Don’t Treat Customers Like Post-its

“Design Thinking” and “Customer Discovery” have an endurance problem.

“Design Thinking” is a creative practice that aims to help engineering types put humans, rather than technical features, at the center of their design process. But it’s often confused with a fun activity at beginning of a project–a brainstorm with a thousand post-its. Post-its have become the poster child for design thinking and human-centered design. Not humans. Ugh.

“Customer Discovery” is the business world’s attempt to help engineering types put humans, not technical features, at the center of their design process. But the name itself has a flaw. “Discovery” implies that this is a thing that happens at the beginning of a project. We talk to customers up front, then we (engineers/startup founders) have it all figured out. “Thanks for the input customers. We’ll take it from here!” Again, ugh.

I continue to be confused by this phenomenon. Why not hold humans at the center all the way through? Why don’t I see more humans woven into posters and pitches? Sure, sometimes there is a story or a persona shared up front. But these humans are inevitably dropped for technical features, never to be seen or heard from again.

How might we engage engineering types to go the long haul with humans? To pay close attention to the space between their vision and the customer’s interpretation. To engage in ongoing conversations. To listen, adapt, change, and grow not just at the beginning of a project, but throughout the life of it. And how might this behavior manifest in designed artifacts, advertising, posters, pitches?