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1/12/2018 12:30:00 PM
App design thinking principles
Software User Engagement,User Experience Tips,Engaging Enterprise Software
App Developer Magazine
App design thinking principles


App design thinking principles

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ed Hadley Ed Hadley

Tips for designing apps that deliver engaging user experiences that will keep users coming back for more.

Design thinking is fast becoming a key pillar in enterprise digital transformations. And for good reason: the approach promotes a deep understanding of end users; a creative, test-and-learn approach to new ideas; and constant iteration toward optimal outcomes.

To many, design thinking is inextricably linked with innovation. After all, IDEO CEO Tim Brown defines design thinking as “a human-centered 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.”

Although innovation is an obvious choice for applying design thinking principles, I believe there’s value in applying this approach across your entire portfolio of application development initiatives. Let’s explore four different use cases where design thinking principles can deliver impactful solutions that meet both user needs and business objectives.

1. Innovation

Design thinking principles are extremely useful for delivering innovative applications that help enterprises launch new digital business models, products, or go-to-market channels. Because these apps represent new ideas - and often complicated problems with no clear solution - a traditional requirements gathering process is simply ineffective.

Instead, a creative, iterative, and user-centric approach is needed to unravel the true nature of the problem, go wide to generate as many ideas as possible, and then narrow in on the most innovative, impactful solution. Often, this solution isn’t what was originally envisioned at the onset of the project.

2. Customer Engagement

Design thinking principles are also valuable for creating external-facing customer engagement applications and portals. The design thinking approach focuses on achieving goals, versus solving problems. This shift in perspective opens up opportunity space, and allows the team to deliver more creative solutions than they otherwise had they been constrained by traditional problem-solving.

A common example used to illustrate the power of focusing on goals over problems is the Vase Exercise. When asked to design “the thing that holds flowers on a table,” designers inevitably produce a collection of traditional vases, with minor variations. However, when presented with the goal of designing a “better way to enjoy flowers,” the output becomes much more creative, often not resembling vases at all.

3. Operational Efficiency

A third use case for applying design thinking principles is operational efficiency applications that streamline or automate business processes, whether within a single department or across the organization. What’s important to recognize is that end users have an innate tendency to accept sub-optimal environments, and often can’t see the possibilities for technology to create radically new or better outcomes. As such, asking them what they need typically results in incremental improvements, not breakthrough solutions.

Here, the design thinking principle of empathy is critical to deeply understanding users and their needs and motivations. Because people often don’t know, or can’t articulate, these things explicitly, empathy emerges through close observation of users and their behaviors in context, as well as through open, unstructured interviewing. These techniques help reveal insights, that when combined with an iterative approach, help ensure that the right solution and outcomes are delivered.

4. Legacy Migration

The fourth and final use case is legacy migration. Pure life-and-shift projects that focus on rebuilding existing systems and functionality miss opportunities to drive incremental business value. Instead, design thinking principles can be leveraged to more deeply understand users and enhance new solutions.

Often, this deeper understanding of the users and business context helps the team close process gaps that existed in the legacy system(s), delivering an end-to-end solution that drives substantial productivity gains. It may also incorporate new capabilities that weren’t available in the legacy system (e.g. mobile, conversational UI), or the removal of unused features. Both help deliver a more focused and engaging user experience.


Across these four use cases, IT organizations should consider leveraging design thinking as an approach for problem finding, in conjunction with agile methodologies as an approach for problem-solving. Together, the two create a mutually reinforcing environment focused on user-centricity and rapid iteration as a means of reaching optimal outcomes.

Additionally, it’s important to develop a plan for how to operationalize applications early in the process. Taking the first steps towards DevOps, if you haven’t already, can help tremendously. The platform upon which you build these applications can help ensure a seamless path from prototype to production, allowing them to be deployed at scale - and thus realize their full potential.

The last thing you want is for all your team’s great ideas and designs to never leave the prototype stage - delivering no value at all.

This content is made possible by a guest author, or sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of App Developer Magazine's editorial staff.

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