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Past meets present: Design thinking in manufacturing

Design thinking in manufacturing sounds like an oxymoron. How could human-centered design ever find its place in an industry focused on increasing volume and maximizing efficiency? Square peg, round hole, right?

Not so fast.

We’re all at least a little familiar with the old school product development formula:

  1. The CEO requests something new in response to slowing sales
  2. Teams organize focus groups to see what the people want
  3. Strategic plans inform product development
  4. Unveil the new product

It’s simple, right? But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. There’s one big problem with this formula, and it starts with the focus group.

Sure, focus groups seem like easy, effective ways to learn more about customers. But in reality, focus group feedback relies on what people say they do, not what they actually do, meaning these insights fall a little flat.

Truth be told, focus groups offer very little—if any—insight into how people actually use or feel about a product. Since the information gathered in traditional focus groups rarely uncover customers’ deepest needs or desires, product improvements continually falling short of meaningful innovation.

The difference design thinking makes

On the flip side, design thinking places its greatest emphasis on getting to know people and their behaviors. Design thinkers empathize with people by identifying and understanding pain points that uncover opportunities to better meet their often unspoken needs.

This process allows companies both large and small to discover ways to drive innovation and deliver true value to individuals. Product development becomes driven by the very people who intend to use the products.

Finding the balance

Observation is only one third of the design thinking equation. Additional steps of prototyping, testing, and iteration challenge designers to develop useful, financially sound, and practical solutions.

Business leaders who leverage design thinking are not only able to uncover customer desires, they are also able to find solutions that make sense—financially and in terms of the resources available to them. For manufacturing companies, this means user acceptance is just the tip of the design thinking iceberg.

Design thinkers have the potential to deliver massive time and cost savings for manufacturing companies. Thanks to this unique approach, business leaders can quickly recognize unviable ideas or products that could drain funds or time and redirect these resources to more worthwhile projects. Design thinking opens up a world of possibilities for improvement by removing unnecessary processes and creating efficiency.

And it doesn’t hurt that design thinkers are a little different. They think outside the box. A team of creative, problem-solvers offers any company the means to navigate the organizational, marketing, and product development challenges that could otherwise mean disaster.

The manufacturer’s best friend

At face value, design thinking appears to have limited potential in the world of manufacturing. Yet as we dive deeper, design thinking reveals itself as even more meaningful than the traditional methods upon which the manufacturing industry was built.

Where traditional product development techniques fall short of true innovation, design thinking succeeds, making the design thinking toolkit one of the most meaningful investments a manufacturer can make.

Director of Marketing

I am a storyteller, an outdoor enthusiast, and an XNFP. I like people, creative projects, and donuts.