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Get your customer’s shoes on: strap up your desirability and innovation laces


customer first - Visual Aid


What makes consumers decide to buy your product or service over your competitors? How can you be sure that your services are still aligned to the needs of your end-users? Making time for human-centred design and innovation is essential to stay ahead of the curve and win out against your competition.

Agile alone is not enough! Yes of course creating an environment in which teams can work in shorter cycles to deliver a working product more frequently, incorporate fast feedback loops and adapt to changing conditions will inevitably lead to building the ‘thing right’ but are your teams building the ‘right thing’?

The old adage ‘put yourself in your customer’s shoes’ rings as true in the twenty first century as it did when it was first coined. In today’s intensely competitive, rapidly shifting markets, it’s crucial to have a human-centred mindset from the get go and throughout the product lifecycle. The key is to tie together two imperatives: the ‘desirability factor’ and ‘baking in time for innovation’.


The desirability factor

 “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to technology.”

 Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and former CEO, Apple



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Apple is renowned for creating user-centric products that enable the brand to last the test of time. It is not a coincidence that the features on your iPhone are in sync with your daily needs, and that the most useful features are easily obtained with a quick upward swipe. Not only is your iPhone currently fit for purpose, you would expect features of later versions to be continuously modified based on ever changing customer behaviours and trends. This alone will ensure that Apple maintains its status as a leading global brand.


As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and orator on the value of innovation, puts it: “Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”


Desirability, Viability, Feasibility zen diagram


Far too often an organisation focuses on maximising delivery with technical enhancements that are both feasible and viable from a business perspective yet fail to tick the desirability box. The typical self-diagnosis from a business looking to transform? Invest in a new technology platform.

Sounds familiar? Businesses rarely start by delving deeper into ethnographic user research. IDEO proposes that the sweet spot for innovation is in the centre of the diagram. It is also the sweet spot for effective product ownership.

Understanding the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements from a business perspective are each as important in maximising the delivery of value.

So what of ‘desirability’? It’s no surprise to any of us that the best products and services can only be designed around the basic needs, aspirations, emotions and motivations of your end users. The first stage of the Design Thinking process involves developing a sense of empathy towards the people that will use your products and services. Fortunately there is a range of collaborative tools and techniques at your fingertips. Persona creation is one pertinent way to represent the needs of many users rather than canvassing a whole user population. But it comes with caution. Failure to base personas on factual market research and real data makes it impossible to test assumptions. Persona creation is a great starting point for walking through a design idea for a future product that will fulfil a customer need and business problem, as well as well as acting as a common point of focus for a delivery team. However, it must not take the place of user experience testing with real people once a product or service is live.


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As I’m a visual thinking practitioner, you won’t be surprised to hear that I lean towards visualisation techniques to generate ideas and solve problems. Dave Gray’s empathy mapping tool provides an effective way to gain greater insight into the user needs of a persona. The tool enables you to observe behaviours and motivations, which will naturally direct you to customer ‘gains’ and areas of importance for an end user, thereby highlighting potential product features.


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I would also propose bouncing between tools that are commonly used within the field of Agile or Design Thinking. For example, Kano Analysis is incredibly useful to decipher between the ‘must’ and ‘wow’ qualities of features that could have been discovered as an output of an empathy mapping exercise. As long as collaboration is taking place, then make use of as many tools as you can to elicit conversations and test assumptions.

The ‘desirability factor’ is super important. It enables you to avoid investing in ideas and technologies that business stakeholders want and, instead, focuses you on investing in ideas and technologies that your customers need, want and value.


Baking in time for innovation

If you work in the field of Agile I imagine that by now the alarm bells are ringing. Implementing Design Thinking phases? Surely this looks perilously like a Waterfall project?

You could not be further from the truth! Let’s start by looking at the Design Thinking double diamond diagram below. There appears to be a set of phases (empathise, define, ideate and prototype, and test and implement) that could innocently appear as stage gates of a project.


Empathise, Define, Develop, Deliver


A service design project may go through similar phases (discover, define, develop and deliver) but if we remove the changeable and somewhat confusing terminology, the primary focus of both Design Thinking and service design is divergent and convergent thinking. This gives the model the form of a double diamond. The intention is to generate many ideas before converging on an agreed solution or hypothesis to design, build and test.

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In Agile we often refer to the three pillars of empiricism, inspection, adaption and transparency. While there are a variety of empirical models to choose from, they all have the same underlying theory of identifying something, trying something, measuring results, learning and adapting. This iterative and incremental approach mirrors that of divergent and convergent practices.


Transparency, Inspection Adaptation


Given this context, we should not look at ‘discovery’ work as the first phase of a project but a key area of focus that must be balanced alongside ‘delivery’ work throughout the product lifecycle.


Discovery & Delivery


If your teams work in sprints (iterations or time boxes) then you must allocate capacity for innovation and discovery work during planning by adding innovation work items into the backlog. You should then prioritise them. This will enable you to strive for continuous improvement and value delivery. After all, value can be determined as opportunity enablement and learning.

Prototyping is a typical form of innovation work commonly used within Lean, Design Thinking and Agile practices. From a Design Thinking perspective, a prototype will represent concepts that help to test ideas in the design process.

In Agile, teams make use of a variety of modelling or prototyping techniques to represent technical developments and constraints in a way that can be understood by all non-technical stakeholders ad hoc and during sprint reviews. Overall the intention of prototyping is standard, elaborating ideas, shared understanding, gaining valuable feedback and focusing on the end user experience.


Prototyping techniques include:


Use it for:

Simple pictures on a flipchart

eliciting ideas rapidly

Narrative storyboarding

story sequencing for idea elaboration and exploration

Customer journey mapping

gaining experience from a customer or colleague perspective

3D prototypes

testing the look and feel


planning a site or application’s structure and functionality


testing the viability of internal capabilities

Role play

exploring behaviours and processes

Business model canvas

testing product and service viability


These are just some of the many low fidelity prototyping techniques that you can use. I also favour blending prototyping techniques such as narrative storyboarding and customer journey mapping to clearly highlight pain points across a customer or colleague journey (the colleague representing the experience of an employee using an internal process). Exploring the experience from a customer perspective during the inception of a product or service will highlight areas of importance, and walking through an existing service can identify gaps and non value add steps in a process.

Story telling Visual Aid


Customer journey mapping is most beneficial as it provides a single cross-business unit view of the major and minor touch points of your customer’s experience over time. This alone will ensure teams focus on the end-to-end process, harnessing the desire to work as part of cross-functional teams delivering value to end users.

My final take-away? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, strap up your ‘desirability’ and ‘innovation’ laces – and get the balance right between building the right product (innovation) and building it right (delivery). Shoes on and laces strapped? Let’s go …


Want to learn more about Human-Centred Design? Take a look at our portfolio of Design & Innovation courses.


Stuart Young

Stuart Young

Stuart is a professional Business Visualiser with extensive experience and a deep-rooted appreciation for methods of Design Thinking and Agile Ways of working. By combining both creative and analytical skills Stuart contributes to team strategic visioning workshops, planning sessions and retrospectives by offering captivating visuals that crystallise ideas and learning. Stuart facilitates a suite of Design Thinking, Visual Thinking and Agile ways of working workshops to encourage teams to work more visually, making the intangible tangible, catalysing customer centric creativity and driving product innovation. Stuart joined Radtac in 2015 where he continues to assist individuals, teams and organisations with an array of Innovation and visualisation services. Read more