May 23, 2023
How to ruin an idea right from the beginning

Are you really providing a solution to your users’ problems? 

Problems and solutions. These are the two sets that entangle our everyday lives. Ideally, solutions successfully balance out the problems. But does such an optimal scenario truly exist? Why do we encounter more and more tasks to solve? What can we do as a business to minimize the set of problems?

In a discussion with István Eckert, product strategist at Smart Design, we can find answers, among other things, that it is not always necessary to seek the “philosopher’s stone.” By taking a step back and selecting an appropriate methodology, we can effectively tackle the problem.

[SD’s Marketing Manager]: As a design thinking expert, how can you effectively assist a business?

[István E.]: When a company wants to launch a new product or service, they often make the fundamental mistake of not delving deep into the needs of their customers. Do they really need what we, as a company, think they do? So, we could say that the zeroth, but most important, step is missing: basic research. My background in business informatics naturally predisposed me to be a bridge between managers and programmers, but later in my career, it became a milestone when, as an innovation manager for over 6 years, I had the opportunity to test the latest generations of design methodologies alongside technological and business innovations. Equipped with these experiences, it became much easier to find alignment between the business and technology domains. By using human-centered design methodologies, which we also apply at Smart Design, we can create that crucial zeroth step, which is often necessary to build a strong and relevant foundation for future work.

[SD’s Marketing Manager]: How do you practically apply these methodologies?

[István E.]: When we start working with a client who wants to, for example, bring a new product to the market, we first need to understand the motivations that led them to consider that particular idea/product as a winner. So, we go back together with the client to the pre-start state and search for common ground. At Smart Design, we employ stakeholder interviews and various workshop techniques to get to know the companies, their decision-makers, experts and to explore what drives them, what their goals are, and the foundations on which they rest. This is where the previously mentioned problem often arises: they only have assumptions about their clients’ needs but fail to ask them about the actual challenges they need help with. Another scenario that arises through the application of these techniques is the emergence of different perspectives within the company, including potential conflicts that could later undermine the project from within. Instead, we initiate a shared discourse and help find common ground among idea generators, project sponsors, and clients. Unfortunately, even the best ideas can fail without proper support within the organization.

[SD’s Marketing Manager]: That sounds quite obvious…

[István E.]: …yes, because often a solution does not lie in coming up with something completely new or grandiose in order to make progress. It frequently happens that we are called in not for the introduction of a new product, but because problems have accumulated, and clients know what they want and are already working on it, but they can’t connect the dots. In such cases, we usually introduce the “Lightning Decision Jam workshop,” which helps bring the most important challenges to the surface within two hours, generating solution ideas and setting them on the right track. It may seem like a trivial technique that can also be tried at home with family. However, there’s one point where it can go wrong: if the workshop involves people who are not competent or do not have appropriate decision-making authority. Children shouldn’t be conducting workshops on important family topics without their parents.

There is a growing demand for design thinking solutions from clients.

[SD’s Marketing Manager]: We encounter the term “design thinking” more and more these days. How do you apply it in practice at Smart Design?

[István E.]: Design thinking is a creative process that can be divided into three main stages. The first stage is “discovery”, which involves research and is where we start. I talked about this process at the beginning of our conversation. The goal of the first stage is to understand the environment, the facts, the assumptions, but most importantly, the challenges, and to identify the ones that are most important to us. The research stage is followed by the design of the solution. Design requires ideas, and the more, the better. It is crucial to generate ideas from multiple sources, approaches, and perspectives. If we have a large pile of different ideas, they can be classified according to various criteria, but my favorite is when a completely absurd, joke-like thought ends up fertilizing the project. From the best ideas, we usually create prototypes to see what works and what doesn’t in reality.

After that we test the prototype on real customers and based on their feedback, we can determine whether we were thinking in the right direction or not. Sometimes, we hit a roadblock on the first attempt, but we learn from it and incorporate the lessons learned. Usually, one more iteration is sufficient to arrive at a good enough solution and hit the mark. It brings a sense of joy when I see a tester successfully complete a task on the prototype. The experience shows that with this approach, the risks of any project can be drastically reduced because there is already a wealth of experience available before the company has spent a single penny on implementation.

[SD’s Marketing Manager]: This concept can work for various types of businesses, right?

[István E.]: The answer is a definite yes. Our clients span a wide spectrum, including banks, office buildings, energy, fashion, food, environmental organizations, various e-commerce platforms, credit and real estate agents, and more. So far, we have successfully applied this approach in every industry.

As an innovation professional, it is truly uplifting for me to work with Smart Design’s clients and get to know different industries from the inside on a monthly basis. I can create value for them by utilizing various product strategic methodologies.


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