Take a deep dive into design thinking

In today’s competitive business environment, restaurateurs have to innovate products and services that anticipate customers’ needs and ease their pain points.
Illustration: Shutterstock

Third-party delivery exploded on the scene, but operators found themselves clearing counter space to accommodate three or four tablets to interface with the different delivery providers’ platforms. And integrating them with the restaurant’s POS system wasn’t even possible. This user pain point was an unanticipated problem emerging from a new trend. The problem inspired tech companies to quickly develop systems that aggregate orders, seamlessly feeding them into an operation’s POS. In short order, they developed a software solution for a brand-new problem. Quick solutions to customers’ problems are a hallmark of design thinking.

Design thinking asks business operators to reimagine their traditional approaches when developing new products and services or solving problems. It demands empathy for the customer, always putting customer experience first, and teaches one how to learn through observation and data analysis. Design thinking invites crazy creative thinking from cross-functional teams and encourages risk-taking by removing the fear of “failed” attempts. Through design thinking, companies become adept at developing products and services that not only fill customers’ articulated needs but can anticipate (and profit from) their unarticulated needs, as well.

 “Design thinking leverages the best of what we have always known is inherently important: listening and observing intently to what makes our customers and employees happy,” says restaurateur and innovation strategist Rachel Antalek. “It gives us the actionable tools that allow us to take our observations and rapidly innovate to deliver better experiences that can increase traffic and revenues.”

The designer thinker's mindset embraces empathy, creativity, iteration, and ambiguity. It advises against making assumptions or setting anything in stone. And most critically, design thinking keeps people at the center of every process.

Key aspects of design thinking include:

  1. No more silos. Design thinking asks for input from myriad departments. The process encourages development of cross-functional teams, gathering people from different areas of expertise to collaborate on ideas, share viewpoints and offer advice from their own experiences. This fosters a broader expertise from a team that can evaluate a product or service on many levels including how it works for or appeals to the customer and whether it’s technologically possible and financially viable.
  2. More than qualitative research. Focus groups and field research are still necessary; observing customers’ interaction with a service or product is critical. But that information is augmented by other data. Studying what’s revealed in online reviews and behavioral data, for example provides a more complete picture of the customer’s needs and expectations. Design thinking makes you look at what customers do as well as what they don’t do.
  3. Iterations and improvements. Design thinking is iterative and encourages the team to prototype early and often. Don’t wait too long to launch. Better to get viable prototypes of products or services out into the operations, tweak and improve them, and test them out again and again. With the accelerated rate of change in business and society today, speed is of the essence.

Get an introduction to design thinking at the Restaurant Innovation Summit

Immerse yourself in an intensive exercise in design thinking at the Restaurant Innovation Summit: Ideas into Action. Scheduled for Nov. 5-6 in Cleveland, the summit brings together industry executives in menu development, human resources, finance, marketing, operations and information technology. Innovation icon David Robertson is the keynote. He’s the senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, former professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development, and author of “The Power of Little Ideas” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017). The agenda includes a four-hour design thinking workshop, conducted by ExperienceInnovation, in collaboration with IDEO, a leading design thinking consultancy.

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