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A lot of people talk about Design Thinking as a management principle that makes certain product designers special. Chances are that you already apply Design Thinking principles to your everyday product work anyway, although without actively thinking about it.

Contrary to popular belief, Design Thinking is not something just designers do. It has less to do with the color of your Buy button and more to do with the quantifiable metrics that drive the user experience. In fact, the rest of the article here is not about creativity or design at all – so if that’s what you’re looking for, now is the time to leave (although remember to sign up for our weekly newsletter here before you do!).

Once you have determined the challenge you want to dedicate your product to, simply ask yourself these three questions to ensure that you are passively using Design Thinking principles in your everyday work.

1. What audience am I serving?

And here, I don’t mean aggregated audience terms like “bottom of the pyramid”, I mean specific personas such as “female students studying at NUS who has little time off from studies and probably not have a lot of money to spend”. Put yourself in the shoes of the audience before you go about deciding what Nancy from NUS wants in your fin-tech app.

If you are building a new-to-world service or product, go meet some of your potential users. Ask them questions like:

  • Is it difficult to save enough money for a trip outside of Singapore? Why do you think so?
  • When you do manage to save some money, how do you keep the money aside? In cash? Or a separate account? Why so?

Note that both the questions above end with a further “Why?” question. That’s because customers typically tend to say whatever comes to mind first but, once you deep dive into their responses, you will likely hit the main target. Research suggests that you can pretty much get to the right answer/root cause within five why’s.

Oftentimes, there are many stakeholders involved that need to feel excited enough about your product – don’t ignore them.

If your technology product or app needs people to get involved to serve a part (e.g., if your app accepts orders online, but you need people to pick, pack, and ship your products), then you need to ensure that the product serves their needs as well. Ask them similar questions as the above to ensure they’re on board.

2. How will my product be used?

You may design your product or app to be used in one manner to help aid with your mobile user acquisition strategy in order to get more people on board, but users may use it in a completely different manner. When Facebook launched its APIs to help others build on top of their platform, little did they anticipate anyone would use it to drive election outcomes.

There are many ways – some creepy and some not – to help your see how your product is being used.

Do people always come to your home page and search for a specific purchase, or do they start with their searches on Google and arrive on your website? Do they use filters to reduce the number of options before deciding what to buy? and, both hotel booking systems, use markedly different design approaches to Filters.


Tools like Yandex will allow you to view a user’s journey through the website/app. Or use an A/B or split testing tool like VWO to test out two sets of screens to see what converts the best. In the above example, an A/B test will allow you to create two versions of the filter – one with buckets to the left and one with all options on one page – and see how each of the versions impacts user experience. You could use a metric such as the time taken for a user to start checkout, or the value of goods purchased on each test to understand the impact.

3. Why should the user continue to use my product?

This is a tricky one. If you are a startup, you will likely rush a minimum viable product to production and test the waters first. But if that becomes your final product, you will find competitors coming in with more refined products over time. Honestly there is a case to be made against MVP’s.

If there is an established, built user interface – replete with stunning design, landing page, and marketing materials – your platform is in for a better chance than a skeletal product that cannot really perform as intended.

Carlos Alvarez,

While there is nothing wrong with launching an MVP, there is something wrong with not improving upon that MVP based on user-feedback continuously. If your product looks the same today as it did two months ago, you’re getting lazy. Unless you’re an SAP, in which case you be lazy.

(Article continues below.)

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In the initial days of Facebook, there used to be a first-mover called The interface of the latter remained literally the same across most of its existence. At the same time, Facebook kept deploying changes on its site almost daily. There’s literally no excuse to avoid improving on v1.0.

Building a moat through effective product development and design is easier said than done. However, here are some metrics you can use to drive your future strategy?

  • Time: What part of the transactional process takes longer than others? What can you do to cut the time or effort required by users?
  • Effort: What makes users use/buy/transact more (or less)? Do you ask the user to fill up a lengthy form? Automate it. Do you ask her to sign in every time? Give her an option to bypass the password.
  • Conversion: From the company’s perspective, what metrics matter the most? Average order size? Profitability? Cost of customer acquisition?

Your metrics may vary wildly depending on the business and your future strategy. However, as a business, it is advisable to choose your metrics early and measure the impact of all products and services on those metrics.

What do you think of design thinking? Is it (really) about just design at all? Let us know in the comments below.


Product and Marketing guy. Ex-founder of $10m re-commerce company, with extensive experience in B2B and B2C product design, revenue management, and sleepless nights.

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