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Don’t Forget the Customer

Here at Thoughtworks, we are dedicated to teaching and learning. We recently conducted an internal workshop on design thinking and customer discovery for a group of our junior consultants. The workshop began with this assignment: "Go out into the world and find a problem. When you come back, we'll try to solve it." It was interesting to see the problems that were identified and explored and exciting to watch the groups use design thinking (a totally new topic for many) to try to solve those problems. Below are the key take-aways from our workshop--these are good general guidelines for anyone to follow when approaching problem solving. We hope these guidelines help you (or at least inspire you to conjure Vanilla Ice, "If there is a problem, yo...I'll solve it"). Feel free to comment on this post if you think we missed some!

  1. Get out of the building.

It’s tempting to stay inside and listen to “your gut” when designing a product, but often, things that work for you, won’t work for the end users. Try to force yourself to validate your assumptions by taking your ideas and designs into the real world and asking real users what they think.

  1. Listen and observe.

It’s important to listen to what users say, but it’s also important to watch what they do. Sometimes users find it hard to articulate what they mean, and sometimes they don’t know what they want. Watching their actions can lead to insights you might have missed by just asking them questions.

  1. Tell a good story.

When presenting a design, it’s a good idea to use a story to help you illustrate why you think the design solves a problem. Stories give context around a problem and allow your audience to really understand how the problem affects people.

  1. Get visual.

Telling a story is great. But it’s even better when you use visual artifacts to help “show” the story. When brainstorming, take some time to draw your ideas rather than only writing. Drawing things out is kind of like having a dialogue with yourself--it helps you explore your thinking around the problem.

  1. Always collaborate.

When it comes to problem solving, two (or more) brains are better than one. Getting together with a small group of people will help you gain a new perspective on the problem at hand. You are guaranteed to produce a better solution when you work in a diverse team and consider different viewpoints.

  1. Iterate!

Design > Validate > Design > Validate. When you think you’ve found the answer to a problem, it’s easy to get excited and build something without looking back. But it’s important to keep testing your designs with users and using that feedback to build the next iteration.


Book Topic
Observing the User Experience by Mike Kuniavsky Methods to use when conducting user research.
Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design by Bill Buxton Visual problem solving.
Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands On Methods for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures by Dan Roam Visual problem solving.
Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo Games that help with problem solving.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries How to test often with real people to validate concepts.


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Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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