How to Develop a New Product that Actually Solves a Problem
Posted Feb 13, 2020 by Lesley Vos

Design Thinking: How to Develop a New Product that Actually Solves a Problem

Did you know that 90% of startups fail within the first 120 days? As sobering as that statistic may be, it’s not said to discourage you. Quite the opposite. My hope is that by acknowledging the risks, you’ll be encouraged to implement the strategies necessary to buck this staggering trend. And you can! So how do you avoid being in the 90%? By designing a product that solves your customers’ problem.

This article will guide you through the process of product development using what’s known as “design thinking.” How will you solve your audience’s problems? What’s the relationship between a person, that person’s problem, and your product-solution? Learn all about what design-thinking is and how you can use it to create a product your customers can’t resist.

Let’s dive in.

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The Principles of Design Thinking

When it comes to design thinking, the “design” isn’t about website graphics or pretty animations. In design thinking, “design” is everything related to the person your end product is meant for, i.e., your customer.

Design thinking is a way of framing and directing the process of new product development. As a framework, design thinking adheres to a set of principles:

  • Human first. Design thinking is always about people. A quality product solves a problem for the audience and fits into the context for which it’s intended, e.g., a person’s commute, etc.
  • Bidirectionality. There are two types of thinking required: divergent (quantitative) and convergent (qualitative). First, we work on the objective number of problems to identify or ideas we’ll need to create, and then we use our best judgement to choose the right ones to address.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes. Design thinkers accept their mistakes and do not hesitate to make them. And often, that mistake will lead to a break-through idea or an extraordinary decision.
  • Prototyping. It’s not a product but something that explains how the product works. It can be a short critical essay, a chart, graphics, a presentation, or just a hand-drawn picture on a whiteboard. The main thing is to explain what turns this product into a solution.
  • Test as soon as possible. When a prototype is ready, give it to someone else for feedback. Improve it. Then make it again. Testing and analyzing a prototype is cheaper than creating a first series for retail, and it protects your product from major failures after launch.
  • Design thinking never ends. So you’ve used the method of design thinking and developed the perfect product. Is that it? Far from it! First, everything can be improved. Second, your solution can become dated over time. That’s why savvy design thinkers periodically repeat the design thinking process to ensure they’ve got the best possible product for their audience’s problem at any given time.

Design thinkers don’t believe that every Jack has his Jill, aka “there’s a customer for every product.” They act differently: do research, define customer pain points, and develop a product-solution for each one.

For your e-commerce business to succeed, you can’t be like the parent who cooks bad food and forces their children to eat it just because they made it. And some entrepreneurs are; they launch websites just because they have something ready to sell, and they never consider whether or not users actually want to buy what they’re selling. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. The only thing that matters is whether your audience likes it.

Long story short, develop products with design thinking in mind.

Design Thinking in the Process of Product Development

As a method, design thinking consists of six stages: empathy, defining, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementing. If you do everything right, you’ll get a ready prototype of your e-commerce product that will solve your user’s problem.

Design thinking is an effective approach to developing new products to sell online

So, here’s how to develop a new product with design thinking.

Stage 1: Empathy

  • Type of thinking: divergent, quantity-oriented.
  • Time required: about 15 minutes per person, from 10 representatives of your target audience.
  • Equipment: a notepad, a pen.
  • Additional tools: a voice recorder, a video recorder.

Theory

Empathy is about understanding your customers and their lives — knowing what they do, think, and feel. It’s not about conducting sitting at a desk and hunting around the internet for ideas. It’s about actual communication with your would-be customers to determine if there’s a problem and how you might solve it.

In practice, this stage is best implemented through interviews.

Directly observe what users do, ask what they want, and try to understand what might motivate or discourage them from using your product. The goal is to get enough information that you begin to empathize with your target audience.

It helps to create a buyer persona and a customer journey map, as well as examining the correlation between a customer, his problems, and your product (or your competitors’ product if yours isn’t ready yet).

A customer journey map that includes customers' personal needs and problems. It helps to understand the pain points and create a product that actually helps to solve them.

Practice

During the empathy phase, ask about your user’s latest experience related to the problem you think your product solves. Try to reveal as many pain points as possible. Imagine yourself as a doctor diagnosing a disease: the more symptoms you find, the better your diagnosis, and ultimately, the better the treatment you’ll give.

Lifehack: Buy coffee coupons or Amazon gift cards, and offer them to your audience as incentive for the interview.

Example

Let’s say you sell smartphones. So you need to know why a person needs a smartphone, how they choose which smartphone to buy, and how they search websites to find it.

First, ask them about smartphones:

  • What do you use your smartphone for?
  • What do you see as the advantage of a smartphone over a regular phone?
  • How often do you use your smartphone?
  • What kind of problems do you have when using your smartphone?
  • What problems would you like to solve with your smartphone but can’t?

After that, ask about their latest experience with buying a smartphone online:

  • How do you buy devices?
  • What problems did you have when shopping online?
  • How did you buy your latest smartphone? What did you like and dislike about it?
  • What was your #1 problem while buying a smartphone online?

If the person you’re interviewing is one of your current customers, ask about their experience using your website:

  • Could you please tell us about your latest purchase experience with our store?
  • What device did you use? Did you find us on Google or social media?
  • Did you know which product to buy beforehand, or did you search our website for ideas? How long did it take to decide that you wanted to buy this product?
  • Did you talk to our online consultant? How would you rate that communication?
  • What problems did you face when buying in our online store? Is there anything we should improve or keep doing?

Sometimes customers lie: not because they necessarily want to lie, but because of their inflated ego or self-doubt. So, ask and observe. Learn to see where words fail to meet actions. Keep your questions open, avoid binary responses, and ask plenty of “Why?” questions to mine for more information.

In short, get to the heart of the problem. Find out something about your customers that they don’t know about themselves. Become like a psychologist who learns everything about your clients’ lives, and know when to stay silent to make sure they have plenty of time to speak. In other words, observe, engage, and listen. This is the secret to creating an exceptional customer experience.

Stage 2: Defining

  • Type of thinking: convergent, quality-oriented.
  • Time required: about 40 minutes to analyze your collected data plus a few minutes to define the problem statement.
  • Equipment: the data, a notepad, a pen.
  • Additional tools: a laptop, a whiteboard.

Theory

If you did everything right in the empathy stage, your notebook should be full of problems, needs, and comments from your audience by this point. If you interviewed 10-15 people, you should have enough data to highlight their common problems. If you interviewed more than 20-30 people, you’ll also be able to segment those audiences a bit more to define commonalities between people of similar demographics and psychographics.

There’s no need to highlight every possible segment: two or three should be fine. Define their points of view to understand them better, and this will help you define your problem statement (a short statement of the problem your product will address).

Practice

Based on what you’ve learned about your customers and their context, define the challenge you’ll be addressing. To do that, you’ll unpack the observations you gathered at the empathy stage.

Take all the data you got from interviews and create a table — like the one shown in the image below — to develop a buyer persona: name, age, gender, contacts, occupation, interests, etc.

Buyer persona (customer profile) example

After you’ve done this for all your interviewees, determine what they have in common and segment them into different groups based on those connections. If a substantial percentage of interviewees seem to have the same problem, see what unites those people.

Then you’ll take the problem most of your audience shares, and start generating ideas to solve it with the help of your new product development process.

Example

To define the problem, consider HMW (How Might We…?) questions.

Stage 3: Ideation

  • Type of thinking: divergent, quantity-oriented.
  • Time required: about 10 minutes.
  • Equipment: a notepad, a pen.
  • Additional tools: a set of techniques for brainstorming (mind maps, sketches, screens).

Theory

Now that you know the audience and their problems, it’s time to generate the broadest range of possibilities to solve them that would enable you to grow your business.

The ideation stage isn’t about finding the right idea just yet. It’s about brainstorming and creating as many ideas as possible. Here, you’ll sketch out different ideas, mix and remix them, rebuild others’ ideas, etc.

Practice

The first 5-10 ideas that come to mind during a brainstorming session are usually boring or duplicative of others. For effective marketing brainstorming, consider a 7-10-17 strategy.

Follow these 7 rules:

  • Organize a comfortable workspace for brainstorming.
  • Appoint a person who’ll write down all the ideas.
  • In case of a group-wide brainstorming, organize a warm-up so all participants can get to know and get comfortable with each other.
  • Pinpoint the problem.
  • Don’t rush the product development process.
  • Don’t gather more than 10 people for a brainstorming session.
  • Encourage each member of the group to share their ideas.

Avoid these 10 mistakes:

  • A brainstorming session with no topic.
  • A team with no motivation to create something remarkable.
  • A team with no problem-solving skills.
  • A team of people with similar mindsets: invite people with different backgrounds, not marketers only.
  • A team of people with competing projects.
  • Too many breaks during a session.
  • Clinging to traditional and already-developed solutions.
  • Being too serious during a brainstorming session.
  • Calling for rapid response.
  • Approving ideas in the moment.

Consider 17 brainstorming techniques when you develop products: travel in time, teleport, reshaping yourself, assuming different roles, filling the gaps, spying, switching brains, choosing the best ideas, building mind maps, searching for help, playing sports, no stops, a SWOT analysis, criticizing, unlimited resources, a random factor, exaggerating.

Stage 4: Prototyping

  • Type of thinking: divergent, quantity-oriented.
  • Time required: about 40 minutes with a good layout.
  • Equipment: use whatever you need.

Theory

You’ve developed a bunch of ideas to solve a problem during brainstorming. Now it’s time to build a tactile representation of those solutions to ask for feedback from your audience.

During this stage, your goal is to understand what components of your idea work and don’t work. Create a solution prototype (a new landing page, product descriptions, category, lead magnet, etc.) to see what customers think of it. The prototype is an explanation of how the product will work.

Practice

When building a prototype, don’t spend too long on it. Your task here is to build an experience and let users practice it as soon as possible. They’ll experience the prototype and share their thoughts on it. (Opening and follow-up questions will help you gather feedback.)

Change the prototype based on the feedback you receive, and then observe users’ reactions. Each prototype of your product gets you closer to the final solution.

Create several prototypes of your product. It can be an upgrade of an existing product, an additional service, or an entirely new product.

Oftentimes, your audience will reject the ideas that you initially liked. And that’s what makes the design thinking method so valuable for new product development: it helps you avoid products that could have been expensive failures without the right feedback.

Stage 5: Testing

  • Type of thinking: convergent, quality-oriented.
  • Time required: minimum of 60 minutes per person, 10+ representatives of your target audience.
  • Equipment: prototypes, user feedback, a notebook, a pen.
  • Additional tools: a voice recorder, a video camera. It’s also good to conduct your test in a place where the product will be used in real life.

Theory

The testing phase is about gathering customer feedback on your prototype. You show them something tangible and ask, “How about this?” Even if a user likes the idea of the product, they may not consider its prototype the best.

Practice

If possible, recreate the environment where consumers will use the product. If it’s a new café design, you can use 3D models, turn on background noise that might be heard in a café, and bring coffee and croissants to the test. If it’s a new kitchen machine, you can rent an apartment for a day and conduct tests there.

Record everything your participants do during the test. Next, analyze your participants and identify patterns: and remember, their behavior can often tell you more than their words.

Your prototypes can offer varying levels of detail. Develop your work plan so you’ll have time to conduct several tests. First, show drawings of your new product; then its 3D-model prototypes; and finally a working prototype and your ready-to-sell product.

Example

Let’s say you sell clothes. You create your first prototype for a new pair of jeans, and after introducing it to your audience, you discover that a select segment would like jeans specifically for disco dancing.

So, your next prototype is a drawing of your jeans with a new light-emitting weave to make customers stand out on the dance floor. Your second audience likes these new jeans more, but wants you to make the weave bigger. You take this recommendation into account and create a corresponding 3D model of your jeans to show them from all sides.

Now your audience says they would like to see weaves that wrap around the entire jean. So, you do that. They ask to make the weaves on the back smaller. You do that too. Now you’ve fine-tuned the prototype enough that you create a working sample for your audience to try on.

They worry about buttons, a zipper, and whether the weaves would be wiped out during washing. So you change the buttons and the zipper, and give them the jeans for a month to test by washing them every two days. Then you gather their feedback, make tweaks, and repeat this final stage as needed until the desired product is achieved.

Stage 6: Implementing

As the most crucial step of design thinking, “implementing” is the key to successfully launching your new product.

Implementing a new product  is a vital part of product development process

The final stage of design thinking is about staffing, funding, and mapping out your e-commerce product timeline. This is where you’ll determine milestones for your solution and develop a funding/long-term revenue strategy to grow your business.

Points to consider:

  • Any costs you’ll incur, including staff and marketing.
  • Choosing reliable funding sources.
  • The number of sales required to hit your revenue goals. (How will you create repeat business? Will you introduce new versions of your product later?)
  • Your long-term goals. (What will happen with your product in five years?)

Note: The product design process never ends. You’ll ideate and test your product again and again to deliver the best possible solution and encourage your customers to keep returning for more purchases in the future.

Designing E-commerce Products: What’s Next?

So what have we learned?

With design thinking, you’ll create and refine products that solve real problems for your target audience. And solving problems means more profit, happier customers, and lifelong fans.

Harness your new design thinking skills to start creating products that sell.

About the author
Lesley Vos is a professional copywriter and guest contributor, currently blogging at Bid4Papers.com. Specializing in data research, web text writing, and content promotion, she is in love with words, non-fiction literature, and jazz. Visit her Twitter @LesleyVos to say hi and see more works.
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