Digital Product Development in Design Thinking: Improve Your Software Delivery In a Few Easy Steps

by Sreejith Partha

You have to read the room to deliver a compelling message. Similarly, you have to read your users to deliver a phenomenal product. The most successful and beloved digital products don’t just solve a problem—they solve for users. And when developing a product, your team’s programming chops, intuition, and experience will only get you so far. For a truly user-centric product, you need a user-centered development process. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking is a game changer in the world of digital application development, and has been for quite a while now. This methodology forces stakeholders to define or further clarify user needs and wants, and then create a product that rises to meet them. The result? You show end users that you care about and understand them, and they’ll love you for it.

In this blogpost, we’ll dive into the building blocks, process, and benefits of design thinking, so you can learn how best to apply it in your product development process.

What is Design Thinking?

Popularized by design firm IDEO U and its founders, design thinking is simply a mindset that helps teams solve problems creatively. More specifically, design thinking is a human-centric approach to innovation. Its goal is to ensure development teams are only creating and launching products that are truly effective and successful. It does this by putting into consideration:

  • What makes sense to the end-users
  • What is technologically feasible 
  • What is viable for a business to pursue

digital application development

digital application development

Essentially, you’re creating the best possible product that meets user needs while not sabotaging your budget or going outside the capabilities of your team. 

The 4D’s of Design Thinking

You can find several design thinking frameworks on the web, but at Practical Logix, we’ve been using the diamond 4Ds model which always delivers. It’s a simplified version of the actual stages, and can help you and your team remain focused on what you’re trying to achieve:

  • Discover: Here, your goal is to uncover every possible problem faced by the end-user. It would be difficult to build a customer-centric product if you have no clue about what they’re facing.  
  • Define: Chances are, you’re going to unearth a huge number of challenges and problems from the users. It’s unrealistic to focus on each one of them concurrently. Therefore, you’ll need to narrow down the focus by identifying the most important ones when solved. 
  • Develop: This stage is all about brainstorming possible solutions. It’s essential to keep an open mind throughout.  
  • Deliver: Lastly, the delivery phase is where you’ll develop your first prototype and test it out with the users. If it successfully solves their problems, it’s ready to go for the final production. Else, you’ll need to circle back and fine-tune the prototype or choose to try out an entirely different idea. Customer feedback should ultimately influence your decision.

The 5-Step Design Thinking Process

These five steps closely mirror the 4Ds framework, but the ‘Develop’ stage is much more detailed and refined. One thing to remember is that the design thinking process isn’t always linear; any one of the five steps could spark an outcome or idea that necessitates repeating a prior step. For this reason, design thinking is widely regarded as a none-linear, iterative process.

Let’s explore each of these phases in relation to a practical digital application development process:

Step 1: Empathize – Get to Know the User Inside-Out

As developers, we often think we have our finger on the pulse of the digital product we’re creating. In reality, though, we are talking to ourselves first, and assuming that end-users will think and feel the same way we do. Of course, this isn’t always the case. The goal of this stage is to remove any inherent biases and assumptions you might have and gain a deeper, holistic understanding of your target audience. What might seem like custom WordPress development done right may well be a cookie-cutter site to someone else.  

Start by conducting market research to truly understand your users’ needs and emotional and psychological consumer experience. The goal at this point isn’t to solve complex problems or test hypotheses. Rather, it’s to figure out how you can improve your customers’ lives using your product.

Tools you can use to make this stage a success include:

  • Observation: View users and their context. Observe their behaviors to gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.
  • Questionnaires and surveys: These help identify who your users are, what their needs are, and what problems they face.
  • User interviews: Have one-on-one conversations with users to gain insights into their challenges and understand their points of view.
cloud application development services

Customer Survey

  • Immersions: Step into your user’s shoes so you can feel and experience their day-to-day.
  • Empathy map: A visualization tool that summarizes a user’s thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Step 2: Define – Dial In On a Real Problem

Once you’ve empathized with your users, it’s time to clearly define the pain point you’re seeking to address. The customer data and information you’ve gathered in Step 1 will come in handy in this stage. Much as design thinking is an innovative process, it should always be driven by data to ensure your big focus never shifts away from the end user.

A critical part of this stage is formulating a problem statement. The statement will outline, in the clearest way possible, the challenges you’re aiming to solve with your digital product. For instance, if you’re developing an app for Gen-Z based on the fundamentals of ecommerce application development, you could phrase the problem like this:

“Gen-Z users need a mobile-optimized site that loads quickly and integrates with renowned third-party payment systems.”

Ultimately, a problem statement will steer you and your team in the right direction, helping you to kick-start the ideation process and work your way toward a formidable solution.

Step 3: Ideate – Build Castles in the Sky, Then the Bridges

Now that the problem is clearly defined and well-articulated, it’s time to brainstorm with the team to find ways to address those unmet needs. Encourage stakeholders to unleash their creative selves and think outside the box. “How might we…?” questions—e.g., “How might we design an ecommerce platform that ticks all Gen-Z boxes?”—help in reframing the initial problem statement and prompting effective collaboration between participants. The goal of ideating is to come up with many strong and unique ideas that the team can filter through and trim down to the best, most innovative, and practical solution.

Custom WordPress Development

Custom WordPress Development

But, ideating can take much more than just convening in a room and dishing out random ideas. Facilitating a successful ideation session can be tough if you’re not well-equipped. If you are well equipped, however, and are familiar with techniques such as ‘Worst Possible Idea’, mind-mapping, and brainwriting, you can generate high-quality ideas in no time. 

Step 4: Prototype – Breathe Life into Ideas

In this stage, you begin experimenting. Together with the team, you pinpoint the best solution out of all the viable ones and try to visualize it by transforming it into a working prototype. If need be, you can create prototypes for the several ideas you generated during the ideation phase to see which ones are most effective for solving the problem you pinpointed. 

ecommerce application development

ecommerce application development

The key to prototyping is to avoid overcomplicating things. Don’t invest too much time, and or too many resources (or emotions, for that matter) into it. The goal of this stage is to make informed design decisions, so keep in mind that both validation of ideas and their rebut are equally valuable.

Step 5: Test – Put the Product Through Its Paces

Finally, it’s time to present the product to end-users and find out if it solves their problems and provides them with exactly what they need. If they accept it, then that’s great; you can proceed with development. If they don’t approve of it, you have no option but to go back to the drawing board and start over afresh from the ideation phase. 

You should keep a close eye on feedback of all kinds, whether qualitative or numerical. Ask questions as well, but steer clear of the rigid “yes/no” type of questions. Instead, ask why, how, and what you can do to elevate the user experience. 

The feedback from users is vital and often reveals flaws in the prototype which can then be reworked for a stronger final product. Instead of working off assumptions, the user testing phase on the prototype gives you and your team facts, so you can tweak and fine-tune the product as needed.

Ultimately, testing reveals how viable your digital product is both in the short and long run, and lets you save both money and time. 

Benefits of Applying Design Thinking in Digital Product Development 

Long gone are the days when users would blindly say yes to a subpar product and proceed to use it with a smile on their faces. Back then, they had no options to pick from. But right now, they’re literally swimming in a sea of effective, high-functioning digital products. Case in point: the Apple App store alone has 1.96 million apps available for download. Besides, today’s users are tech-savvy and boast incredibly nuanced tastes. 

If the product you’re creating isn’t tailored to your target users’ specific needs, then don’t bother releasing it. Chances are, it will flop before it even hits the market, and you know what that means for your reputation and growth prospects. One way to fulfill those specific needs is by keeping the human factor in mind throughout the development process through design thinking. 

More specifically, design thinking delivers the following tangible benefits:

1. It Reduces the Possibility of Creating a Product that No One Wants to Use

Given that design thinking prioritizes the end-user from start to finish, it’s nearly impossible to create an ineffective or unusable digital product. Each stage of the process is designed to show you the right way to proceed with development. Even if you fail the first time, you’ll still have plenty of chances to atone for your mishap thanks to the flexibility of the prototyping and testing phases.

2. It Encourages Innovation and Creativity

By encouraging development teams to think outside the box and experiment with new ideas, design thinking allows businesses to develop digital products that stand out from the competition. You’re not re-inventing the wheel. Neither are you relying on hunches, assumptions, or guesswork. You’re creating genuinely unique and innovative products that satisfy users in new and amazing ways.

cloud application development

cloud application development

3. It Sets Clear Deliverables from the Get-Go

There’s nothing worse than reaching midway through the design and development process and finding out you’ve been off-track all along. With design thinking, you can obtain clarity by painting a clear picture of your deliverables from the outset, which can act as a compass, guiding the entire design process. 

4. It Guarantees Technical Viability

Because you’ll have the end goal, deliverables, and user needs in mind right from the beginning, technical feasibility is pretty much assured. In other words, design thinking allows you to develop products that align perfectly with your team’s capabilities and resources. That simply means the chances of failure are little to nil. 

5. It Facilitates Better Communication

With everyone following the same product idea, better communication within the dev team and between other teams is almost a given. Design thinking allows your team and every other stakeholder in the project to clearly see and understand the end goal, pain points, and specific details of the solution they will be delivering. No matter how you look at it, that’s a huge plus.

6. It Leaves Room for Rapid Prototyping

Hard as you and your team might try, your first prototype will almost certainly have bugs. Spending time perfecting that one prototype is counterintuitive at best, and will ultimately slow down your project. 

The good news is that customer feedback is a crucial portion of great design thinking. As such, you’ll never have to worry about prototypes being perfect. As long as you prioritize speed over quality, you’re assured of consistent feedback to take into account and strengthen your ideas. On top of that, time-saving measures early in the development stage help bring you one step closer to a final product that yields a return on investment.

Getting Started With Design Thinking: Key Things to Remember

We understand the above information may be a lot to digest and remember. Luckily, it’s also easy to summarize with helpful tips and reminders to ensure that you get started on the right foot. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • User experience is the product. To develop a great product, empathize with the user from the outset.
  • Things won’t always go according to plan. In fact, it’s the contrary that holds true. Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
  • Never include preexisting notions, ideas, or assumptions in your analysis. Instead, let users’ needs and feedback guide your decisions throughout.
  • Don’t be too hard on your team. Give them creative freedom and allow for generalization in the initial brainstorming days.
application design and development

Happy app developers

  • Conviction is the name of the game. To carry a design idea through to completion, it’s crucial to commit to it fully and unwaveringly. 
  • Do away with the lingering fear of failure. The first prototype is almost never the perfect one. So, if you are to develop a product that users absolutely love, you have to get rid of that impending fear of failure.

Ultimately, design thinking is about capitalizing on the tools, resources, and people at your disposal because they can be the difference between a mediocre digital product and an effective one.

Wrapping Up

One thing is unmistakably clear from this article: design thinking delivers brilliant, customer-centric digital products that are feasible, desirable, and viable. Sadly, many teams have no clue about design thinking, let alone the nitty-gritty of applying it in their development process and approach. Since you’re lucky enough to bump into this article, we hope the content herein will inspire you to not only take design thinking seriously, but also explore its full benefits and potential. From creating digital products that everyone wants to use to encouraging creativity across the board and expediting prototyping, there’s no limit to what you can achieve with a development strategy that’s truly human-centered. The best time to apply design thinking was yesterday; the second-best time is now. 

At Practical Logix, we’ve got the resources, know-how, and tools to build human-centric digital products that improve your business results. Whether you’re looking for cloud application development services, ecommerce application development, or a Drupal website, we can and will deliver it for you. Contact us today to learn more about our cutting-edge services with a human touch.

Sreejith Partha (Sree) is the CEO of Practical Logix, leading an outstanding engineering and product team. He enjoys being hands on, when it comes to product strategy, architecture and processes. Sree has cultivated a culture at PL where no one is secluded from the bigger picture, helping the stakeholders trickle down the passion of their brand to every team member, producing a better outcome.

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