Best Practices

How To Apply Design Thinking To Product Management

The product manager has one clear mission: to create a product people love.

To create a product people love, it’s important that the product addresses a real challenge. And that’s exactly why problem-solving skills are critical for product management success. 

Design thinking, as you might know, is a problem-solving framework with empathy at its core. For those unfamiliar with the process, it involves empathizing with the people who experience a specific problem and clearly defining what that problem is. Then, the idea is to ideate solutions that address the problem, create prototypes for users to try, and finally, test whether the solutions are effective. 

So fundamentally, empathy-driven design thinking is exactly the type of mindset product managers should embrace. However, it’s quite different from the typical thought process of the average time- and budget-constrained PM. 

In this article, we’ll help product managers apply the practice of applying design thinking to different aspects of their jobs so they solve problems more creatively. Since product managers operate at the intersection of technology, business, and design, we’ll cover the application of design thinking in each of these areas.

No. 1: Applying Design Thinking At The Cusp Of Product Management and UX

Make User Research User-Friendly

If you’re a product manager, you’ll probably agree that it’s not easy to make people participate in your research surveys. No matter how well-intentioned you might be, people aren’t always ready to give you their time. 

Using design thinking, you begin by empathizing with your users. Then you accept that they don’t want to be pestered to participate in surveys. As a result, you start brainstorming ways to make user research more interesting, fun, and meaningful.

You could:

  • Make user research more fun by shuffling up the format and doing them in the form of quizzes or interactive events. 
  • Incentivize your users to participate in user research by rewarding them for their time. 
  • Pay attention to the design elements of your surveys so they’re more visually appealing. 
  • Make user research a socially-fulfilling experience

Are you starting to see the beauty of design thinking for doing your job creatively? By using empathy to craft creative solutions, you’ll make your users feel like they’re part of your product development journey. In turn, they’ll support your efforts to improve their product experience. 

Make the User Experience Delightful

There’s only one way to know if product managers are on track toward creating a product users love. And that’s by recognizing the signs of a delightful user experience. 

Do you see your users smiling while they’re using your product? Are they excited or relieved at the thought of purchasing your product? Think about how people wait overnight outside an Apple retail store just before the new iPhone is released. Does your user experience inspire a similar emotional response? 

These are the types of questions design thinking will encourage you to answer. As a product manager, you’ll work toward eliminating the pain points in your application’s user experience. By working with a sense of empathy, particularly during the “test” phase of design thinking, you’ll be empowered to create prototypes that address a true issue. Finally, you’ll tap into your intuition and be on the road to creating a delightful product, one that solves a problem for real human beings.

No. 2: Applying Design Thinking At The Cusp Of Product Management and Technology

Empathize With Developers

By embracing design thinking, you’ll be better able to empathize with the developers who are helping you build your product. Remember, empathy isn’t just for your users — it’s also for your colleagues. 

It’s easy for developers to feel stressed due to continuously programming for hours or be overwhelmed by the fast pace at which technology evolves. Design thinking will enable you to step into their shoes and create realistic expectations from the start. And this will minimize the number of disagreements you might have with your development team.

Use Technology That’s User-Friendly

Design thinking should inspire you to use technology that solves your users’ problem in the most empathetic way possible. For instance, if the problem you’re solving is that users feel lonely when they’re traveling, you might choose to create a voice-enabled mobile app that helps users find travel companions. This is a better solution than creating a website for them to visit from a desktop computer. 

Also, design thinking will remind you that it’s not about the technology or product you’re building. Your job as product managers is to focus on people and make your users fall in love with your work. And while this sounds simple, it’s easy to lose track or drift away from this mission. With design thinking, you’re more likely to stay focused. 

No. 3: Applying Design Thinking At The Cusp Of Product Management and Business

Use Newer Business Models

The great thing about design thinking is that it’s a paradigm for creating win-win solutions. And this is true for all business stakeholders, like your investors and business analysts, who want to make sure the product is a commercial success. 

A design-led approach to problem-solving might lead you to follow a business model that enables users to pay you with ease. You’ll give your users a reason to say, “Yes, we want to pay you.” rather than having them think, “Ok, we’ll think about it.”

For instance, you might consider some of the newer business models that have become mainstream over the last couple of years. These include subscription-based services where users pay a fixed amount per month for receiving products at their doorstep (like pet food). Another example is the advertising-fee-enabled business model, where you don’t actually pay for the service you’re using (like Facebook) unless you want to use their ad feature.

To summarize, empathize with your users’ wallets and your business stakeholder’s goals to create a win-win scenario. 

Use Data to Improve Customer-Centric Metrics

The business side of product management requires you to be a data-driven decision-maker. You have to be able to follow the right metrics to optimize your returns and get runs on the board. 

Design thinking encourages you to focus on user-centric metrics like NPS (Net Promoter Score) or customer satisfaction ratings. You’ll gain a ton of insights from these metrics, which may also give you ideas for new product features that further delight your customers. 

An Emphasis on Empathy

We’d recommend you openly adopt the design thinking framework as part of your product management career, and see how it helps you. Empathy is one of the top business skills of the 21st century, and you can’t go wrong by using it intelligently. Not only will you make concrete progress, but you’ll also feel a lot more fulfilled as a product manager.