Using design led thinking to move away from assumptions

The software development industry has gone from strength to strength and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The predicted global growth is on the road to $1 trillion and beyond, but the industry itself is just 30 years old.

Software developers need to be ahead of the game and to be looking at the way they do business. This is not yet a mature market yet, as the following chart shows:

As a software business, you need to be an active part of the changes that are happening. It's doubtful Smartrak would remain in business if the rules of engagement from 1990 were still applied. It's not possible to predict the changes in delivery models and the speed at which they will emerge.

The dark room

Take a step back the dark ages, when many software products were created by a bunch of developers hidden away in the dark in some back room. Basically, they came up with a product that customers had to accept (or reject), with all the assumptions, inaccuracies, and workarounds it came with.

Examples of what happens to products that are developed in the dark are well known. They don't work effectively, they don't meet the customers' needs and they raise the question: "Why didn't they ask us what we needed?"

The major flaws of developing in the dark are:

  • Development is based on assumptions that are accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. Without proof are the keywords in this. There is no engaging with customers, no understanding of their worlds, their perceptions, their frames of reference or their decision-making processes.
  • Sometimes a single customer is involved in developing a product. The shortcut for expansion is to extrapolate this customer's needs to the whole world. This model uses customised development as a gateway to a global market and assumes that everyone has the same needs.
  • There is an assumption that the software developer/company knows best; that they know their customers better than the customers know themselves.

While most people see the flaws in these assumptions, this model is played out over and over again. There's a better way: Design Thinking.

People, people, people

Software developers need to learn from other industries that have been listening to their customers for a lot longer. Ideo has built an entire university on the premises of Design Thinking.

The real strength of Design Thinking is very simple: put the customer and end-user at the heart of your design. Get rid of the assumptions and focus on the end-users. By staying in the problem for longer, the solution has more chance to naturally manifest itself.

Design Thinking works in three stages:

1. Inspiration

Spending time with the end users and applying empathy. Really understanding their issues through their eyes.

2. Ideation

Making sense of the learnings gathered in Inspiration and identifying opportunities for design and optimisation; coupled with initial ideas for prototyping.

3. Implementation

Bring the solution to life and the market.

'What has this got to do with me?" you ask. "What does this mean for my organisation and its own complex needs?'


Understanding customers' needs, through active listening and observing without judgment, will inevitably lead to a better solution. Through collaboration and partnerships, we can listen to, observe and facilitate conversations that will give deeper insights into the needs of our customers.

The Design Thinking approach is well-documented, as are its benefits. By understanding the customers' frames of reference, we turn the process on its head.

  • Stop developing based on your own assumptions and start looking at it from the user's point of view. By observing the way people work and analysing workflows, we can get an innate understanding of our customers and their needs. Gone are the biases, gone are our restricted views. Welcome to an open and transparent world where we all learn from each other.
  • In a competitive world, deep industry knowledge is key. Rather than focussing on custom development, look at collaborative development to develop a product with the industry as a whole. The end result will add value to a wider industry.
  • The final flaw to counteract is the assumption that the design team knows best. The real value comes from really understanding the problem statement and prototyping the solution. Done well, it makes the development and delivery of a world-class product guaranteed. Again, it all comes back to collaboration and gathering insights, only then can we develop a tool that will add value to your organisation and the industry as a whole.

Register below to speak to one of our Design Thinking practitioners.

Related Articles