old version of yourself? Listen better. Dig deeper into what people are saying and develop empathy to better understand what they’re telling me.
- Mark’s personal website
- IDEO Deep Dive shopping cart project that appeared on ABC nightline – a look at Design Thinking
“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” -Albert Szent-Györgyi (discoverer of vitamin C and important aspects of cell metabolism)
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