Santander goes design thinking!

Yesterday, we were the lucky hosts of a creative team from Santander, one of the largest banks in the world. Their manager was looking to strengthen the knowledge of her collaborators on design thinking. Here are a few takeaways from a very fun day that we hope may help you lead the way to innovation in your own organization.

It’s not just about creative ideas.

Generating a lot of ideas is just the easy part. If these ideas are not aiming to solve the right problem, then they serve for nothing. In the corporate world, a most common motto is “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. But what kind of solution can you expect to create if you don’t know what caused the problem to exist in the first place? Your boss might not give it to you, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for it. So design thinking starts by understanding the context to be able to reframe the problem. Yesterday, we focused on the challenge of how smart cities can improve the quality of life of its citizens, but eventually worked on solving issues like unemployment, transportation and ageing professionals. Because these are some of the issues that impact quality of life negatively and that using technology to solve them would make our cities smarter.

You don’t have to be a designer to think like one

Why would you even like to think like a designer in the first place, right? Because what designers do best is to use empathy to understand the user they’re focusing on, so that they can create a solution – product, service, site, app or whatever it is they are designing – that will appropriately suit someone’s needs. That’s why design thinking is also called human-centered design, because it involves a human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. So we started the day by getting out in the street, to talk to real living human beings aka people aka pedestrians aka… your users! And guess what: not only nobody got bitten, but our Santander friends came back home with a block notes full of insights and amazed that they could gather so much useful information so easily in such little time.

Think with your hands

If you played LEGO, as a kid, you probably never drew a plan before starting piling the bricks. Or if you can ride a bicycle, even clumsily, it’s unlikely that you’ve learnt watching a powerpoint. Then what makes you think creating a product, a service, managing an organization or crafting a strategy should be any different? Once you’ve put your user in front of you and identified her needs, something she really requires to be solved, then stop thinking and start doing, and ask her right away why it sucks. Then learn from her feedback, and not the other way around. Design thinking is a doer business. If you’re willing to understand it, fire anyone offering you a conference and go for facilitators who promise to leave you with your hands dirty and scratches on the knees!

Steal like an artist

Contrary to what most people think, we were all born with the same creative potential. What happens to the so-called non-creative ones is that someone – a teacher, a relative or a boss most likely – told them at a given moment that something creative they did was… crap. And right there, the devil cramped your creativity. It took away what David and Tom Kelley calls your creative confidence. But cry not, it wasn’t lost forever, hardly stuck on an island in your brain you forgot how to access. Creativity is nothing more than making non-obvious connexions. Innovation, most of the time, happens when you apply, with a twist, what already exists in a context to another, where it had not been tested yet. Exactly like artists do. So all you need is to exercise your curiosity, find some inspiration in the most unlikely places, in particular ones not related to your industry or expertise, to then put your learnings into a new perspective. But be careful what you wish for, aha moments and sleep deprivation are on the way!

Touchdown baby, we want results!

So now you’re a creative beast, you have about a zillion ideas a day all related to your user needs and a corridor of flipcharts full of colored post-its. Congrats cow-boy, but so far you’ve impacted the life of no-one with those storms in your brain. You need to focus and get your hands dirty! First, no one needs a zillion ideas. We need one that has the impact of changing a zillion lives. A nice way to get there is to filter your ideas through 3 lenses:

  • Desirability: Is it new? Original? Simple? Will people want to use this?
  • Feasibility: Do we have access to the technology necessary to make that happen? Or can we develop it internally?
  • Viability: Is it sustainable on the long term economically, socially and ecologically?

Then you will have to validate that your user actually wants this. That’s where prototyping comes handy. Create a quick, cheap and dirty representation of what you’re actually trying to create and ask real users what they think of it. SHUT UP! Don’t try and convince them, just listen to what they have to say, they know better. That was a hard part for the team yesterday, but once you learn to keep silent, you start hearing again like you never have before.

Life is too short to take yourself too seriously

Alright, alright, you’re working on solving the society most wicked problems for a top company. So you’re a big shot. But that doesn’t give you the right to be anal about it and make everyday look like a funeral. More than that, if you’re in it for the long run, you may want your collaborators to feel confident they can be themselves and say things that don’t make sense without being judged for it. Playfulness needs to be part of the process. You want your collaborators and yourself to be able to experiment, try, test, distort, rebuild and reshape all the time until you find something that works. And it’s easier to do it when it’s fun than when people around you look at you like you just killed someone.

Get out of your own box

The Santander workshop took place at the fantastic CoDesign, a very creativity-friendly co-working space with top notch equipment, specifically targeted to designers, in the heart of São Paulo in Brazil. Why does it matter? Because you can’t expect to ever play tennis very well if you practice your backhand in the traffic-jam of a low-lit street… So if you want to think out of the box as a lot of people like to say lately, you should start by getting out of the box yourself and find some place where the walls aren’t grey, where nobody will come bug you for some insignificant email you haven’t answered and where you won’t feel the scornful look of suspicious colleagues from other departments.

These are only a few principles of design thinking aimed at giving rookies on the subject some clues on where to start. Please feel free to comment with your own experience and to complement with what you think is missing from this list. Design thinking is a collaborative discipline, so the more, the merrier!

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