02 May 2018 19:54 IST

Designing the future

Design is not what organisations should do as an activity, it should become a way of life

The term ‘design thinking’ has been around for a long time, but it is only in the last few years that it has been embraced in spirit. When we think of products with good design, which ones come to mind? Apple’s iPhones? Coke cans? What is it about these products that reflect the design aspect particularly well?

Indra Nooyi had an agenda for Pepsi in 2012 — to drive innovation through design. Design, according to her, was far more than packaging, colours, or labels; it is that aspect of the product that makes consumers fall in love with the overall experience, right from purchase and consumption to the storage and disposal of the product. This means that the consumer’s insights and feedback have to be sought and factored into the design experience.

Building an intuitive product

Take, for example, the Pepsi Spire. This is a touch-screen machine that dispenses soft drinks through a fountain system, though the Spire goes beyond what traditional fountains do, which is simply pour the selected drink according to the chosen volume. The iPad installed in the Spire helps elevate the consumer interaction to a new level.

When you swipe your ID, the Pepsi Spire talks to you. It reminds you of your last purchase and invites you to try new drinks. While the drink is being dispensed, the Spire has visuals of the process, making the entire process interactive.

The Spire isn’t just a fountain dispenser, but an intelligent companion that helps you make a choice in an engaging manner. Obviously, this wasn’t the output of a design engineer, but a collaboration between consumer research teams, retailers, packaging vendors, product developers and, of course, the finance department. Design thought demands a coming together of all disciplines.

Empathy with the consumer

A key advantage of design thinking is that it builds emotional empathy with consumers. Take another example from Pepsi. The company observed that potato chips are consumed differently by men and women, and that, as they come to the end of the pack, men tend to empty the packet into their mouths, which women don’t do for fear of the crumbs falling on them or staining their clothes.

Pepsi also noticed that men didn’t mind the noise made while eating chips, while women did. Another observation was that men didn’t care about being seen snacking, while women did. Taking all these observations into account, Pepsi launched a pack of chips stacked in a plastic tray inside a canister. Women could keep them at their workplace desks, take a piece as and when they wanted, and eat it quietly, leaving the rest in the pack without compromising the crispness. This required design thinking.

Providing a better experience

Earlier, it used to be more about what any company could manufacture. Today it is all about how can the consumer experience be made more pleasurable. With the availability of so much technology, the product needs to be ‘humanised’ before being offered at the market place. Of course, the transition is not easy but this is now becoming a survival strategy.

Here are some things that organisations could keep in mind and work towards while building a design-centric culture:

~ User protocol research: Observing how consumers use a particular product is essential for its success. Testing a product in the lab or a research environment does not reflect the possibilities or challenges in their entirety. Many times, users may not know what they want, but seeing them use the product will help generate ideas on how to improve the design.

~ Frequent prototyping: Leave all the prototypes of the working design out in a central area in the office for everyone to see and comment on. Good design does not have to be the outcome of a single department; it has to be viewed from all angles. This will build conversations and the final output will see the optimisation of both utility and elegance.

~ Tolerate failure: Just like innovation, design thinking demands a tolerance of failure before getting the final act right. Many iterations must be initiated, tests conducted and reviews built in. For this, a culture of tolerance of failure will help significantly.

Design is not what organisations should do as just another activity; rather, it should become a way of life.

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