by Rakesh Dawar, Segment Head, Tata Consultancy Services 

Launching a new pan-European television service presented Vodafone with a challenge: how could a single entertainment offering satisfy all the content demands of the region’s many diverse markets?

The desire for a fresh take on a familiar product is universal, but meeting that demand is difficult when everybody’s expectations of the product are built on different experiences of it. Add into the mix the need to recognize in any new offering a variety of regulatory requirements and you have what might seem like an insurmountable problem.

Vodafone, however, found the answer in design thinking, a way of creating intuitive user experiences and platforms by examining the preferences, behaviours and activities of the people who will benefit most from them – the customers.

The telecom giant carried out rigorous research into the multiple tastes and needs of its projected viewership and incorporated the insights it gained into the user interface of its new TV package.

Out went long, unmanageable lists of TV shows and movies, and in came tailored viewing suggestions in a one-stop shop of entertainment choices on the opening screen. Vodafone also borrowed some familiar features of traditional TV, like scrolling navigation functions, a viewing guide and a home screen that played video as soon as the TV was switched on. 

The result was a product that projected a fresh digital experience but that was couched in the comfortable trappings of a technology that’s entertained generations of viewers for decades.

Similarly, in Portugal, digital TV service Nos built up a detailed picture of its customers to help it create a user interface that simultaneously met the content and display expectations of subscribers while also establishing a strong brand identity for the newly created company.

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Great customer experiences

Human-centric design thinking makes great customer experiences possible by putting the end users front and centre in the evolution of new digital ideas. It breaks from the traditional design journey of creating something to put into the market and then hoping a buyer will come along. Design thinking entails reaching out to people, interacting with them and studying them to gain an understanding of their needs, and then incorporating those insights into the design process. 

It’s more than simply asking people what they want. Critics often dismiss the process by reminding us of the quote that Henry Ford allegedly made when asked why he hadn’t consulted the market before building cars: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” the well-worn line goes.

It’s debateable whether Ford actually said that; what isn’t debateable is that whoever did say it would have been asking the wrong question.

In-the-field research

Product developers who use design thinking make no assumptions about consumers. Instead they ascertain how to best cater for customers’ needs, behaviours and activities. And they do that through diligent in-the-field research.

In the same way method actors try to assume the mannerisms and character of the roles they play on stage or in film, designers will often seek insights into their target audience by putting themselves in those people’s shoes.

Take for instance an enterprise app our design-thinking studio – W12 – helped update for a logistics company. They spent days on the road with lorry drivers, shadowing their daily routines to get an understanding of why the app wasn’t being used. 

They found that the nature of the drivers’ duties often made it difficult or dangerous to use the app. But their employers didn’t know that; there was a process that drivers were expected to follow and then there was the reality of trying to follow that process. 

Finding a solution to the company’s problem became possible only because a design team had gone out and spent time getting to know the drivers and their activities. This sort of observational research is part and parcel of the process that gives designers the understanding necessary to create better products. 

The process may also include interviews with individuals in a target community, and analysis of business or personal data, particularly when putting together a digital retail product. And while it requires diligent documenting and analysis, research needn’t be exhaustive or costly; you’d be surprised how much insight can be gained from studying just 10 people for a week. 

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Making insights pay

Design thinking makes perfect business sense. Careful research reduces the time-to-market of new products and makes them more likely to succeed because they’ve been designed to be relevant to customer needs. In our view, relevance equals return.

But having those rich customer insights is pointless if you can’t incorporate them into a product or platform. People have high expectations of technology these days – they expect their mobile banking app to work as seamlessly and effectively as their ride-hailing app. 

Good design requires an understanding of three things: the customer, the brand and the technology that will bring those insights to life. 

Uniquely, we can marry W12’s expertise in the first two areas of good design to the group’s skills in the third. We can make the fruits of our work tangible at a very early stage in a product’s evolution, enabling us to test and refine it quickly and effectively.

Design thinking is a new concept but it’s already making long-term differences to our clients. By building customer-analysis processes into their business models, we’re able to continuously harvest data on their ever-changing markets and make predictions about and respond to emerging trends immediately.

The value of the concept is revealing itself in different ways all the time. We’ll be at the BT Summit next week, for instance, explaining the benefits of applying our analytical processes to clients’ workforces. 

In the same way that understanding human needs helps to create great customer experiences, it can also improve the employee experiences. That’s a scenario that employers gain from, too, because it improves the retention of talent and their expertise, increases productivity and promotes effective advocacy for the business.

Designers have spent decades trying to create products that will make our lives richer, more prosperous and easier. They’ve been largely successful, but many good ideas have missed and many good companies have been felled because they hadn’t considered a key ingredient in their designs – the person using the products. 

Design thinking is changing that. The people are fighting back.