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/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/smallwomangl_145187.jpgI attended a Design Thinking workshop last week and it changed my life. Okay, full disclosure, that’s not entirely true. But it did reinforce some important fundamentals that I’ve realized I use every single day. Design Thinking is a fancy name for putting the customer first in everything you do. While it sounds simple enough, Design Thinking can be a lot more challenging than many companies think. This may be particularly true in technology which, like many industries, consists of scads of incredibly smart people. It’s not that smart is bad. On the contrary, where would millions of cell phone users be without Steve Jobs? It’s just that when you’re really, really smart, the danger is accidentally forgetting that anyone else in the world has thoughts, feelings, and ideas about what they want, when they want it. That’s where Design Thinking comes in handy.

In my workshop, empathy for the customers was first and foremost in our minds as we wholeheartedly tackled our assigned task: design a new laptop bag. For the sake of clarity, we decided to focus on women. We began by researching a cross-section of folks, asking a series of questions about how they felt about their standard company issue laptop bag, and what they might change if they could. Research completed, we narrowed our target customer to a busy, mid-career, professional woman in search of a comfortable, practical yet sleek, stylish bag.

Then we got to work measuring, cutting, taping and braiding (that shoulder strap, ergonomically designed for a woman’s body, matters big time). We whipped this thing up in less than an hour. Special thanks to my teammates for their expert handiwork as this southpaw can’t be trusted with scissors. But here’s the point. Every design decision we made was based on what the women we had interviewed had told us. We aggregated comments and drew conclusions, forming a mental picture of our target woman including how she lived and what she wanted. We knew because we had asked.

These are hardly profound or even earth-shaking, new ways of approaching work. But what I liked most about the workshop, aside from the fun of modeling my team’s prototype laptop bag in all its cardboard, pink paper, and plastic shoulder strap glory, was the return to fundamentals. Make it better, produce it faster, and the customer is happier. And despite what you may read on the inside of labels from some clothing designers, one size does not, never has, never will, fit all—not now, now ever. So how do you know what the customer wants? It’s easy. All you have to do is ask.

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