Letting the end user decide

Posted on October 25, 2018 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

Design thinking is changing the way some Atlantic companies create new products

DESIGN THINKING IS A POWERFUL PROCESS that lets companies understand the needs of their customers before a product or service is developed. First described in the mid-1960s by British design research professor Bruce Archer, the process has been gaining traction in business circles in recent years as a way of developing new products and services.

Atlantic Lottery Corporation is one of the Atlantic Canadian companies putting the principles of design thinking into practice. Recently the company has begun enlisting customers, employees and the general public to serve as part of the design team during every stage of development of a new product. “Instead of writing papers, creating the product and finding out later if it’s any good, now we start showing products to customers immediately in the design stage,” says Atlantic Lottery vice president of innovation and renewal Jean Marc Landry. The process has already resulted in some significant product development intel for Atlantic Lottery Corporation, including the recent launch of a new method of playing the popular game Pro-Line over a smartphone.

Product improvement is just one of the benefits of a design thinking culture. The process is trickling through other aspects of Atlantic Lottery Corporation’s operations as well. Today, instead of a company culture that’s resistant to change, new innovations are celebrated and embraced, according to Landry. ‘Design thinking has fostered a more nimble culture here,” he says. “We’ve democratized the innovation process.”

Step by Step: A guide to understanding the design thinking process

The first step in developing a new product or service is knowing the right question to ask. For Atlantic Lottery, the right question is provided by customers through honest, one-on-one conversations about their lives and how they think about Atlantic Lottery products. “Sometimes we just go to a coffee shop and offer people a gift certificate to sit and give us their ideas and opinions,” says Landry. “What they tend to give us is rich, deep insight.”

Inspiration for new products can come from something as simple as a jar of pickles. For Landry the epiphany came the first time he saw a pickle lifter in a jar of Maille cornichons. The plastic lifter was a simple tool designed to fish the delicate pickles from the bottom; an elegant, uncomplicated solution to a problem that Landry didn’t even realize he had. “Maille had identified a problem that nobody had really considered before and they had created a beautiful solution for it,” he says.

The old way of generating ideas usually involved looking at what competitors were doing and trying to riff and improve on those ideas. With design thinking, inspiration for new products and methodologies is more likely to come from a completely unrelated business such as an Uber or a Microsoft. And more often than not, customers are the source of new ideas. “Customers will talk about how a company like Uber enriches their lives and we look for ways to apply that thinking to our own products,” says Landry.

Once a product has been fully formed on paper, the next step is to develop a prototype. The old-school way of thinking was to keep prototypes as carefully guarded trade secrets to be released to the public only when they were fully developed and ready to go. With design thinking, prototypes are a constantly moving target, made available at every stage of the design process so that end users have an opportunity to critique and suggest improvements.

A beta test is more than just an opportunity to debug a new product or service. It’s also a powerful opportunity to learn. Atlantic Lottery Corporation uses test results as a way to guide product designers to constantly refine and improve the product before a version is ready for official release. “Now we often develop four or five iterations of a product before we produce a final version,” says Landry.

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