Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup

Point

Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design – NYTimes.com:

While the projects had wildly different end products, they both had a similar starting point: focusing on how to ease people’s lives. And that is a central lesson at the school, which is pushing students to rethink the boundaries for many industries.

A fascinating article about the “Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford” also known as the D.School.

 Everyone knows that Design Thinking is great and the new hotness. I love great design, and am in awe of it when I see it or have it pointed out to me. Furthermore, I am blown away by Ideo, which is the famous industrial design company founded by David Kelly (what a mustache!), who is one of the founders of the D.School.

“The school challenges students to create, tinker and relentlessly test possible solutions on their users — and to repeat that cycle as many times as it takes — until they come up with solutions that people will actually use.”

… “That is how Mr. Kothari, a mechanical engineering graduate student, started his ramen project. He spent hours at local ramen shops watching and talking to patrons as they inevitably spilled broth and noodles. Together with a group of other D.school students, he built a prototype for a fat straw that would let patrons have their ramen and drink it, too”

(from the same article) 

This is the same philosophy taught at Olin College where I teach. At Olin we call it UOCD or User Oriented Collaborative Design. In fact at Olin there are numerous interesting courses that come at Design from many different perspectives.

Counterpoint

Now the courses that I myself have taught have been based on so-called Lean Startup and I use the excellent book by Eric Ries called The Lean Startup. The Lean Startup process receommends: 

“The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development.” (from The Lean Startup)

As I was reading the New York Times column about the D.School, I wondered if the two approaches are different or the same, in conflict, or just two ways of saying the same thing.And as I am writing this long post, I still am not sure. The easy answer is they are two sides of the same coin. The provocative answer is that two highly acclaimed approaches are 180% opposite to each other.

Good tips for building products that people want

Here is a good cheat sheet on how to build products that people really want. It is cribbed from this article on TechCrunch.

  • Draw On Previous Experience and Understanding – The biggest problem is startups in search of a problem. Chase what you’re passionate about; you’ll probably already have knowledge in the space.
  • Have A Hypothesis About How You’re Different – Have a point of view about your startup. Why is there a special opportunity for this now?
  • Never Build Without Sketching – Mike says he and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom would go to a cafe with little iPhone design pads where “we’d build and throw away entire features. You’d waste three or four pieces of paper, not three weeks of coding.”
  • Learn In Weeklong Increments – Start with a question: “Will folks want to share photos on the go? Can we build filters that look good?” Spend the week investigating, and by Friday have a conclusion and move on.
  • Validate In Social Situations – “We called this the Bar Exam. If you can’t explain it to the guy or girl at the bar, you need to simplify.” Don’t just test with your techy friends.
  • Know When It’s Time To Move On – “I know ‘pivot’ has become a dirty word, but if there’s no unanswered questions left, then it’s time to move on.”
  • The Wizard Of Oz Techniques For Social Prototyping – You don’t need to build everything at first. You can be the man behind the curtain. Krieger says him and Systrom tested an early version of a feature which would notify you when friends joined the service. Instead of building it out, they manually sent people notifications “like a human bot” saying ‘your friend has joined.’ It turned out not to be useful. “We wrote zero lines of Python, so we had zero lines to throw away.”
  • Build And Maintain A Constant Stream Of Communication With Your Audience – Don’t spend months building something without any idea if someone actually wants it.