Thursday, September 5, 2019 – 10:03

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CNN recently called Amazon ‘the most valuable company on the planet’. A big part of the goliath’s success comes down to design thinking and Jeff Bezos’ insistence on an empty chair.

Bezos’ legendary empty chair is present in every meeting. It represents the customer. Whatever Amazon says or does must always be to its customers’ benefit. From an aesthetic point of view, Amazon’s website is neither simple nor beautiful – two things we expect of good design. Instead, it focuses on simplicity of experience, guided by customer empathy. It’s phenomenal to see a company prioritise design, systems, processes and technologies around the customer experience. It’s an outside-in, not an inside-out perspective.

What is design thinking?

Anyone aspiring to build the next Amazon needs to adopt a similar approach. Amazon’s ‘customer obsession’ is beautifully captured within its strategic framework. It embodies mature design thinking. Design thinking comprises three parts: empathy for the end user, creativity when solutioning and rationality when making choices and trade-offs.

The Hassno-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford breaks down design thinking into five stages: ‘Empathise, define the problem, ideate (creatively generate ideas), prototype and test.’ It’s a process that brings hard and soft skills together. It combines the concrete and the abstract. The big picture and the small details. It brings paradoxical contexts together – like art and science.

Here are some of the principles of design thinking and its value for businesses:

Empathy is businesses’ most underutilised secret weapon. You can’t solve a problem effectively if you’re not experiencing the pain. Empathy goes beyond the physical design of something to the emotional experience of it. Companies must go through what their customers experience to understand this. For example, if you work at a bank, you shouldn’t jump the queue. Then you never experience something you expect your clients to tolerate. If you are not using your own products and processes the same way your customers do, then there is an opportunity for innovation. Amazon puts the customer at the centre of everything they do – it is their common purpose and the way they measure success.

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