Why Design Thinking Practice Has Nothing to do With Your Job Function
March 25, 2019 | Design Thinking
by ExperiencePoint

How a global company’s legal department used the design thinking process to get inside the heads of employees

A lot of people assume that design thinking is only for specific job titles — designers, software engineers, marketing execs. While it’s true that these roles may hold a more obvious connection to design techniques, design thinking is equally applicable across the entire organization.

Over the years, ExperiencePoint has helped dozens of clients solve big and complex problems that have nothing to do with traditional design. From figuring out how to knock snow off of power lines, to getting people to bring their cars in for servicing, our design thinking process has proven time and again that as long as you have a problem that is complex, human-centered, and has no immediately clear solution, design thinking can help you solve it.

ExperiencePoint worked with 50 lawyers who were all part of a large organization's legal team.

Lawyers are often viewed, naturally, as rule followers, which was part of why they turned to design thinking. They realized that they have customers they serve, usually other members of their organization, and if they started thinking about serving them differently and discovering and meeting their unmet needs, both sides would be better for it.

In the workshop, an ExperiencePoint facilitator walked them through the six stages of design thinking:

  1. Frame a Question

  2. Gather Inspiration

  3. Synthesize For Action

  4. Generate Ideas

  5. Make Ideas Tangible

  6. Test to Learn

It was the Test to Learn phase in the design thinking process that helped them find inspiration. In this phase, teams take their favorite idea for solving the problem, and create a simple and inexpensive test to see if it will work. These experiments are meant to be a fast, (one hour or less) inexpensive ($100 or less) way to see if people understand what they are trying to do, and/or where the idea might fall short.

For this project, the lawyers came up with an experiment to learn more about an underlying assumption about their customers. Through initial user interviews (the gather information phase) they learned that as lawyers, they often use a lot of jargon and acronyms that not everyone understands.

For their test, they made flash cards with legal terms and acronyms then walked around their company’s building asking random employees what they thought the words meant. If someone didn't know the answer, the lawyers went one step further and asked the person to look it up. In so doing, they not only learned which terms were the least understood, they also learned what channels people seek information through and what tools they use to access these channels.

They were surprised to learn how few people were able to define terms that they used every day, such as GDPR (the European General Data Protection Regulation). They were also surprised to see how many people turned to Google rather than the company intranet when looking for terms.

They used the insights from this test (which took an hour, and cost the price of a deck of index cards) to inform further experiments around which terms were the most important for employees to understand and which were the least understood. They then shared their learnings with other acronym-heavy functions, including finance because not everyone can rattle off what EBITDA means, let alone define it (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization).

The design thinking process helped these lawyers identify a hidden problem in the company and figure out how to solve it. It is one of many examples that prove any team can use design thinking — even lawyers and financiers — and with a little guidance they can gain surprising insights into what their customers really need so they can help their organizations drive understanding and better results.


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