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The 5 design disciplines that entrepreneurs should know

Being an entrepreneur seems effortless to non-entrepreneurs. But the people who have taken the plunge know just how stressful and chaotic it can be to build a business. You must creatively work your way around unexpected setbacks, you have to keep a strategic mind and overview and be truly dedicated. Because in all honesty, you will get knocked down a few times before getting it right.


Now, time for some good news: there is something that can help you deal with these set-backs. It is crucial in modern business for differentiating your value proposition from your competitors. This element can be the driving force behind transforming your entrepreneurial aspirations into true success, enter ‘thoughtful design’.


While ‘design’ is everywhere, ‘thoughtful design’ is the design that is there to delight your customer. It excludes the unnecessary design efforts. To further explain, it helps to divide ‘design’ into ‘design disciplines’. As an entrepreneur you can think of these disciplines as superpowers. Depending on your business challenge you’ll use more of one superpower over another. To overcome any challenge, it’s essential to know the powers at your disposal and which are most fitting.

collect & go

Service design

This discipline is overlooked by many, yet it is almost always relevant. Whether you’re offering a physical or digital product, in B2B or B2C, service design is a design discipline you definitely should master. It’s the backbone of your business. If you can think customer-centric and succeed in your customer journey with the right touchpoints, your customers will be loyal and choose you over your competitors.


Service design in a nutshell:

  • Understand your target audience (their pains, needs and desires)
  • Envision how your customers will interact with your business (when, where, how, what are the key moments to create delightful interaction moments, what customer actions can you automate,..)
  • Envision how the entire business will operate behind the scenes (what information will be stored where, when must which employee or department be in contact with whom, how, etc.)
  • Iterate and improve (ask customers on a regular basis to provide feedback so you can continuously improve your services and maintain your competitive edge)
Iristick smart glasses render

Product design

At Achilles Design, we believe that product design stretches widely. For instance, when our product designers work on beautiful furniture for a fancy event, the look and feel of the design is what matters. But when we design a medical device for hospitals, we focus on material characteristics such as cleanability, usability, efficiency, etc. The aesthetics are less of an issue here. So, product design is not just about looks. If you want fancy renders, you can easily use tools such as Midjourney or Stable Diffusion. We also rely on these AI-tools to efficiently come up with design directions and idea spaces. But product design goes beyond what you see in an image. Great product design takes into account functionality, usability, human emotions… and let’s not forget: sustainability.


Product design in a nutshell:

  • User-centered design. You have to gather insights on the needs, wishes and interactional behavior of the people who’ll use your product.
  • Create a beautiful balance between form and function. Depending on the product type and goal, the scale can tip over to either one.
  • Aim for usability by adopting best practices, industry standards, and through user testing.
Smartphone showing the besix application.

Digital design

Digital products are all around us, you’re looking at one right now. As an entrepreneur you won’t always need to develop a physical product, but you might still need a digital product design, such as a website or a platform for your customers. Thoughtful digital designs, same as product designs, go beyond the aesthetics and technical development. For example, think about how a user flow can be optimised for fewer clicks and how this boosts conversion rates. Or how an intuitive design can reduce the amount of false user interactions.


Digital design in a nutshell:

  • The same bullets of product design apply here as well, the importance of iterations for instance. Physical products are user tested to be improved. Digital products generate massive user data that are insightful for improving your design as well.
Brauzz spray in the new visual brand identity.

Brand design

If you’re active in B2B, your brand experience is heavily defined by the way your customers interact with your business. That’s what service design is all about, remember? Brand design definitely plays a role in B2B, but it’s critical in B2C. In this type of market, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential consumers if your branding is not right. That’s because today’s competitive landscape is, well, extremely competitive. It has become a crowded place, so your brand needs to stand out. Thoughtful brand design is about communicating values in a genuine way, it’s building an identity that your consumers will resonate with. Well-designed brands make impressions that their intended target customers won’t easily forget and will have a distinct advantage over their competitors.


Brand design in a nutshell:

  • Determine your brand mission, values and identity. Once these are clear and aligned, designing brand assets (like the logo, typography, colour palettes, tone of voice, etc.) and all your touchpoints will feel more natural.
  • Coherence. All your brand communication must be consistent in its look and feels. That’s what makes a brand recognisable and trustworthy.
A person walking through the Spar for You interior.

Spatial design

If there’s a space that is highly important for your business operations or your customers to visit, spatial design is essential. For restaurants, hotels or retail it is clear that a space that appeals to visitors equals returning customers. But spatial design also covers optimising your business processes that take place in a physical environment. Think of smart back office projects, such as the design of an automated dark store.


Spatial design in a nutshell:

  • Think of how people could, would, should and should not act in a space.
  • In case the goal is to impress or please visitors, there are a lot of things to consider: lighting aesthetics, materials, brand consistency across all interactions with the space, staff, interfaces, etc.
  • If the goal is to increase efficiency, there’s also a lot to take into account. There’s the accessibility of the space, positioning of elements that are related to complete a job, ergonomics, enabling technologies to speed up or entirely automate processes, flexibility in converting the space to fit new processes, and so on.

It’s safe to say that the entrepreneurial journey entails more than a good business idea. It requires strategy, dedication, a can-do mentality and a commitment to the art of design. Service design that orchestrates outstanding customer journeys. Product design and digital design that build highly functional and beautiful products. Brand design that creates unique brand identities and experiences. And last but not least, spatial design that maps out the environments for your customers and staff.


These 5 design disciplines and the seamless interactions between them make a business not just survive, but thrive in this competitive and crowded marketplace. Remember, these 5 superpowers are about more than just good aesthetics. They are the tools to build impactful value propositions and create meaningful experiences. As you build your business, be open to adopt these tools and see where they can take you.

Are you starting a business and want to learn more about how these design disciplines can help you?

Then definitely join us at the first edition of our startup event 'Afternoon brews & breakthroughs'. You learn more about choosing the right business model, how to validate your business ideas and find out how our design services can help your startup grow.  


Efficient service design: 17 steps to consider

Are you a designer? Do you feel like that service design brief hit you in the face with a three-pound hammer? No worries. You’ll manage just fine. This article might help you with that. We’ll go through the universal user steps that we consider in almost any customer journey. Also, we’ll cover a few key research questions to ask during each user step.


Note that not all service designs will have an impact on all user steps. And note that not all user steps must be performed by the same user. And now that I think about it there’s a whole other bunch of notes. But let’s not go there. That’s content for a future blog post.


Guess that’s enough for an intro. So let’s hop to the universal user steps and the corresponding research questions you should try to answer.

Before use

1: Discover

The first step in any customer journey is that someone -let’s call her Lisa- must get aware of a user problem. During this step, Lisa can also learn about your value propositions to solve the problem. Lisa isn’t necessarily your end user though. Maybe her kids are. Key questions to ask yourself as a service designer are:

  • Who should be the discoverer? (e.g. Lisa, her husband, her kid, her doctor,..)
  • What should be the discovery environment? (e.g. a hotel room, a social media platform,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to target marketing messages to specific user groups)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to understand the your value proposition)

2: Acquire

This step is about getting access to the product or service. You buy it. Then you get it -or at least you get a document as proof that you own the thing. This step can be physical (the sales guy hands you your new shoes) or digital (you get a mail, thanking you for purchasing that concert ticket). Key questions for service designers:

  • Who should be the acquirer? (e.g. Lisa, her boss,..)
  • What should be the acquisition environment? (e.g. a desk near the entrance of the event)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to provide proof of owning a valid concert ticket)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to acquire concert tickets)

3: Transport

Your solution may need to be relocated. Say Lisa bought a washing machine. That thing needs to get to her place, scratch free preferably. Ask yourself this:

  • Who should be the transporter? (e.g. Lisa, a UPS guy, an FTE from the company that sells washing machines,..)
  • What should be the transport environment? (e.g. Lisa’s car, a UPS van, a cargo bike,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to absorb shocks on a bumpy road)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the risk of damage during transport, lowering the effort Lisa needs to put in, minimizing the transportation time,..)

4: Store before use

Lisa ordered her groceries online. These products need to be stored at some point, regardless of whether the groceries are delivered or take-away.  
  • Who should be the safekeeper? (e.g. a grocery store FTE, Lisa, her neighbor,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (e.g. a separate storage space in the store, a cooled reusable box at the front door,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to stack multiple boxes, to keep groceries cool for a few hours,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the space needed for storage)

5: Install

Let’s get back to the washing machine. Lisa needs to have this product installed before she can use it. The installation is all about getting a solution in place so that the user can start using it. Again, the one doing the installation isn’t always the end user.

  • Who should be the installer? (Lisa, the delivery guy,..)
  • What should be the installation environment? (e.g. a tiny room on the 5th floor)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. a step-by-step guide, troubleshooting,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of actions/technical knowledge/handyman tools/skills/.. needed to install the washing machine)

6: Set up

Okay, so the washing machine has power supply and is connected to the water pipes. Now someone needs to configure the machine. You know the questions by now, don’t you?

  • Who should be the configurator? (e.g. Lisa, a tech person, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the configuration environment? (e.g. an app on your phone)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to set sound volume, clock settings,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the set-up time)

7: Learn to use

A user needs to learn how to configure, use and maintain the solution.

  • Who should be the learner? (e.g. Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the learning environment? (e.g. an app, website, a display on the washing machine, a classroom,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to give feedback during use)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the learning efforts)
During use

8: Prepare and confirm

This step is about making the solution ready to use. Someone must hit the power button of that washing machine, feed it with washing powder and some fabric softener maybe. Also clicking ‘start washing’ is part of this step.

  • Who should be the initiator?
  • What should be the preparation environment?
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to alert the user if (s)he forgot to add washing powder)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing room for human errors, like forgetting to add washing powder)

9: Execute and operate

This is when the end user actually uses your solution to get something done. That ‘something’ is the user’s reason for using your solution. Lisa wants clean clothes. That’s why she uses the washing machine. The end user is not always the consumer. Maybe Lisa has a laundry business and she uses washing machines to clean clothes for her customers. In this case Lisa is still the end user of the machine, but her clients are the consumers of Lisa’s services.

  • Who should be the end user? (Lisa, Lisa’s customers,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to source water)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of clothes one can wash in a single go, minimizing the time needed to get clean clothes,..)

10: Monitor

During this step Lisa gets feedback from her washing machine to check if the machine is running smoothly or if something is wrong.

  • Who should be the examiner? (Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the monitoring environment? (an app that comes with the washing machine, an on-machine display, a remote display in another room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should measure temperatures, humidity levels, vibration patterns,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of relevant data for the examiner, minimizing the risk of long/costly repairments,..)

11: Conclude

Now we’re ending the usage of our solution. This is Lisa taking out the freshly washed clothes.

  • Who should be the one ending this step? (Lisa, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to call someone to take out the clothes, to turn itself off,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk that humid clothes stay in the machine long after the washing process has ended)
After use

12: Clean

Let’s drop the washing machine example for a better one. Lisa also owns a motorcycle. She enjoys taking it for long rides on the curvy roads in her country. But she also loves the cleaning process. Wiping the dirt off that retro bike provides her with and a meditative sense of awareness and fulfilment.

  • Who should be the cleaner? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the cleaning environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine that need regular cleaning, the ability easily access cleaning tools that speed up or ease the cleaning process, the ability to withstand detergents,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk of high maintenance bills, maximizing the enjoyment the user gets from cleaning the bike,..)

13: Store after use

After Lisa has cleaned her bike, she looks at it with satisfaction for a few seconds. Time to store the machine until the next ride.

  • Who should be the safekeeper? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the house,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to withstand rainy and cold weather, the ability to withstand theft,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of space needed for storing the bike, maximizing the feeling of certainty that nothing will happen to the bike,..)

14: Upgrade

Users may want to replace parts of a product or add new stuff to it. This can be software or hardware upgrades. Lisa picked the latter. She likes the original looks of her motorcycle, but she did purchase a windshield to upgrade the riding comfort.

  • Who should be the upgrader? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the upgrade environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to install third-party components)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of possibilities for adding third-party components)

15: Maintain

You could say that cleaning the bike is also maintaining the bike. You’re right. Maintenance goes a little further though. It’s checking the oil, maintaining the tire pressure or even changing the tires -okay, that’s upgrading if you will. See how these user steps can blend into each other sometimes?

  • Who should be the maintainer? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the maintenance environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine, the ability easily access maintenance tools for common maintenance rituals,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the amount of maintenance needed, maximizing the ease of maintenance rituals,..)

16: Repair

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Lisa filled her Kambukka thermos flask to the brim with hot coffee, puts on her helmet and pushes her motorcycle off the driveway. She only plans to return once the sun goes down. But the damn engine won’t start. She checks the battery and the start relay. Nothing wrong there. Fuck that. This is where her technical knowledge on bikes ends.

  • Who should be the one to repair the bike? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the repairment environment? (Lisa’s garage, a professional garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to access every single part of the bike, the ability suggest what’s wrong with the bike,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the lifetime of each part, minimizing the amount of repairments,..)

17: Dispose

Fast forward to 2040. Combustion engines aren’t allowed in nearby city centers anymore. Lisa cannot drive or sell her bike anymore. She took good care of her bike but the thing has finally come to an end. In 2040 we cannot dump a bike on some graveyard. We should disassemble and recycle as much as possible.

  • Who should be the disposer? (Lisa, the seller of the bike, the manufacturer of the bike,..)
  • What should be the disposal environment? (e.g. a local drop-off point)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to disassemble into single materials)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of materials that can be recycled)
Phew! Thanks for making it till here. Hope that means you got some value from this article. Maybe save this tab for future reviews or jot some stuff on a piece of paper to remember the framework. Those 17 steps are almost always worth considering as a service designer.
Good luck with your next service design!


5 examples on how UX design is all about psychology

A great UX is designed around how people think.

It sometimes just takes a simple, low-cost design modification to drastically boost conversion rates and recurring user ratios. The best UX designers are familiar with the hundreds of human thinking patterns that can be used to create better-performing products. Keep in mind that when designing a UX based on these psychological patterns, you hack people’s reasoning patterns without them being aware of it. Influencing people through these hacks thus should always happen ethically and responsibly. At Achilles, we’ve set up a special course on ethical design as well. If you want to learn more on how to apply ethical design to your own business to create more value for multiple stakeholders, click here. We’ll now share 5 examples on how UX is all about psychology and about nudging your user to show the desired behavior. Can you spot the least ethical example?
1. Limit the amount of options a user has
When you limit people’s freedom, they will react negatively (Zemack-Rugar et al., 2017). So you don’t want to offer too few choices to your user or to force him/her to act a certain way. But you also don’t want to maze users with too many choices either because this increases the time and effort a user needs to make her/his decision (Nikolov, 2017). Booking a hotel on Airbnb could be way more streamlined if Airbnb actually anticipated what you’re looking for. Instead of scrolling through all options, Airbnb could suggest a handful of options by knowing already what you would want to spend per night, by knowing you want a King size bed and a gym nearby, and that you want to live in a young and vibrant area. It is better to already personalize and provide a targeted selection proactively. Key takeaway; Don’t ask the user to make too many selections her/himself. Already anticipate what the user wants and display a selection of all options.
2. Don’t force users to do something, but suggest them instead
Let’s stay with the example of Airbnb here. The platform nailed this technique pretty well. Users are not forced to select any dates or the amount of guests, but they still get to see places to stay. Airbnb just suggests that it is better to select dates and the number of guests to see accurate prices per night. Getting an accurate price is a good reason for the user to enter the dates and the amount of guests, so the user will enter her/his preferences without feeling forced to do so.
3. Users copy the behavior of other users, so use social proof to steer behavior
When people don’t really know what to do or choose, they follow the behavior of others (Cialdini, 2006). For this unknowing user it is easy to think that the right thing to do or choose, is to just copy others. The more people have shown a certain behavior before, the more an individual thinks it is right to follow the others.
4. Users value something more if it is scarce
Scarcity is a trick to boost conversions (Cialdini, 2006) and it is often scarce on purpose, just to increase the perceived value. This technique is often used is a sneaky way to create more revenue. An example of this is an expensive limited edition bag that is as costly to manufacture as the generic edition that is reasonably priced. But scarcity can also be used to stimulate good user behavior by leveraging actual scarcity, instead of faking it. A great example of real scarcity to steer good user behavior is found in the UX of Uber Eats. Here, users can share the delivery costs with others if they order fast. The timing of deliveries really is scarce and this can be used ethically to convince users to order a dish. A user that orders right now, will get it delivered at a lower price because (s)he can share the delivery costs with another user. A win-win for both users, but also for Uber Eats because users are better convinced and deliveries can be more streamlined.
5. Users want to stay consistent with their past behavior
People think of new tasks as something negative. To lower that negative feeling and to convince people to perform the action, make sure their initial new task is very small. Once your user has performed that one small task, you can ask your user to do a slightly bigger task that is linked to the smaller one. Your user will want to stay consistent with his/her past behavior and will now be more likely to take the rest of the tasks (Cialdini, 2006).

Did you spot the least ethical UX? It was the one on social proof. This UX steers an uneducated user towards a purchase that might not be best for her/him, while the other examples reduce mental effort for the user in a less intrusive way. These are just a few examples to explain how knowledge of behavioral economics is key to UX design.

If you want to learn more on this topic, just reach out to us and together we'll explore opportunities to improve your own digital products.


Improve your innovation successes with a method for better user need statements

Why use this method?

According to research, a lack of product-market fit is the top reason why new initiatives and start-ups fail. It means that the market is not aware or in search of a solution for the needs covered in your product. So to increase the chance of success in innovations, a company has to find and define problems that are relevant for their target audience. But in while doing the problem definition, companies often encounter a subtle but very influential hurdle: commonly, there’s no consensus about what a user need is, or how to formulate it effectively. And because of this ambiguity, unclear objectives may be produced and valuable time or effort is risking to be wasted on lengthy discussions and ineffective iterations. A way to deal with this, is to be mindful of the language used when creating the user need statements. This method will help you master that language, which is adapted from the idea of “jobs-to-be-done”.

Group of people at an innovation workshop hunched over a laptop with sticky notes

How to get started with this method?

  1. Create a physical or digital space to map out your ideas.
  2. Create a physical or digital template for the phrase used in the method.
  3. Use the perspective of the consumer and try to come up with as many statements as possible for the first part of the total expression.
  4. Keep track of the data used to come up with them and make sure it is somehow traceable to each statement. If no data is used, ensure that team members are made aware the statement is an assumption.
  5. If necessary, validate assumed needs through adequate research methods.
  6. Organize a review to filter out and select the most relevant statements. Ensure that both the voice of the user and the company leadership are adequately represented when doing this.
  7. Enrich the selected statements with the second part of the total expression.
  8. When statements are complete, translate the rather technical expressions to better suit the needs of follow-up activities, such as design sprints or market research.

This digital whiteboard will guide you through the entire proces. To navigate it, click-and-drag and zoom. Or alternatively, find it on Miroverse.

In need of some help for getting user needs right? Get in touch with our experts!


Don’t know how to validate your assumptions?

So you want to design something that will generate both revenues and a loyal customer base?

Then we have a great set of validation techniques for you. First of all, you need to know that not all validation techniques are useful during all stages of the design process. At Achilles we cluster our techniques, based on four types of assumptions;

The problem

The first type of assumptions you need to get rid of are the ones about the user problem you want to solve with your design. Before anything else, you need to know if that problem is actually a problem and if it’s big enough for you to spend your resources on solving it. To test problem-related assumptions you have to reach out to potential users and ask open questions about facts rather than opinions. Postpone solution-related research for now because you are still focusing on the problem instead of how to solve it.

The target audience

Secondly, analyse your market well. Before you start building your solution, you need to be sure that enough people are waiting for it. Apart from calculating your market size, you should also find out what characteristics define the people within your target audience. Figure out who’ll benefit most from your solution, how to reach these people and if they can provide you with enough revenue to sustain your business.

The product

By now, you have identified a pain that is large enough for a clearly identified target audience. This is the time to ideate solutions and test if they actually solve the pain. Find ways to validate (part of) your product ideas as quickly and as cheaply as you can. Don’t build expensive prototypes to test the details yet, make quick and dirty prototypes that are just good enough to test the right assumptions – and iterate fast.

The readiness to buy

Now that you know what solution can solve the user pain, you should focus on the viability of your solution by testing out how much revenue you can generate. How many people will want to pay for your solution and how much are they willing to give you? The trick to get better validations here is to not just ask people if they would pay for your solution, but to ask for actual commitment from that person as a way to validate viability. Look for genuine readiness to buy.

How to validate that genuine readiness, and how to validate all other assumptions you may have across the four big stages will all become clear once you get familiar with our free ‘Assumption killers’. This 60-card deck contains the various techniques that you can use to validate the many assumptions you’ll have during each stage.

Have a look at the many validation techniques to pick from.

Download your free card deck

Want us to help you identify and validate the right assumptions across your design process?


How to come up with creative ideas for your next sustainable solution

Our generation may well be the first to comprehend and experience the almost irreversible damage our species has done to our planet. Blaming our predecessors for that won’t solve it. The responsibility is not theirs anymore, it is ours now, and that responsibility weighs more than it has ever before. If we don’t act now, it will be too late; The earth will soon reach a tipping point and start warming up itself at an exponential pace, resulting in a world we don’t want to (and cannot) live in.  

The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck'

There’s not one golden solution to this wicked problem we face, but every improvement counts. That’s why we want to share one of our latest tools with you. The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck’ is a set of cards that we developed together with OVAM (the Public Waste Agency of Flanders). Every card in this deck describes a principle on sustainable design, with an example on the back of that card. We’ve been using these cards in workshops with our clients to come up with ideas for more sustainable products, services or business models.
We’ve seen proof of how this inspirational card deck, combined with a structured brainstorming session results in actual starting points for the development of innovative and sustainable products, services and business models.

After this fun workshop of 60-90 minutes, you get a selection of ideas that are turned into concepts and that are ready to initiate a sustainable project for your business.

You’re free to use the cards the way you like, but here’s how we use them as an ideation tool in group exercises:

Step 1

Form teams of 5-6 people.

Every team gets a card deck and every participant within the group gets 5 cards and 5 minutes to read them individually to get informed and inspired. After this, the first team member picks his/her favourite card and shares it with the team.

Step 2

The team now needs to come up with at least 5 ideas on how to turn their current business/product/service/operations more sustainable, inspired by the card. Every idea gets doodled onto a Post-it and pasted in a row next to the corresponding card.

Step 3

The next team member can now share his/her card with the team and the team performs another brainstorming round to come up with a selection of at least 5 ideas. Repeat this process until all team members have shared their card.

Step 4

Now that your team has at least 25 ideas (5 sets of 5 ideas), the team tries to find creative connections between ideas across the different sets. The goal here is to at least create one idea that is a combination of at least 2 ideas from different sets.

Step 5

The team now formulates a clear idea definition and elaborates on the idea by describing a.o. the impact or expected outcomes, the needed expertise to implement the idea, potential challenges, stakeholders,..

Step 6

Each team gets to pitch their concept to the other teams. Count for 2-3 minutes per pitch.

Now it’s up to you!

Have fun with these cards, print them out and put them on your desk, share them with colleagues and start building a more sustainable business as soon as you can.

Want us to help you through the ideation and development of your next sustainable product, service or business model that fits your innovation strategy?


The key do’s and don’ts of Design Sprints

A Design Sprint is typically a five-day innovation process, designed to find answers to critical business questions by applying design thinking, prototyping, testing and validating innovation ideas with clients. If organised well, Design Sprints can deliver insightful innovation ideas that can show the direction of more fundamental innovation designs.

1. Experience helps.

Not only do you get better at something by practicing it, you are also typically better at running innovation workshops when you know what it takes to implement innovative ideas. Having gained experience in multiple workshops or sprints, you might also discover hacks and tricks that reduce time and effort and increase effectiveness.

2. The composition of the group is critical.

It is important that the client contributes constructive people with experience but also ambitious newcomers. Next to that, it is typically not promising to have either ‘blockers’ or ‘dreamers’ in the room. A combination of a certain sense of reality as well as ambition is important. Moreover, other sector expertise is valuable in order to reflect on entirely new ideas and to introduce best practices that have not yet broken through in the client’s industry. The kind of expert you invite differs from workshop to workshop. When the theme requires insights from the consumers perspective, it might be interesting to invite a market researcher or sales person, while other workshops might require an engineer or app architect to provide technical insights.
Throughout the years of practice, we have learned a great deal about the do’s and don’ts of facilitating such workshops, and we have learned that there are a number of critically important success factors.

3. A good idea counts for 30% of business success or less.

At least 70% of business success is in the execution, i.e. the design of business processes, and the avoidance of stakeholder pain points – all are actual design challenges, often involving disciplines such as service, digital, and product design. This reality is again part of the necessary expectations-management.

4. Sufficient preparation and post-processing time are key.

The better a facilitator understands how the client organisation ticks, the more promising the outcome. Group dynamics can be very different as well. Some groups need to be triggered by examples; others churn out idea after idea. It is important to understand the key challenges of the sector and the client’s in particular, and it is valuable to have a good idea of cutting-edge innovation and the main trends in the client’s industry. That’s why a good amount of preparation time is important. Don’t underestimate processing time either. Gathering all of the insights, data and ideas produced during the sprint, making sense of them and connecting all the dots is a time-consuming job.

5. Group members should be individually focused on innovation ideas, not just in the group.

Group dynamics can destroy the freedom of idea-sharing. Too dominant people, be it due to their seniority level or their personality, can stop creative people from speaking out freely. It is therefore important to get the best ideas out of everybody before any group dynamic influences ideas into certain directions. Every group member should therefore list a number of ideas before sharing them with the group. One way to do this is through brain writing, where you put each challenge on a large sheet of paper and let each participant brainstorm ideas for a couple of minutes. The paper then gets passed down to the next participant who can build on the ideas of the previous participant and so on. Limitations can also lead to a more creative outcome. E.g. if somebody were to ask you to draw something, you might find it difficult to come up with something. However, if somebody would ask you to draw five different landscapes, it would probably lead to more creative ideas.

6. Frequent market validation cycles quickly reject non-starter ideas.

Market validation is always critical. A business can think of the most innovative ideas; if the market turns out not to value these ideas, the idea is worthless. It is important to quickly run market surveys or to implement quick digital market validation tools to understand how possible customers react to certain ideas. To keep the direction of innovation market-relevant, non-starter ideas should not be further pursued. Market validation should be done in multiple phases of the design process: analysing problems, needs, wishes, verifying larger concepts, selecting specific product or app features, etc.

7. Follow-up and implement.

Many external consultants know how to create a buzz in the client organisation for a handsome fee – but then what? Leaving the client organisation after having created some innovation buzz will often result in business depression rather than business innovation, which is not valuable for the organisation in the long term. After making plans, other consultants are often hired to implement these plans, quickly coming to the conclusion that the plans need substantial rework to be implementable. This is a frustration that is avoidable if you run innovation workshops with the mindset of having to implement the ideas. The reality is that client organisations need guidance and support during the whole process of innovation – from ideation to implementation.
Hence, our mantra: design thinking is not a skill – it is a mindset, and an important sculptor of that mindset is actual design experience.


A tangible introduction to jobs-to-be-done

Before diving into what user needs are, let’s talk about this clever illusion. Some might see a duck and others might see a rabbit. It has to be brought to our attention that a different interpretation of this image exists. This illustrates the differences in our perception of what we see, hear or sense in any other way.

Now think about the last time your team and you were well on the way of defining a new product or service. When trying to capture what user needs could be addressed, chances are that your team encountered a problem similar to this rabbit-duck illusion.

For example, a team that is tasked with a spatial design might discuss whether the user need is to make a street car free or child friendly. Although they seem similar, they could lead to a vastly different design. But are these interpretations really describing a need? To make matters worse, we also tend to use different languages to describe problems we encounter. Most of the times, there is no real consensus of what a user need is and how to structure or formulate it effectively. This confusion produces a lot of fuzzy buzzwords: delights, fears, pains, gains, desires, motivations, value propositions, benefits, expectations, requirements,...
The result is that teams end up with unclear objectives and even more interpretations for the problem space.
But let’s step back. What is this team actually trying to accomplish by stating “car free” or “child friendly”? Drilling deeper might reveal that the actual goal is avoiding risk by reducing the probability of an accident between a human being and a vehicle. Or improving health by reducing the amount of exposure to harmful exhaust gases. These statements should feel more precise because they express an overarching value (e.g. improved health) that could be met with a change to the current state (“reduce fine dust”). This way of stating challenges is what we call “jobs to be done”.
We don’t randomly use a product, we use it because it helps us accomplish something.
When was the last time you used Waze? Why did you use it? Often, users aren’t using it just to receive directions. Instead, the idea they are sold on is that by using Waze, you’ll always arrive on time. Or stating it differently: we temporarily use it (“hire”) to fulfil a job of helping us get to appointments on time.
If you analysed the features Waze is offering, you would quickly notice that most of its features are fully tailored to fulfilling that goal. Connecting to your agenda to reduce the chance of leaving your location too late. Suggesting new routes to reduce the loss of time on congested roads. Or reducing the risk of picking departure times that are often associated with increased travel time.

Now imagine that you’re on a holiday in the Alps.

It is nice weather and you want to explore the unknown landscape either in your car, your motorcycle, your bike. Would you still “hire” Waze to help you accomplish that? Chances are that you’re not planning to be on time somewhere. You’re probably looking for something that “helps you experience the unique environment”. A product could increase your exposure to a maximal amount of different flora, fauna and landscape elements to do that (e.g. Geocache). Or it could help you do that by increasing the amount of exposure to road dynamics such as height changes, sharp turns (e.g. motorcycle).
This exercise demonstrates that by making that “job” the unit of analysis, we can drastically improve our problem identification and problem solving skills. It is a language teams could use to lift the veil of ambiguity surrounding user needs. The detailed descriptions of the kind of value a user is looking for and how performance could be measured, enable team to work on innovation challenges more effectively.
Want to know more about identifying, constructing and validating these jobs-to-be-done? Stay tuned for our second part.