E-Commerce secrets to scale

014 - All About Design Thinking with Chris Federer

014 – All About Design Thinking with Chris Federer

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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Tanner:

This week, I have Chris Federer on the show. Chris is a consultant that helps businesses innovate through facilitation workshops. One of the ways that he helps businesses is through a methodology called design thinking. Chris and I talk all about design thinking what it is, how it works and how businesses can benefit from it.

Welcome to the show, Chris. I’m super excited to have you go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Chris:

Yeah, thanks Tanner. It’s going to be fun. Chris Federer. I have been in Salt Lake City, Utah for four years now. And I run a design thinking community and then offer facilitation services.

I don’t know exactly where I fit in, but I think I have the capacity to.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. So what’s your story? How did you get started in design thinking?

Chris:

Yeah, so, you know, at this point I’ve spent most of my career in learning programs. But it was always kinda, I want to say it was informal, but like it wasn’t, I wasn’t like diving into them on like an academic level. Like how you might receive in like a master’s degree or a PhD and like learning science or design. And in 2015, 2016, I was finishing up a career in like international running, managing international programs. And I had exposure to some friends or some colleagues really that had gone on to do these work at these awesome design studios in doing these things called design thinking and working on these really awesome projects and programs and products. And I was like dude, that is awesome. And I was like, I want to do that. And I think I can, I think I have the capacity. I don’t know exactly where I fit in, but I think I have the capacity to like work at some of these studios.

And so I got to Utah in 2016 and with like kind of that in the forefront of kind of starting over my career. And, but I had that vision, like what I wanted to do. And I was looking around and there weren’t really the design thing in programs that could like take me to that place I wanted to get to, or the type of design. I was kind of interested in more of like the social enterprise and business design and like kick-starting initiatives and culture initiatives. I couldn’t really find it in Utah. So the options for were find a master’s degree out of state. Or so I wasn’t really, I wasn’t going to get hired. I didn’t have the skillset to get hired yet. So I was like, get a master’s degree or, you know, just take the initiative and start building this learning community. And, you know, it’s, self-serving because at the same time I’m meeting everyone and testing and learning about the different processes that are under the umbrella of design thinking and innovation and facilitation all these things. So I’ve been doing that since 2016 and it turned into ultimately, what I want to do, which was facilitating learning and innovation at corporations.

Discover work that really feeds your soul.

Tanner:

So really like you taught yourself everything you know about design thinking and you kinda just did it all on your own. Is that right?

Chris:

Yeah, I mean, I’d say if someone asked that I’m self-taught in design and a lot of these innovation methods, but obviously I’ve had a million mentors and taken like online courses and like I’ll read a blog post that I find interesting and then organize a gathering around it.

Tanner:

Well, that’s awesome. And I think that more people should do that. I think you learn a lot more in, you know, just exploring things on your own, just trial and error until something sticks, right?

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, that could be a huge conversation in itself. It’s been really fulfilling and it’s a very organic way to learn and kind of discover work that really feeds your soul, but it can take a lot more time to live a much lower quality of life. And probably if I would have just, you know, looked for former programs or taken a more traditional approach. But then there’s debt and there’s other issues. So you kind of, you have to take those things into account.

A human centered approach to innovation that takes into account business, technological and client needs and motivations.

Tanner:

So we’re talking about design thinking and I’m sure most people listening are probably wondering what the hell is design thinking? Can you give us like a rough overview of what it is?

Chris:

Yeah. By the way, did you look it up and find the video?

Tanner:

Yeah, I did. I watched a YouTube video.

Chris:

Yeah. so totally loaded question. And I’m always at like the peril of getting lambasted by the community because there is no one singular definition. A year or two ago, a design thinking group on commute on LinkedIn polled the community to try to identify a definition. And if I remember correctly and I don’t know if I remember exactly, but like their definition, the top voted, or like the most scrutinized peer reviewed: a human centered approach to innovation that takes into account business, technological and client needs and motivations.

Tanner:

In a nutshell, it’s basically like building a product that’s based on testing and feedback from the actual end user. Right?

Chris:

Yeah. The way I think about it, like, there’s definitely, like if people ask me to compare it to lean, I’m like, well, design thinking generally starts off with a lot more research and empathy for the user and really trying to understand their needs and motivations and crafting products that like really are delightful and meet those needs and motivations. So it really starts with a lot. It generally starts, in my opinion, with much better questions, if you compare it to lean and just like straight experimentation. I put design thinking as ultimately it’s a design thing. It should be called design doing, because it’s really is about making and sharing. So it really is like about pain and then getting in front of your customers for feedback to like, almost co-create whatever product and service with them. So you’re almost including your user or customer in the process of development. But at the same time, you’re really trying to step inside their shoes and understand them. So you’re making something that really resonates with them. Whether it’s just like the messaging or just like, yeah, I mean or just something that, you know, kind of resonates a little bit more with them. Yeah, that’s fine.

Tanner:

Which, I mean, it seems like a no-brainer right? Creating product around your user. Like that seems like something everyone should be doing, right?

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, you’d think, but at the same time I’ve lost of an embarrassing amount of time and money just making assumptions and building something and thinking that people are just going to buy it. I mean, they’re awesome ideas, but it doesn’t mean that they’re so awesome or that you know, the channel to like reach your customers at, or you know how to do the messaging to reach those customers. So, I mean, it is kind of common sense design thinking. But we see it, especially here in Utah, all the time, it’s a very sales dominant culture. And assumptions, which I think we can, which isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just, I mean, I think there’s room for striking a little better balance. Should we build this thing? And you do that with design thinking with like smaller, incremental.

The best data is the data that I have gotten myself by talking by watching users and customers that are my target.

Tanner:

So, what’s your take on Quibi. Do you think that, I mean, obviously they fell flat on their faces, but do you think that they used design thinking or do you think that using design thinking would have helped them succeed?

Chris:

That’s such a good question. I wish I knew their story. I mean, I know that they did that. How much did they raise?

Tanner:

Oh man, it was like a couple billion, it was billions.

Chris:

I mean, either way. I don’t know enough about like how, like where were their bets, like what made them so confident. I would argue, my guess, is that they probably had some data that they thought was good data. But it probably had nothing to do, it was probably secondary data that they, that some guy was able to kind of massage into a message that fit his assumptions. But like ultimately only the only way to mitigate the risk of like a new initiative or business or product is like really like coming up with is by talking directly, like getting your own data by talking to customers. Everything else like is a little tainted with that secondary data. You’re getting it from another research report or something, you know, maybe they tried something in the past or like some data that was from like another time. Like the only thing that matters is right now because I mean, there were two or three YouTubes before YouTube hit. So people need to remember those things when they’re doing the research. Ultimately it’s like, what data have I – like the best data is the data that I have gotten myself by talking and like watching users and customers that are my target.

Tanner:

How do you usually go about that? Is it kind of like a focus group type of thing? Or is it more involved than that?

Chris:

No. I mean, direct observation I think is the best. Well, I mean, there’s different. That’s a terrible answer. There’s best practices and the more you practice, the more you, you can get better at identifying what tool do you use when. And you know, there’s lots of times it depends on client’s budget. You know what you can get them to agree to.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, every business is different too, so I’m sure different strategies are probably better for different businesses. Of course.

Chris:

And at the same time, I would never tell anyone I’m a professional researcher. So I’m not the best source for that question. But everything I do, I try to put, you know I try to identify the needs and motivations of whoever and either helping make something or for myself.

Think, feel, do.

Tanner:

So what are the different phases or steps of design thinking? Like how does it all work? How does it all come together? I know that the phases and steps themselves are way deeper than the surface level, but I think it would probably help the audience to know like what direction these companies are going in when they’re using design thinking.

Chris:

Yeah. So design thinking was really popularized, when was it? Well I think it was first like branded maybe the sixties or seventies, but then it popularized by a organization, a design studio called IDEO in the nineties and they, with this thing, human centered design and for one reason or another, that kind of took off and became very famous for it. And basically like it’s like Stanford area and their process, they’ve got it very simple and clear. It’s think, feel, do. So at each step, I mean, you’re feeling would be like the empathy part of trying to understand your customer. I’m thinking is like the actual like ideation and then doing is the prototyping and sharing. So it’s very simple. And it works. It’s an easy way to like generally get people an understanding of what their process looks like. But I think Stanford’s, that was IDEO’s. So like Stanford’s is empathize, define, ideate, prototype research or share type of thing. What is it share? I don’t know. There’s so many. IBM has one, MIT has one, I’ve got friends that have come up with stuff. But that’s the most popular or the most famous, I believe is empathize, define, prototype or ideate, prototype share, or researching.

Tanner:

So the research that I did, I don’t think you’ve mentioned it yet, but testing was a big part of it. And after testing, you’d go back to the other phases and kind of revisit everything. And it was kind of like a little, it’s like a cycle it’s going back and forth through all these different phases based on testing with real users.

Chris:

Right. So post-prototype testing. So the simplest way to explain, I mean, one mentor explained design thinking to me as it’s just learning, but it’s very making and sharing to get that feedback. Make, share, make, share, to better understand and it’s just like this continuous cycle. It’s essentially learning, but it’s a continuous cycle of like making and getting feedback from your users.

Tanner:

So it sounds like it’s pretty similar to like the MVP model, right. Minimum viable product where, you know, you create like the bare minimum and you just keep testing it with your market and you make improvements along the way type of thing.

Chris:

Yes. I mean, there’s a lot, there’s in the innovation space, there’s overlap across all these different ideas. Whether it’s agile or like how does agile and design thinking and prototyping or how do these all overlap and fit together? And you just mentioned, what was it again?

Tanner:

MVP

Chris:

Yeah. That’s a tool used within design thinking. I’ve seen it used in like design thinking and whatever catalogs or like tool kits.

On a farm, you don’t really have like a title. You identify what needs to get done. You get it done.

Tanner:

So Chris, you call yourself a farmer of collaboration. Could you elaborate on that?

Chris:

Yeah. So there’s kind of a weird story behind it, but I think when I came up with it was just like a statement that like I’m here and I’m trying to surround myself with people that are not necessarily trying to give solutions, but it’s more like identify needs and then fulfill those needs with others. If that makes sense. Like one analogy a friend uses is like on a farm, you don’t really have like a title. You identify what needs to get done. You get it done. Right?

Tanner:

I like that.

Chris:

And so, like, I try to do the same thing where it’s like, I love facilitating workshops at companies, right? But sometimes I’m not the best fit or sometimes it doesn’t like, there’s not like the perfect overlap. So if I don’t get hired, like I don’t try to get sad about it. Like what are other ways I can help them? And maybe provide value, maybe it’s finding the right facilitator for them.

You almost have to be a chef to be a good design thinking practitioner.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. So you mentioned design sprint, what’s the difference between design sprint and design thinking?

Chris:

Yeah. So the design sprint generally falls under the umbrella of design thinking, but did I say that correctly design sprint falls under design? And so you know how we identify it earlier that design thinking can be a very nebulous process. You almost have to be a chef to be a good design thinking practitioner and like understand a lot of discipline, like the different tools and available and like different recipes. So then you can just go in and create. A design sprint is more like just a recipe that anyone can kind of read and do. It’s like, here’s the, yeah, you do this, this, this, this, this, this, and you’re going to get, you know, certain X, Y. Obviously you can do it better and you can still make mistakes, but there’s no like prescribed recipe for a team to go through. But there’s a lot of like the general principles of it are really. I’ve started taking the main principles from like the classic design sprint and started using them in a lot of different types of workshops.

Tanner:

So, so really there’s like, no, uniformality between anything in design thinking, everyone kind of just has their own opinions, their own ways to go about it. And you know, you as a practitioner, you’re probably very different from anyone else. Is that a safe assumption?

Chris:

Yeah. They’re all based on the same principles of understanding, like starting with empathy, doing, and sharing. But it’s explained in many different ways.

Tanner:

One question I have is, is this only for like high tech companies and user experience or can it really be applied to any type of business?

Chris:

Yeah. It can be applied to any type of business that’s creating. Now, my favorite way to teach design thinking is this workshop that Stanford came up with called the redesign, the gift giving experience. So then we go through the design thinking principle to help. We help people. We help partners get together and they help each other design the gift giving experience for their other partner. So, but it starts with like asking him tons of questions about their daily life and their partner and all these, you know, they’re girlfriend or boyfriend or friend that they’re going to be gifting something to. And then using design thinking process to come up with a new way for them to give that gift.

I think I’ve grown, but I think there’s room to grow.

Tanner:

What would you attribute your success to over the years, Chris?

Chris:

Well, honestly, I don’t feel very successful.

Tanner:

And success is a relative term, right. Almost anyone I asked that question to like, well, I’m not successful, but you know.

Chris:

I mean, I think I’ve grown, but I think there’s room to grow. Let’s put it that way. There’s room to grow financially. There’s like, there’s tons of things.

Tanner:

Right, and I think that’s important to keep your eyes on the prize. You want to improve more. What would you attribute your success to thus far?

Chris:

Well, you know, I think, I think I got lucky early on in my career or just being at the right place at the right time. But like also having the skill set that they just happened to be looking for. So I got to do some really awesome things. It wasn’t necessarily the best pay, but I got to really do some interesting things in different countries and do work that I was really interested in. Then recently, like here in Utah, since 2016, I wasn’t really, this definitely not like financial or like business advice, but I’ve really been pursuing work that I think as I said earlier, that like really feeds my soul but I’m really passionate about. But that’s not necessarily the best plan for making money. So it’s like I could’ve done a million other things that would have been you know, better financially over the last four years.

Tanner:

So Chris, what’s a great way to list it for everyone listening to get in touch with you. Just LinkedIn? We can also link up your website.

Chris:

Yeah. So I prefer LinkedIn just because, I’m working on my website. Well, the website’s always work in progress. I prefer LinkedIn, but obviously you can reach me christopherfederer.com if needed. Otherwise my LinkedIn handle is christopherfederer.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time and I really enjoyed learning about something new and design thinking.

Chris:

Yeah. Thanks for the awesome conversation, Tanner. That was good.

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