Art and Science: Get Your Tech Team to Embrace Design Thinking

Posted by Lauren Cohen on Wed, Sep 28, 2016

Written by Keith LaFerriere, Verndale

Since the term was coined in 2008, "design thinking" has gone from a novel concept to a requirement for any successful marketing team -- but getting both creative and tech on the same page can be a bigger challenge than many executives anticipate.

A recent 2015 CMO Digital Benchmark study confirmed that the vast majority of creative and tech team members speak different languages: only 30 percent of marketers and 13 percent of IT executives say that the relationships between the two are collaborative and productive.

In my experience, part of that struggle comes from the naturally different way the two teams approach problems. Developers tend to analyze the system itself and are tasked with devising the most efficient ways of coding the solution; creative teams tend to look at the same problem and try to assign emotion to it, analyzing what the user response and perspective will be. Creative teams brainstorm; tech teams implement and test. Design thinking brings both these elements together, giving a project both necessary analysis and synthesis components, while incorporating the creative process in a pragmatic manner.

Understanding that design thinking needs to be implemented across all team areas is the first hurdle, and an easy sell to a creative team, which is already thinking in terms of user experience. But the second, more daunting hurdle is figuring out how to get the more process-driven tech team on the same page.

The first thing an organization can do is be sure they're hiring the right people. This includes, but is not limited to, finding technologists who have diverse experience in multiple technologies, with a focus on a subset that coincides with the technology stack either already in place or planned for the near future.

In addition, personalities who are more open to starting "little fires" to test out hypotheses and have worked in this environment in the recent past are more adept and open to trial and error than the former "gold standard" approach. This does not mean that technologists should code with wild abandon on tens of solutions, but that the technology team should understand creative problem solving in a new way, one that is born of quick releases and rapid prototyping.

Once executives have the right people in place, they need to set a workflow that is going to keep everyone on track while allowing the creative team the flexibility they want and the tech team the processes they need. For any combined team to be successful, they then need to implement four principles:

  • Rapid prototyping: In order to effectively brainstorm large ideas, the team needs to piece together the flow of both content and functionality in smaller batches. Once you have a content strategy in place and are all aware of the goals, prototyping ideas into user stories helps everyone rally around the customer's pain points and allows for disparate ideas to be quickly illustrated for trial and error.
  • Style tiles: While not a traditional mood board, this process allows the creative and tech teams to sit down and give functional elements of a solution a "personality" or feeling to be sure that the right tone is present for the end user's experience. It includes the necessary brand components such as on/off state changes for CTAs, text attributes, font design, iconography, and photo art direction to get everyone in alignment while still allowing the creative staff to elaborate later.
  • Design review and response: In a traditional workflow, the role of the creative staff ends once the design is set and workable, but before the project is over. In this workflow, creative will still review and give feedback on deliverables even after they're supposed to be off the project in order to ensure that the customer experience isn't getting lost as the tech team refines the mechanics behind the proposed solution.
  • Usability testing: This final step allows for any final adjustments to ensure that the solution can be scaled and upgraded easily while still delivering the final customer experience the team aimed for. When thinking through your test scripts and who will help you check the solution, keep in mind that you need no more than a set of 7-10 respondents to get a baseline. You can conduct further testing once you have your goals set for the entire solution.

The martech landscape is crowded and noisy, and the number of clients looking for top-notch, functional solutions isn't slowing down, either; worldwide martech spending is expected to hit $32 billion by 2018. The companies that will be best positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities the marketplace has to offer will be the ones that have cracked the code on design thinking across teams to deliver the results clients need.

- See more at: 


About the Author:

Keith is the Chief Experience Officer at Verndale, the Marketing Technology Agency that brands call when they want to connect with their customers in a more meaningful way. It designs, builds and evolves digital experiences that mid-sized and Fortune 500 companies use to bring their products and services to life for their always-on customers. 


Topics: marketing, Boston, design, technology, creativity