Designing for success: Start with who, not what

By | 4 minute read | April 26, 2017

In between the many different discussions going on in and around the IBM Booth this week at Hannover Messe, I caught up with Marcel Baron, from the IBM Global Electronics Center of Competency.  Marcel is a Senior Managing Consultant focused on Digital Strategy and Design Interactive Experience. It is Marcel who designed several of the IBM Design Thinking workshops being used throughout IBM and many other organizations around the globe. Here’s what Marcel had to share.

Bring the end-user and technology together in a human-centric way

In an IBM Watson IoT environment, Design Thinking helps to bring the end user together with technology in a human-centric way. When teams first set out to design new products or offerings, they will often jump right into trying to work out what the solution will look like, overlooking two key things – first, who their user is, and second, what the specific user’s problem really is.

Design is the intent behind the outcome as seen at the IBM Hannover Messe booth

A design mantra at the IBM booth at Hannover Messe

Take for example the exhibition halls at Hannover Messe – where there are many different technologies and capabilities being shown and discussed. If you ask the exhibitors for whom their technology or capability is designed, more often than not you will be met with a blank stare.

Don’t be blinded by your thing’s brightness

It’s very easy to be blinded by the capability of the product or gadget, overlooking the user experience. Marcel’s IBM Design Thinking approach takes design teams back to the basics – where they need to think about the ‘who,’ not the ‘what.’

Marcel elaborates, ‘There’s nothing wrong with being jazzed up by the capability your team is creating; just don’t forget there’s a human-centric reason behind the design – a person trying to solve a big problem.’

Bringing an adverse team of collaborators together to define what that real problem is ensures the team is operating on the same page – whether they are a designer, engineer, developer, marketer, seller or supplier. From there, the team can work together to build a better solution that meets the requirements. Here’s how the process works:

  • Problem definition: To get to solutions, we start with the problem. We work with clients in advance to develop two or three problem statements to serve as the basis for the IBM Design Thinking workshop.
  • Expertise: Our lead facilitators are experts in assisting in the identification and refinement of problem statements and workshop design.
  • Application: We apply IBM Design Thinking to the problem statements, and solutions, then formulate through deep collaboration and IBM Design Thinking practices.

Where physical meets digital through Design Thinking

Using a human-centric approach lies at the heart of Design Thinking. And, it’s not just from an aesthetic perspective either – things like web sites and user interfaces for applications. This model can also be used to help organizations develop new business models or processes within their organizations, ecosystems and supply chains. A key aspect is of course to understand who will benefit from solving the problem. Let’s take a look at an example workshop:

Figure 1: Example workshop approach

Figure 1: Example workshop approach

Getting to market faster works best when you are on the right path

Using Design Thinking ultimately saves time and effort. Getting a prototype built faster is an objective for many organizations – but going off in the wrong direction is costly in both time, resource and expense. Finding a faster path to creating a successful minimal viable product or prototype that can be tested with users is nirvana for any size organization – whether they are a start-up or a huge multi-national.

Take advantage of the IBM Design Thinking approach

Organizations can participate in the Design Thinking workshops at the Watson IoT Labs in the IBM Munich headquarters. The first workshop is a Discover the Value workshop designed to help teams articulate the real needs of the target audience; and identify and prioritize the strongest business cases. From there, a second Prove the Value workshop is used to help the team go deeper into the business cases, and onward to building a prototype to test with the right audience.

Figure 2: A three step approach

Figure 2: A three step approach

A great place to start: IBM Watson IoT and Bluemix

IBM Bluemix and Watson IoT provides entrepreneurs with a terrific environment to test and try out the different services available – offering access to a plethora of Watson services including blockchain, analytics to cognitive, in addition to other related services.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post which will take readers deeper into my own personal experience with the IBM Design Thinking approach.

Learn more:

  • View the presentation to learn more about IBM Design Thinking
  • If you have questions about how your organization could benefit from IBM Design Thinking, please contact
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