Stop Throwing It Over the Wall: Using Design Thinking as an Engine for Growth

By : Pablo Dopico


Even though there’s plenty of evidence behind the positive influence of design thinking on business growth, I’ve frequently encountered brands where different teams — even those working on the same product — don’t efficiently collaborate together to embrace its principles.

Although there are various nuances to this, there are many brands where the product team builds products and, once they’re happy, throw them over the wall for the marketing team to create a story and put together a go-to-market plan. Marketing teams, in turn, throw those over the wall for local markets and digital teams to activate. Once launched and distributed, it’s unclear what feedback and data gets shared back, and how it’s acted upon. Sometimes a data science team is tasked with making sense out of all the different sources of information and providing actionable insights to others. Other times, the marketing team might take it upon themselves to uncover performance analytics and request changes from the product team. While there may be elements of design thinking or agile methodologies scattered across the various teams and departments, it’s not uncommon to feel a lack of an overarching strategy or integrated interdisciplinary process.

On occasion, by the time useful data makes its way to a team, they are already busy working on something new and about to toss it over the fence again. Valuable insights are, then, not given sufficient consideration or are left for a better time. This dysfunctional loop can go on for many years and, as long as nothing catastrophic happens, there’s a tendency to default to this way of operating because it’s easy, and because it plays into group and personal dynamics.

It may be that some, if not all, of the following scenarios are at play:

  • Every group has its own goals, which may or may not relate to other teams’ goals
  • People’s careers depend more on immediate team and individual goals than broader company ones
  • Teams often focus their attention on a smaller subset of things that they do best, as opposed to the big picture, resulting in a false sense of productivity
  • Some sort of of us vs. them dialogue exists in internally (“we built a great product, but the marketing team messed up the messaging”, “we have a great story to tell, but the product doesn’t have the right features”, “the stuff we were given by the Marketing & Product teams doesn’t fit our market / platform”).
  • Individuals on various teams aren’t taking responsibility in an attempt to avoid failure or blame

Design Thinking as your Backbone

Organizations can help mitigate the scenarios above by embracing design thinking. The 5 pillars of design thinking — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test — are well known. What’s less known is that if you build cross-discipline teams that participate together in the design thinking process, you will ignite exponential innovation and growth. One reason why disruptive brands and companies have been able to carve their own space and take market share away from larger, well-established ones, is their ability to build well-integrated interdisciplinary teams that collaborate, share the same objective, use the same data, and participate together in the decision-making process.

Brands have become more familiar with concepts like “innovation speedboats”, building smaller teams that integrate product development, marketing, and sales. These teams then apply design thinking principles to come up with innovative ideas and concepts, working together to launch them, while being unafraid to fail and iterate. adidas’ Platform A is a great example: while the main company or brand can take its time to change course, it can always rely on a speedboat to help scout the way and try out new routes for the big cruise ship to go, minimizing the risk of running it into an iceberg.

The mobile & digital revolution has made data more robust and shareable across the entire organization, so newer, more agile companies didn’t need to worry with decades of analog data, legacy business models, and old processes. Disruptor teams built on an engineering culture already well-versed on agile haven’t been afraid to implement this philosophy across the entire business, but this does not mean that they are immune to falling into a “throw it over the fence” model. Design thinking needs to be placed at the core of your company values and embraced by every team for it to work efficiently and continue to make an impact.

Fear to Fail and Other Pitfalls

The challenge of a truly integrated design thinking approach is that everyone will have to become more comfortable with concepts like prototyping and testing in the real world (not just in focus groups), as well as brainstorming with and receiving input from folks in different fields and disciplines.

One of the biggest hurdles is fear. There will always be resistance towards launching something that will need several attempts to make it perfect. Iteration means the product or service is continuously improved along the way, and that there’s built-in room for failure. “Fail Harder” is still a motto well known to every Facebook employee, and printed on many team’s walls in offices all around the world. “Release early, release often, and listen to your customers” is a fundamental principle for most software developers. You cannot be afraid to fail, gather feedback, and go back to the drawing board to redefine your strategy.

One would argue that in the digital age all products are becoming services, so brands are seeking longer-term relationships with customers. This makes design thinking pillars like empathy and iteration more important than ever before. Some industries are further along than others at embracing these strategies.

It took years for the gaming industry, both on the brand and consumer sides, to become comfortable with the fact that modern video games would require regular patching and updating: first to correct bugs not found during early testing, but later to fine tune gameplay and features as they became services plugged into an always-on stream of live consumer data. Any Dungeon Master that has ever hosted a role-playing game session will tell you that people are a factor that is not easy to control or predict. Today, pretty much every tech product, game or otherwise, ships with a healthy backlog of updates that will be released during its lifetime, and more that will be discovered along the way. Some of those will be less well received, so don’t be put off when that happens – it’s an important part of the test & learn process that results in a better product.

Wondering how your company is tracking when it comes to implementing design thinking? Here are a few questions to check across the board:

  • Do you try to hire interdisciplinary talent (as opposed to exclusively subject matter experts)?
  • Do your marketing and user acquisition teams understand your User Journey?
  • Are your collaborative teams utilizing the same data to make decisions?
  • Does everybody in the company use (and generally understand) the product?
  • Does the product or development team participate in the marketing process?
  • Are you allowing regular brainstorming and testing of new decisions?
  • Does every team participate in brainstorming sessions with other teams?
  • Are your teams open to testing new concepts and ideas in the market before they are “perfect”?
  • Does your organization process failure with an eagerness to learn from mistakes?

The more questions that you answer yes to, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

At VidMob, we have built a Creative Studio with design thinking at the core, bringing the different data sets of creative and campaign performance together into a platform that encourages innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration across creative, brand management, media & data analysis teams. It allows everyone to access valuable insights that help inspire & optimize creative production, so that everyone can work together to accelerate business growth.

This blog expands upon topics discussed in our recent webinar, Effective Creative for Mobile Games and Apps.