How we use Design Thinking as a guiding principle | Part II: Observing

If you think you know what your customers need, you're probably wrong. If you ask your customers what they need, you will learn more. If you listen and find out the needs of your customers behind the needs, you may find a solution to their problems.

A few weeks ago, we shared how we turn our customers' problems into a Design Challenge - a question that helps our teams follow a shared vision during the Design Thinking process(understand - observe - define perspective - find ideas - develop prototypes - test).

Phase 2: Observe

Today we introduce you to the second phase of the Design Thinking process: "Observing". While phase 1. "Understand" aims at building consensus regarding the common challenge, developing empathy for the people involved and helping to grow together as a team and become a problem expert, the second phase aims at gaining further information through desktop research, observation of people using a product or service or through interviews.

This approach helps us examine our assumptions, sharpen our team vision, and learn about the true needs of our customers - the needs behind the needs, which are often related to people's values.

Conducting interviews

In my opinion, conducting interviews with different stakeholders that are part of the value chain is the most important tool to get information about your customer and their customer or competitor. It helps you to better understand the ecosystem of your customers.

During our last design sprint, which focused on figuring out how a municipal utility should position itself to meet climate goals and secure its city's energy supply, we conducted interviews with experts from other municipal utilities, solar energy, academia, startups, and others. This helped us gather as much information as possible and gain valuable insights into our topic.

How we approach potential interviewees

After an intensive desktop research phase, we contact potential interview partners via LinkedIn or, if the address is known, via e-mail. We briefly introduce the QLab Think Tank, the topic we are dealing with, and politely ask for a meeting with the expert for an online interview via MSTeams, which should not take longer than 60 minutes.

It is helpful to suggest a day and time when the conversation should take place and ask for an alternative if the proposed date does not fit. In 8 out of 10 cases, we get a YES! from our interlocutors. Usually, it is not necessary to have more than 20 conversations to collect information to create a testable prototype (phase 5).

How we prepare and conduct interviews: A checklist

1. After confirmation, we will provide our interviewees with a link to an MS Teams meeting.

2.We prepare questions for a guided interview.

3. we follow these principles when answering the questions:

  • We ask short and precise questions.
  • We ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with just yes or no.
  • We do not ask leading questions.
  • We do not judge.
  • We listen carefully because we want to learn.

4. Roles during the interview

We conduct interviews with multiple team members taking on different roles: Facilitating and timekeeping, asking questions, taking notes, observing, and listening. This helps us to get a comprehensive view of our interviewees and to focus on our roles.

5. we proceed as follows in conducting the interview:

  • Greeting the person you are talking to (ask them if you can record the conversation for internal use).
  • Introducing the team.
  • Introduce your project and the goal of the interview.
  • Ask your interviewees to introduce themselves.
  • Start your interview, ask questions if you think you didn't understand something correctly.
  • Pay attention to facial expressions and gestures.
  • (Pro-tip: Don't forget to ask your interviewees if you can contact them again if you have further questions and if the experts are willing to test your prototype).

6. these are the questions we ask

  • General questions (e.g., How do you assess the situation of utilities?).
  • Factual questions (e.g., What type of renewable energy do you offer?).
  • Questions about experiences (work experiences, life experiences, positive and negative experiences).
  • Fairy tale questions (How do you envision an effective energy transition?) (Besides asking about experience, this is one of the most powerful questions you can ask - you'll learn a lot about the needs behind the needs!)

Documentation & Reflection

We collect our notes on our miro-board, share and analyze the different views, discussing the most interesting, unique, disturbing, curious insights we have gained. Then we reflect on our teamwork during the survey and adjust our approach if necessary.

Conduct a survey

To conclude this article, I'd like to briefly introduce Survey Monkey - a tool we use to obtain anonymized end-user information, which is a very powerful tool for generating data and user-centric insights.

And in my next article, I will introduce you to Phase 3 of the Design Thinking process - Defining a point of view. Stay curious!

Andrea Kuhfuss, co-founder and CEO of QLab Think Tank GmbH

Design Thinking Method Training

Online Workshop | QLab Think Tank GmbH

Language: German

Price: €450,- (€150,- for students)

November 22, 2023
09:30 - 17:30

Casino Futur, Bremen

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