I remember when my son was 3 years old, he was swiping at the television and becoming angry when it didn’t respond to his touch. As I watched him drag his fingers across the screen in growing frustration, I thought about how very different his expectations of technology must be from those of an adult, or even a teenager. Innovations in tech today are making quantum leaps. Trends that seemed like sci-fi just a few years ago are today’s amazing new ideas. There are a few digital trends and innovations that, in my view, are causing game-changing disruption in business and technology. The Maker Movement, the Quantified Self Movement, the growing success of crowdsourcing, and the rise of non-traditional providers offering financial services; in my opinion, these innovations have altered human behavior and perception, creating consumers that are more self-empowered and sophisticated than ever before. These consumers are actively engaged with technology. In fact, they’re helping to shape the rapidly evolving trends that are changing the landscape of business. Companies hoping to stay relevant would be wise to take their cues from consumers. A strategy based around design thinking can help businesses stay ahead of the curve by taking a customer-centered approach.
Technology has made incredible advances in the past decade. I remember being enthralled when I learned that I could use my home printer to produce a color photo that I’d otherwise have to get developed in a shop. Ten years later, 3D printers can readily produce everything from toys to jewelry to aesthetically pleasing prosthetic limbs.
3D printing is one of the cornerstones of the Maker Movement, which has grown into a global movement of designers, artists, scientists and inventors who’ve taken the reigns in fields like electronics and robotics. Championing the DIY (Do it Yourself) and open source approach, the Maker movement embodies a fundamental attitude shift, where individuals are increasingly empowered to learn by doing, for the purpose of prototyping and building the products and services they need, without the aid of a paid expert.
The Quantified Self Movement, whose tagline is “self knowledge through numbers” is taking data by storm. Thanks to the increased sophistication of biometric sensors and tracking devices, individuals can use the data from apps like Fitbit and MoodPanda to monitor their mental and physical well-being; setting goals, tracking progress and comparing achievements with others. The interfaces are designed simply and often “gamified” so it’s fun and easy to engage with the data in real-time, which means people are more empowered than ever to adopt a healthier lifestyle by tracking and sharing their personal metrics.
The mentality and willingness to share information is a trend that traditional businesses are catching onto and beginning to leverage. For example, GE executives recently launched FirstBuild, a makerspace designed to encourage students, entrepreneurs, and makers to co-create appliances of the future. FirstBuild is enabling a user-centered process of product development and has already generated new products like smart refrigerators with pitchers inside them that refill automatically.
What’s more, real innovation is no longer monopolized by multimillion dollar companies. The proliferation of online crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter has made it easier than ever before for an idea to originate in the imagination of a single individual and spread to a mass market. Rather than go to a bank for a loan, or pitch to VCs, Makers with an entrepreneurial bent are securing funding through crowdsourcing sites where success is based on the mass consumer valuation of the product. They’re able to source significant funds for their brilliant ideas, even into the millions of dollars. Businesses are getting in on the act too by obtaining P2P loans through online platforms like Prosper, which has more than 2.2 million members and over $2 billion in funded loans.
Also on the rise is the trend of non-traditional providers offering financial services. According to The Millennial Disruption Index, banking is at the highest rate of disruption by millennials, who are the largest generation of Americans to date. These individuals have come to expect fast, intuitive, engaging financial services, with no hassle, and they’re more than willing to get these services from sources other than financial institution. The latter group hasn’t kept up well with digital and technology trends, making them vulnerable to disruptive outside players like Wealthfront, Betterment and Motif.
HOW DESIGN THINKING CAN HELP
The younger generation of customers is willing to take a chance on newer entrants to the business and technology scene; bright and shiny startups that are better known for innovation than their more established older brothers. Competition for consumer loyalty has grown fierce, so more than ever, businesses need a process by which they can anticipate their customer’s needs and meet them. Applying design thinking is an excellent way to do just that. Design thinking is all about problem solving. Framing a problem, creating a solution that meets a user and business need, iterating and implementing. At the heart of the process is the customer. With tools like personas, to figure out your customers’ motives and needs, and journey maps, to track their user experience, you’re better able to understand their expectations, desires and pain points. Prototyping and iterating are used to test new experiences and products, ensuring that customers’ needs are uncovered and addressed in the development process. Using these design thinking tools is a great way to create products designed to satisfy your customers’ needs and exceed their expectations.
New technologies, and digital innovations are changing people’s expectations of technology. Individuals are empowered by data and engaged by a growing culture of sharing and co-creation. By embracing design thinking and taking a customer-centric approach, you can get ahead of customer needs to create the next generation of products and services that will dominate your industry.