Design Thinking – Step 1: Discovery

This is the first, in a three-part series on the “how” of Design Thinking.

This blog began as a question posed during a recent studio planning meeting: “Should we give away our secret sauce?” The idea on the table was to go deeper into Skidmore’s Design Thinking process and share how we create the extraordinary. While I believe transparency is the right thing to do, it took me awhile to articulate why I wanted to give away our entire process.

The real answer is that the Skidmore process is not ours to keep hidden away. Clients, companies, designers, executives, marketers and even baristas should know how to solve challenges in a “Design Thinking” way.
At Skidmore, Design Thinking is a three-part process. Pretty simple really:

1. Discovery

2. Strategy

3. Execution

To be honest, the secret sauce is not in the steps. Many have a similar process. It’s what Skidmore’s people do that drives “kick ass creative.”
Today we’ll spend some time on Discovery.

Simply put, “Discovery” is about trying to learn as much as we can about the challenge in front of us. We want to know what is truly unique to you, your company, your product or your service. A big part of this step is challenging assumptions. Sounds easy. It’s not.

There are assumptions today within your company, your product and about your core audience that you take as fact. Our clients tell us that “people buy our product because of quality, or customer service, or price or convenience.” And we ask “why do you think that?” And then we’ll ask “why” again. And then we’ll keep asking “why” until they want to hit us with a two-by-four. Then a light bulb will go off, and they will discover those original assumptions were wrong.

Holding a mirror in front of a company and its products in the harsh light of brutal honesty is rarely comfortable. But it is necessary. Because buyers are smart. They can smell bullshit from a mile away. And if we are going to get a buyer’s attention, we gotta start with full disclosure. Be authentic. Be real.

We get to your authentic brand by digging deeper, so we bring out the shovels and we get to work. Once we’ve turned over every rock we can find inside your company, we’ll head outside. We can learn plenty about our clients by studying, but it’s the outsider’s perspective that yields great insight into the brand, market and clients. For that reason, we talk to your customers, and those who used to be your customers (who now belong to your competitor).

All of this studying leads to sympathy, but walking a mile in the customers’ shoes leads to empathy. Being able to say, “Oh, NOW I get it. NOW I truly understand for myself what it’s like to experience this brand,” allows us to generate insightful strategies.

A great example of a company who has insight and empathy is Nike. Nike understands their core customer is the serious athlete. Look for a separate blog on how this works, but know that Nike does not worry about the weekend warrior athletes like me. And they are able to keep me brand loyal just the same.

Skidmore’s Discovery Process is aimed at giving our clients those same customer insights. When we’re done, you’ll own a document that outlines the challenges, differentiators, audience and culture unique to your organization. It’s a snapshot of your authentic brand, and it’s a roadmap of what’s to come. Our clients tell us that the Discovery Process is one of the most insightful and helpful business exercises they’ve found.

To find out how this knowledge transforms into a hard-hitting strategy, stay tuned for part two from Kacha Azema, our Director of Strategy.
Want to know more? This summer, Skidmore will offer a free, half-day workshop for anyone interested in visiting the studio to learn about Design Thinking. Look for details to come!