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Top Tips to Transform Your Idea to Product

The drab weather didn’t stop students from stopping by South Campus Hall Cafeteria last Tuesday to hear Matt Neil, Lead Product Designer at Faire and Velocity Coach, break down the principles of design thinking.

Matt Neil speaks to audience

Simply put, design thinking is problem solving in five steps.

1. Empathize with your users

You’ll need to step into your customers’ shoes. This can be done through surveys, interviews, studies, and analytics, which are ways to understand user needs.

There are many ways to reach and talk to users. Through social media by following groups, hashtags, and industry keywords. And Matt said networking and getting expert advice is attainable even on a student budget. Avoid industry events’ often costly price tag and try volunteering. Or simply reach out to experts at the university.

“Don’t underestimate the power of networking,” Matt said. “You’d be surprised how many people are willing to sit down with a student who has a good idea.”

2. Define users’ needs

How could the life of your user be improved, what unmet needs do they have? Through the first step of collecting qualitative and quantitative data you’ll likely spot a commonality among users’ answers, a good indicator of a common problem.

Define your problem statement: What is the problem that my idea is trying to solve?

Matt emphasized not to take answers at face value.

“What you are trying to figure out are the underlying needs. Kind of like a toddler who asks why over and over again — try to get into that habit.”

He said try to home in on one problem statement and no more than three.

3. Ideate innovative solutions

Transform the problem statement into a question, and start brainstorming solutions.

One brainstorming activity is the 3-12-3 exercise:

  • Three minutes to come up with as many solutions as possible. Think quantity over quality.
  • Twelve minutes to share with the group. A good way to show collaboration.
  • Three minutes nominating the best ideas. Take the best three to five ideas.
  • Then vote on nominated ideas.

“At the end…you can clearly see which ideas are the ones people are excited about,” Matt said.

4. Prototype solutions

Here you start transforming the solutions into something that can actually be built.

  • Aim for high impact, low effort. Solve the problem and make a difference without it taking months and thousands of dollars to build.
  • Build a Minimum Viable Product, solve the problem with the most basic solution and then add continuous value.

Matt urged the group not to skip steps in the design thinking process — as tempting as it might be.

“A lot of you probably have ideas for an app or a website and the tendency is to skip down to the prototyping step and start building immediately. I urge you to go through all of the…steps because without going through the three steps before prototyping it’s possible to start building the wrong thing — building an app is not easy and it’s not cheap.”

5. Test solutions

The last step is testing the solution, which is essentially just repeating the process from the ground up, Matt said.

Revisit the insights gathered throughout the design thinking process and discover how to inform the next version of the product.

Ideating a solution to a familiar problem

The evening ended with a brainstorming activity using the 3-12-3 method. Matt presented a problem, one you might have experienced yourself: being on campus with an out-of-battery phone and no charger. Students then got the chance to brainstorm what product could solve this problem and shared their ideas with attendees.

Coming Up: Startup Story at Problem Lab HQ

Interested in our next event? Join us Oct. 25 for Startup Stories with Vena Medical co-founder Michael Phillips. More information and registration here.