5 Key Tips to Guide Better Discovery & Insights | The Design Process

In my line of work as a designer for any project, my design process involves facilitating design thinking within a service design framework, especially useful when doing business, service, systems, experience, and process design.

In this series let’s explore my top 5 points to guide each 4 phases of my design process to solve any challenge.


Let’s start with the DISCOVERY phase, where we begin to gain full context to understand the client(s)’/ user(s) challenge.

1. Work towards understanding the whole ecosystem, the big picture.

This is defining the scope of the ecosystem you will need to look at throughout the design process. Often the challenge statement you’re provided with is rooted not in the space where people thought, due to assumptions made with limited knowledge and narrow view of the ecosystem, such as only making a solution thinking about one department vs considering how other departments who could be affected. Until you can see the whole picture, can you then create solutions that works for the whole system, whether it be business, or personal, it effects are the same.

How many times have you experienced or heard of changes made to processes, decisions made by management that sounded good on paper but so many aspects did not work once it was implemented, where staff suffered from greater downtime or less efficiency, or it worked better for one department but not other departments?

I have a tool I refer back to as a reminder to help me see more, in case I’ve missed anything, that is the 5P’s: 
People (5 major user groups)
Place (environments/location)
Props (tools, equipments, furniture, etc)
Partners (third party services/products, such as warehousing or delivery service)

The People category breaks out to 5 major People/User Groups, Consumer, User of product/service, Front-end Staff, Back-end Staff, and Partners. referring to this helps you to ensure you cover all the bases

2. Beginner’s Mindset. Be always Curious.

So, don’t assume anything, learn everything about the ecosystem and the people within it to challenge and validate what you thought you knew. Be like a detective, getting all the facts before you proceed to determine and define the challenge(s).

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Learning about what works, what doesn’t, who are the user groups, what are their needs & wants, their values, as well as what the system was intended to support or provide, and its evolution. Pretty soon, as you get to the next phase of defining the insights and redefining the challenge, you’ll have noticed patterns of insights, you’ll hear and see things that point to gaps in the system, and know where new ideas or improvements are needed — these type of defined insights are most often not mentioned as the main challenge, yet impact the outcome of a solution to the challenge greatly.

3. Immerse Yourself and Adapt.

Depends on the audience you’re working with, you need to be considerate of their values and needs in communications and interactions with them.

For example, when I ran discovery and engagement workshops on the topic of Opioid crisis, I started the workshop by admitting to workshop attendees that I’m learning myself about the situation and where we are at with it as a community, and thus I wanted to learn from everyone in the room about what terms are acceptable and respectful. Having done this openly and collaboratively, it led to better engagement and openness from everyone involved, it set the tone. It started to form a sense of community and broke down walls and barriers between the different groups of people in the room that night, from opioid users to first responders to the public who didn’t know much, groups where some folks can often form poor views regarding one another as a whole.

When I had heard and learnt that each had their generalized stereotypes of one another, I was able to quickly adapt my facilitation content to add a component to coach the entire group to reflect on assumptions and find the common threads that bind them, instead of dividing, resulting in impactful realizations and new connections with one another. Another example is when leading discovery sessions, you need to be aware of your research persons’ physical & emotional state, and your place among them. If something comes up and you’re forced to stop your session with them, switch tack and follow other leads and observe different users from a different perspective, such as any family members in the waiting area who’s loved one is why the hospital staff you were observing had to step away to attend to the emergency? Life is fluid, and how you work can be too. And you never know, I always seem find random serendipitous insights when I need to go off-plan for a while.

4. Lead with Cognitive Empathy.

When you’re the leader and the unknown person delving into a troubled and complex system, the people within can feel threatened, leading to either distrust, or can be uncooperative because they don’t understand why you’re there or how you could possible help.

By being cognitively empathetic, it helps you to relate and understand them better, your actions speak volumes and people will feel heard, sense your honesty and integrity in wanting to understand and help. When people open up and feel comfortable to talk about anything, golden bits of insights come through, leading to great discoveries of opportunities for improvement or innovation.

And last but definitely not the least..

5. Practice Collaborative Leadership.

When your actions are that of a collaborative leader, those who you come in contact with feel safe and connected to you, they feel that you value their input and involvement without bias. You ask questions under a different lens, seeking their insights and how they might perceive the areas of challenge are and what solutions they thought might help, or not help.

You involve them for their expertise, and in return, they have a sense of ownership in the challenge and in the finding or creating possibilities to solve the challenges. Their engagement is especially valuable when it comes to ideating solutions during the collaborative brainstorming sessions and prototype testing phase.

If you practice these 5 tips above, you’ll find yourself experience deeper insights along with better engagement from those you interact with in the discovery phase as well as the rest of the project journey. You’ll be doing design thinking more often, becoming your natural way of thinking, seeing how everything is connected as well as finding opportunities within the insights for innovating solutions in other spaces as well.

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