Fuse Focus: Design Thinking in Practice

(July 30, 2018) – Design is a core competency for Fuse, something we believe can make a significant difference in the abilities of first responders, warfighters, and other teams to accomplish their mission. Our industrial design team at Fuse is constantly driving interaction with the warfighter and end user, and our lead has crafted this very well-thought-out essay on "design thinking." Have you considered what engaging in a human-centered design process could do for your idea or product? Jon can tell you in our first "Fuse Focus" article:

The traditional model of product development is changing fast, and for the best. The most effective workplaces are leveraging nimble, multidisciplinary teams to solve complex problems with collaboration. Focus is shifting from hardware and software to the curation of integrated experience. In this environment, everyone can “design,” building and testing concepts with speed, focus, and optimism. This is “design thinking” in action.

Coil-like diagram representing Fuse's Design Thinking Process.

Fuse prefers to depict its design thinking process as an ongoing spiral or coil, which starts with a stimulus and continues on and on with prototyping, testing and measuring, and learning, iteration, and repetition.

Successful product development relies on the efficacy of its methodologies. Design thinking is one of the most widely used today for its simplicity, speed, and, practicality. It represents a distillation of the powerful practices honed over decades by the design industry. The language and ideas were carefully simplified so they can be taught quickly to anyone. Fundamental principles include improved problem framing, user centricity, and meeting failure with optimism. Short cycles of making, testing (internally and externally), and refinement are scaled per project scope. Designers have a responsibility to guide others through this process to ensure that these practices are meaningfully understood and diligently executed, while guarding against oversimplification and bias. Assumptions about user needs should be flagged and drilled into with further research.

Throughout the course of a project, the team will need to prioritize the network of inputs from the user, customer, client, and production to constrain exploration to what is relevant and feasible. Prototypes should ideally be made to test a limited set of questions curated by the team. In early stages, it is a good idea for prototypes to remain simple and with little or no color to keep the goals in focus. As the relevance of each feature is verified by testing, the resolution of the prototype can scale in complexity, building towards a complete solution.

Whether or not a concept becomes a “product” depends on the business framework surrounding it. Piloting a “minimum viable product,” referred to as an MVP in the business world, is one way to test the waters of the market. So long as a product is out in the world, the process of refinement based on sought feedback should never really end. Customer needs and desires shift with time and the best companies are empathizing and evolving alongside them.

Internally, a healthy amount of critique before, during, and after project launch will keep an idea watertight. There will be points in a project where individuals will need to do work respective to discipline, but regular group design and testing sessions should almost always be built into the timeline. Input driven by personal opinions of any one participant (designer included) will be a detriment to the project. A culture of consensus-seeking through discussion will sharpen results. It helps to ask provocative questions: “What has been done? Why did it fail? Are we assuming this is a real problem people have? Is new hardware really the solution? What user behaviors are ingrained in the market? Should we keep some of these familiar features? Will people want something new? Why? Why not?” “What if” questions are vital when trying to imagine the unbuilt future.

As the challenges facing society become increasingly complex, technology must evolve in proportion. The highly technical systems of the future will need to be humanized in order to be sustainable. For a seat at the table, adopting a tried and tested process like design thinking is one of the best assurances an organization can implement.

About the Author

Jon is the Lead Industrial Designer at Fuse and has been an integral part of designing CORE® and Roller CORE hardware. Outside of work, he is also a trained Wilderness First Responder, preferring to be outside, on the trail, or on a board in his free time.