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Shake up your mobile workflow with design thinking

Put yourself in your end users' shoes and unlock mobility's true potential. Design thinking can lead to major mobile workflow enhancements.

Application design drives the strategy of many major companies, which use it to their competitive advantage. Customers and employees today decide which products and services to use based on the quality of the experience, so IT professionals and developers must design great mobile workflow experiences.

This approach is known as design thinking, human-centered design, experience design or service design. Whatever you call it, it's about putting yourself in your customers' or end users' shoes to create a product that solves a key problem. It is a process of doing both qualitative and quantitative customer research, brainstorming multiple possibilities, refining and testing those choices, constantly iterating.

The benefits of design thinking

The real value of design thinking is in bringing a cross-departmental team through the process. This team can be composed of an internal experience architect, members of an external design firm and representatives from the business, IT and even end users and customers.

By using design thinking, we worked together to create a mobile workflow.

A great tool in the design thinking process is experience mapping. In this context, the experience is the set of interactions or processes that a user or customer undertakes to accomplish a certain task. Depending on the setting, an experience could be buying a product online, configuring work email on a smartphone, logging a customer sale or even delivering a drink to a customer at a coffee shop.

Charting out an experience map provides a full understanding of what a customer or employee is thinking, doing and feeling along every step of their specific journey. Businesses can then use the insights gleaned from the map to develop new processes and products that improve the experience.

Improving mobile workflow

Organizations can take the same design-thinking approach in developing great apps that support a mobile workflow. For example, when I was at a previous company, I went on a few ride-alongs with sales representatives. Even though I'd conducted several interviews with reps and a quantitative study, I picked up many insights that I would not have known without that firsthand experience.

At the time, we were trying to determining the value of tablets from a sales perspective. Without being there in person, I never would have seen the value of tablets vs. laptops. While meeting with a customer, the laptop was a major hindrance. Not only did it take longer to connect to the network, but flipping the laptop open created a physical barrier between the salesperson and the customer. An Apple iPad worked more efficiently, and it turned out the customer enjoyed interacting with the iPad. Getting the customer involved helped improve the closing process.

If I did not use design thinking in working with the salesforce, I may have concluded that the laptop worked OK, and the salesperson was able to type faster on it, so there was no need to deploy tablets.  By using design thinking, we worked together to create a mobile workflow for sales and, later, an interactive app.

Mobile devices are commonplace in the enterprise. The problem is that enterprise tools are, for the most part, mobile versions of the desktop work tools have been used to for more than 15 years.  It is time to use design thinking to develop tools that take advantage of what mobility really has to offer.

Next Steps

Four mobile user experience design mistakes you should avoid

Why mobile UX design is key to an app's success

Creating a great mobile app experience requires trust

This was last published in October 2015

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How can design thinking help your organization improve mobile workflows?
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Good mobile workflows are shorter and more linear comparing to workflows of desktop applications. Another major difference is in the environment and context: sitting at home or in the office is not the same as booking a transaction on the go, with interruptions.
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I find that this "design thinking" approach aligns well with "user personas" concept in design. Yes, now it's all about adapting for users instead of forcing users to adapt.
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