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The Impact of Design Thinking

By Ed Bernacki |

A simple, good-looking product creates a favourable first impression, a useful experience and a lasting memory

There has been much talk recently about design thinking. Some say it's about thinking like a designer, but I disagree. It's about bringing a holistic perspective to the experience you want someone to have with a service or product. Designers do not have a monopoly on design thinking.

The issue came to mind after I flew with Air New Zealand, then booked a trip with Air Canada. I was sent an email and opened the attached e-tickets. What was instantly obvious was the vast difference in the design of each e-ticket.

Air New Zealand's ticket was bold and colourful. It highlighted the departure and arrival times and even circled these in bright orange to make them easy to find. It told me how many bags I was allowed and offered $10 off a duty free purchase. The text on the ticket said thank you and wished me a good flight.

The Air Canada e-ticket looked like it was designed by a computer programmer in 1992. I was left searching for the flight number and the time of my flight. My eyesight is not great so I was forced to find my reading glasses to see the details, as the fonts were very small.

On the big scale of life, the design of an e-ticket will not stop poverty or save the environment. It is, however, an important way to create innovative services and products. I have no idea who designed the Air New Zealand e-ticket, but I can say they used some principles from a fascinating book called Emotional Design.

Its author Donald Norman says, "Every time we encounter an object, our reaction is determined not only by how well it works, but also by how good it looks to us, and by the self image, loyalty and even nostalgia it evokes in us." He challenges us to consider our product or service concepts from three perspectives. These perspectives are a great prompt to extend our thinking about how we develop new services and products.

Visceral impact

This is the first impression of your service or product you want someone to have and concerns its appearance or physical design. People have a sense of when something is good and when it is great. Many see this in terms of a sense of simplicity or vitality. This is what the e-ticket did for me. Its function was enhanced by its design in ways that added usefulness. What reaction do you want people to have when they try your product or service? What can you add to create appeal after the initial impact?

Behaviour impact

This is how someone uses the idea: its feel, form and function. How do people experience your product or service?

An obvious lesson Air Canada missed was watching people trying to find the information they need to board a flight. Did they really intend to design a ticket that forced me (and many others) to dig up glasses to read the ticket? And at a stressful time when catching a flight? I doubt it. I suspect no one thought of it. Product and service enhancements can result from watching people's experience to see how they react.

Reflective impact

After someone uses your service or product, what do you want them to remember about it? What do you want people to feel afterwards or tell others? What should they say, think or do when they reflect on your service or product?

This final point is often overlooked.

Air New Zealand has mastered the design thinking concept with its in-flight safety videos. I recently read several Canadian newspaper articles about the airline's 'Fit to Fly' video featuring exercise guru Richard Simmons. I was staggered to see that 2 million people had watched the video at the time. This means many have forwarded it to others. Whether you like or hate these videos, they certainly make you feel something. The safety video featuring the All Blacks might have produced a different experience than the 'Nothing to Hide' or 'Fit to Fly' video. The point is you will feel something.

Design thinking is about studying how people experience your product or service and finding ways to enhance this experience. Thinking about the initial reaction, the experience of using it and designing how you want people to reflect can lead to ideas that strengthen the bottom line.

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