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9 Valuable Insights From a Stanford Design Teacher

Updated on April 8, 2015

Michael Barry?

This morning Michael Barry, a Design Professor at Stanford made a lecture about Design Thinking, how one could grow a business simply by understanding better who are audience is.

He shared some valuable insight about the design process, alongside some stories, experiences and the occasional funny remark.

Growing any business from the point of view of Design, isn't rocket science. Actually Design tends to lay its shoulder on humanist studies, such as Sociology and Psychology. And its simple. People have problems and problems need solutions. Design gives you the tool to provide the most accurate solution depending on the exact profile of the people (or group of) having the problem.

Design is not just something you study, it's an aspect of life itself. As you learn to observe your environment, identify problems and take actions to solve those problems, you're becoming the best designer (in your daily living) than you possibly can.

So when we left this lecture, I spoke a while with Michael and he told me that the Sage in the Stage (the teacher) was disappearing. Following Moore's law (technology doubles its power and capacity every two years), classes will no longer be with a teacher in front of a class, every class will eventually be an online class.

I created an online course based on everything I know about design that will help you ride this wave from inception. You will learn how to teach your own online courses, covering all of the essential information you need to know and guiding you through every step of the process so you can make a living just by teaching what you know online.

You can access the course with a special discount here.

So, from the chat I was able to extract 9 key insights that will help you grow your business from the point of view of design:

1. Understanding needs create value
Vale has different meanings, depending on who's defining it. In order for you to create value you need to understand the Point of View of the one who is or will be perceiving this value. Say you are building a SaaS company who specializes on checklists for specific tasks. Who are you selling this to, employers or employees? Each one of the previously mentioned have different needs. Both employers and employees perceive value differently and creating a product knowing exactly WHO will perceive the value, can help you better understand the needs of those having them.

2. Greatest visions are written on napkins over some rounds of beer
You don't need a huge whiteboard not a wall filled with Post Its to come up with great ideas. The first version of a great idea always comes in the most unexpected scenarios. Like a conversation between two friends or while your jogging around your block. Whenever you have a good idea, make sure to write it down. I bet there will be a napkin around and once you write it, buy the next round at the bar.

3. Failures are not wasted time, just part of the design process
Both the scientific method and the Lean Startup model have a phase in which making mistakes is allowed. Mistakes (though they call them measurements) always have something valuable to teach. Why didn't it work? Why did my website experienced so little conversions? Mistakes usually point out an area to improve or adopting a new mindset to look at the same problem. Never get discouraged when you fail. Always keep moving forward, especially when the data seems to be holding you back.

4. The key to empathy lies in finding stories.
Every person on the planet has a story. We all come from different places. We all attended different schools. Everyone looks at life from a different window. Regardless of who you encounter, when you adopt a mindset based on observation, you always learn something different. There are deep emotions behind our actions and behaviors. Finding out exactly which are the emotions that trigger, let’s say your customer's actions is the biggest insight you can get to finally have the tools to empathize with them... and empathy leads to finding solutions having someone else's problems in mind. A good tip is to run in-depth interviews with 5 of your customers. Not a couple of questions on an online survey platform, but a real conversation. You'd be amazed at the things you will be able to do with this new found info.

5. Everyone sees things differently. Everyone's Point of View is valuable. No exception.
Like I said before, everyone experiences life through their own and unique point of view. Everyone behaves differently to the same situations. Real value comes from this. It comes from finding out how and why your customers think the way that they do. And what you do with this knowledge is what really counts. If you are able to provide a solution having a unique person's problem in mind, you will be creating an enormous amount of VALUE for THAT customer. Only when you do this, you can evaluate your value proposition and make sure it's the one that your customers actually need,

6. Prototype not to last, prototype to learn.
Prototyping is the art of getting a working version of your solution in front of prospect who share the same problem you are solving. It's not smart to spend more time and money than you should developing a product with all the features that your buyers need. What if they need something else? What if they are some features that just do not go with them? Well, by creating prototypes you make sure that your product/service gathers the requirements that appeal to their target market. And the good thing about prototypes is that there is no fixed amount of them you need to come up with before presenting a final version. If you make enough prototypes, you will have all the information you need for the final launch to actually be useful and to exceed expectations.

7. Design is merely taking things apart and putting them together in a new way.
Everything is already created. Period. Accept this and you will save yourself a couple of restless night trying to come up with the next big NEW thing. This is what design is all about. Understanding the different elements that comprise ONE product or service and tearing it apart completely. After you analyze the function of each piece, you'll be able to make improvements and actually see how changing just one piece affects all other pieces.
Do not try to create something new, just present something old in a completely different way!

8. Tell new stories, but keep its core familiar (so people can relate to them).
Following the last insight, people want new things. They are constantly in the lookout for that revolutionary product that will change their lives for good. But that's how society is actually wired. People want the new, but they are not looking for something that's not familiar. Take a look at movies. Every plot has elements we've seen before. Maybe a place, the relationship between the characters and even the actors they use! Same thing happens with design. Every product tells a story, a story in which there's a problem and immediately after there's a solution to them. People do not want to see a gadget with completely new materials, a completely new interface and that operated in such a way that we are not used to it... it just feels weird, we're creatures of habit and the new sometimes frightens us and even holds us back. Whenever you present new information make sure it tells a new story in a way that people can relate to it and feel immediately, which is the role that they need to play in it.

9. What people WANT is NOT what they NEED.
Like Michael told us, there's a famous quote by Henry Ford that goes:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

There some occasions in which people think they want something, but they next big thing is just one leap away from it. Providing exactly what people want is not the role of a great designer. A designer looks a bit further, into the core of the problem. With both eyes open and a heart willing to empathize, a designer analyzes the situation, evaluates what to do next and attacks the problem having not what customers want in mind, but what they actually NEED. Finding the needs, the real and important needs gives you, the designer, a new frame to work with. And it's actually comforting, because you know that you're spending your days (and nights, yes we work the night shifts too), providing solutions that will make people's life at least a little bit better. That's a stronger fuel than Redbull is.

Listening carefully to what Michael has to share.

Tell me what you think!

Which of the insights do you FEEL is more relevant to you TODAY?

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