Design Thinking Barriers for Solopreneurs

07 Sep 2017  John  4 mins read.

I love Design Thinking. Sadly, as a self-funded solopreneur I can’t use it for my current project (Trules).

I was very fortunate to learn Design Thinking from Doug Powell and his team at IBM (they’re some of the best Designers in the world), and the techniques that they taught me have helped companies all over the planet produce really great tools.

My own simple explanation for the Design Thinking methodology goes something like this:

  1. Observe real people trying to solve a problem that they encounter frequently
  2. Design something that you think might help them
  3. Get them to try your design while you’re watching
  4. Refine your design in a way that you think might overcome any problems that they had using your design
  5. Repeat the steps 3 and 4 (with different real people if at all possible) until the real people love what you have built

Unfortunately, as a self-funded solopreneur I’ve had to abandon Design Thinking. It’s just not a practical methodology for me - because I don’t have access to enough real people.

The hidden “gotcha” in Design Thinking is that those real people who you need to test your designs have to be ready and willing and able.

  • Ready: They have enough time to test drive your designs now
  • Willing: They have a desire to test drive your designs
  • Able: They are qualified to test your designs because they frequently experience the problems that your designs are meant to solve

If you’re tacking a problem that really matters, then there are likley millions of qualified people who could try using your designs, but it’s very hard to find many folks who are ready and willing and able to test drive your designs.

I have many friends and colleagues who are willing and able to test my designs, but they’re not ready. They’re busy, and testing my preliminary designs is not something that they can afford to spend much time on. I know that they will pitch in once I’ve thoroughly tested and refined my designs, but they can’t help me now.

Finding folks who are ready and willing is much easier if you have the funds to pay for testing.

Unfortunately, paid testers seldom have any personal experience with the problems that you are trying to solve. Without personal experience, testers don’t really understand the problems. Without understanding, testers have to simulate a “real user” trying to use your design.

Watching “simulated users” test driving your designs isn’t really Design Thinking, and it doesn’t work very well. In my experience, it’s not worth the effort.

So having been forced to abandon Design Thinking due to a lack of ready and willing and able testers, what have I come up with instead?

Fortunately, I really do have the problem that my designs are meant to solve, so I really do understand the problems and desparately want to find solutions for them.

I’m testing my designs myself and doing my best to spot problems.

This is very hard to do. I’m very biased towards thinking that my designs are good, and despite good intentions it’s still really hard for me to admit it when my designs are crap.

What I’ve done to try to combat my bias is to test my designs when I am under stress. I try to use my designs in high-stress and very public situations whenever possible, and often I test myself “against the clock” to induce stress.

Testing while stressed really helps reduce my biase towards loving my own designs.

Unfortunately, I still have the problem of knowing how the design is supposed to be used. My testing isn’t fair testing, because I know too much.

Knowing how a design is supposed to work really screws up testing - and that’s why Design Thinking encourages testing with new people whenever you can.

I’ve yet to come up with a “fix” for being an expert on my own designs, but I’m getting better at simulating a novice user. I’ve still got the simulated user problem, but I’ll have to live with it for now.

As a result of using my own designs to try to solve my own problems, I have come up with designs that I like and which solve problems for me. Hopefully others will like them too.

If you’ve encountered and overcome similar barriers to using the Design Thinking methodology on your projects, please share your insights.

John Reynolds
John Reynolds

John is the creator of Trules.