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Future-proofed design thinking

Make your innovations future-proof and present-proof by combining insights about social, technological and economic change with insights about your customers’ needs.

Design Thinking is a philosophy that has become more and more popular. Part of its appeal is that it can be fruitfully applied to a wide range of problems. At its core, design thinking is about having the human user as a starting point, rather than technology or systems. Regardless of what kind of question is addressed or what roles people play –consumers, users, citizens – design thinking uses insights about how humans work as a basis for experimenting with different solutions.

At Kairos Future we have long experience working with human-centered innovation in developing new concepts and compelling user experiences. We have worked this way with clients in many industries, including healthcare, retail and tourism. Our methodology Tribal Close-Up, focused on in depth consumer understanding, also builds upon this general philosophy.

However, standard Design Thinking methodology lacks particular attention to the future. While it is absolutely necessary to design products and solutions with respect to today’s customer needs, those solutions may not survive in tomorrow’s market if not special care is taken to make them future-proof.

By combining Design Thinking with our own well-tested methodology for future driven innovation (TAIDA), we can get the best of both worlds. We call this Future-Proofed Design Thinking.

The methodology uses long term changes in the surrounding world coupled with in-depth analyses of users’ and citizens’ needs in the present to explore possible futures. By using a future-proofed design process involving an experimental approach to exploring various opportunity platforms, concepts and strategic choices we help our customers create solutions adapted to both present and future customer needs.

The methodology is based on four “E”s: Empathize, Explore, Experiment, and Execute. To Empathize is to put yourself in the user’s place and, by utilizing different types of user studies, understand their needs and desires in depth. Future-Proofed Design Thinking combines customer journey mapping, netnography, and ethnography with focus groups, surveys and big data studies in order to understand current needs while at the same time mapping global trends, values and dreams in order to better understand future user needs.

The Explore phase involves systematically generating ideas using particular methods ensuring that what emerges is firmly rooted in user needs, the organisation’s strategy, and global trends. It helps to be one step ahead of your customers and avoid developing solutions satisfying soon-to-be-obsolete needs. This future-oriented approach makes it easier for potentially game-changing ideas to gain traction internally even though they may not fit the company perfectly right now but will be essential in the future.

When we work on developing concepts and opportunity platforms together with our customers, we experiment our way towards robust solutions. This is an iterative process where prototyping on all levels – from simple rapid prototyping to testing the core of the system by building minimum viable products – is a natural part. By “wind tunnel testing” ideas against global trends and future scenarios we develop more robust solutions and strategies. We use focus group evaluations where users discuss ideas at an early stage – always in close cooperation with the customer.

With Future-Proofed Design Thinking it’s also possible to work together all the way to the product launch. In those cases we work closely with the customer in their own processes, ensuring that they don’t fall back into old habits and that the original insights about future and users, concepts and intentions are kept in mind throughout the implementation phase. This is often the weakest link, our more than 20 years of experience in future-driven innovation at the cutting edge has taught us. Since the world constantly changes it is important not only to future-proof the solution but also to future-proof the implementation. This is accomplished by tracking trends with particular impact on the solutions in pipeline in order to tweak them appropriately during development – and after launch.

Finally, Future-Proofed Design Thinking often includes an appraisal of the organisation’s innovation capacity. This helps us plan and prepare for changes required on our quest to create a highly efficient innovation factory looking towards the future.

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