I don’t know about you, but I’m an avid reader of articles about tools. I’ve discovered so many thanks to these long lists that uncover so many new names.
Yet, taking a step back and reflecting on my own practice, I’ve realized that in the end, I use less than 10 tools in total in my daily Design Thinking practice. I am an experienced human-centered design consultant. I’ve been working on complex projects for a wide range of organizations from non-profit to supply chain to health.
So, how do I explain this gap? While I’m always willing to try new things, most of these tools don’t last very long for different reasons, but in the end, they’re not a perfect match with what I really do.
From unoriginal ones to unicorn ones, I want to take you through the tools and softwares I use and how. Sometimes, simple things do the job, but I do hope this article will broaden your tooling horizon and will start a conversation about what we really use daily.
#1 For User Research (interviews, observation, surveys…)
I remember when, a few years ago, I was frustrated because I felt we weren’t doing enough user research to gather valuable insights. Yet, now, I’ve conducted in total more than half a year on research in 5 different countries.
I’ve tried many things in terms of tools. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Nobody has cracked the code when it comes to field, user research. I do hope something comes along that will ease both capturing data in real-time, and helping curate the enormous quantitative and qualitative data gathered.
Research is all about observing, listening, capturing. You need to capture what’s going on on the field or during in an interviews because taking notes isn’t enough. You need to be able to immerge yourself back into your research.
Whenever I can, I bring a GoPro or any non-intrusive camera with me, to make sure that people won’t be uncomfortable. When I don’t have it, I’d rather snap a quick shot or start recording voices with my phone instead of using it as a camera because it’s unconvenient.
I haven’t find a better tool that OneNote to capture notes on the go. It’s great for quick, collaborative editing and has features to make sense of the data on the go such has indicators, inserting vocal recordings, pictures etc.
When I’m conducting long-distance interviews, I usually use Teams. It’s reliable, easy to use. I can share my screen and record the meeting. It works wonder at the condition that you’ve tested firewalls before and explained how to connect to a teams meeting for those who aren’t familiar with it.
User Research Tools: Are We There Yet?
I’ll admit I’m a bit frustrated when it comes to User Research Tools. It’s such a huge and important part of my job that I wish something existed that would make my life easier as a researcher. I have to use many tools to capture and analyze information. I always feel a sense of discouragement at first when I look at all of the data I have in hands.
The goal of research is to find patterns in the data collected. It helps identify existing and conscious pain points and uncover unconscious areas of improvement or pain. We will always need our human intelligence and experience to process data qualitative and quantitative data, but having something to help making sense of the data would accelerate the process and reduce cognitive biaises.
#2 For Co-creation Workshops
Ah, the workshops! If you’re a Design Thinking practionner, chances that you spent time re-writing post-its are high. I had high hopes in the Post-It application for a while, but in the end, it doesn’t change how you’re facilitating the workshop and the experience participants live. Many people have experienced co-creation workshops now. They’ve written more post-its than imaginable. And yet, of the ideas and solutions generated, how many are lived through? How many ended up in a powerpoint slide and forgotten?
I used to believe that paper and writing were key parts of the co-creation process, but that was before I discovered what digital Design Thinking can achieve. I mainly use Foreseeds for this as its algorithm has no match on the market, and I use Klaxoon on the side for workshops animation.
Foreseeds is a Digital Design Thinking platform, or, how they brand it, a crowdthinking platform. They managed to solve design thinking pain points by creating a series of activities to be played in real-time by participants. A session has to be coached and facilitated, it’s not an ideation platform where you simply post ideas.
How does it happen and what does it do? You, the coach, start by creating your personas and add their pain points based on your user research. This is your co-creation workshop input. With 10 to 30 participants, mostly end users, you create teams of 2 to 3 people, each team will play on their computer. Then, you take teams through a series of activities and games that will generate solutions based on the pain points, so you’re always user-centered. Teams will then play with the solutions to rank them by desirability, and create projects where they assess feasibility.
I find that Foreseeds sessions have many advantages over post-its workshops. It creates emulation thanks to gamification, allow people to be more focused and not lose interest because of time-constraints games. The solutions and ideas are also very rich because you play with innovation levers, which open the minds of participants and encourage them to think deeper. And the magic is that at the end of a session, participants are energized, pumped up, and the next steps are very clear. Also, everyone can access the Foreseeds platform after the workshop. All of the information remain on the platform and it can be enriched again and again, throughout all of the project.
That’s the beauty of Digital Design Thinking: not only is the information capitalized, but it also accelerates analysis to a great extent. No more copying post-its notes!
Once I’ve started to enjoy Digital Design Thinking, it was hard to go back. I use Klaxoon for short exercises like hopes and fears, problem statement or feedback gathering. It’s easier when you’re facing large groups. At first I was afraid it would disconnect people from one another but I find it brings more openness as it’s what’s displayed on the screen that matters. Focusing people’s attention at a large screen where you display live results helps maintaining and fostering a group dynamics.
The only downside to Klaxoon is their exercises designing experience. I find it quite complex and counter-intuitive. I don’t really enjoy it and I don’t think many people do, but it’s still quite useful for meetings animation.
#3 For Analysis and Deliverables
When I started creating experience maps and customer journeys in 2014, it was very new to many clients. We mostly used them as a pre-sales effort to show the clients the to-be journey they had to aim. Thus, I created gigantic maps that were printed to be showcased around. It was mostly a great marketing tool as I later realized, not so much used in operational work by teams, but to be showcased and to impress. Printed maps are perfect in environments where people don’t have access to digital tools or a way to foster curiosity and interest.
Now, I’m more about impact. The analysis need to be easily accessible and editable. They need to reflect the current state of the research and project, and to be constinously fueled. Design Thinking shouldn’t be restricted to project framing. That’s why I kind of turned my back from Illustrator and InDesign or any tool that isn’t collaborative and need training to be used, and went looking for collaborative, experiential tools. I tried many, many of them, but Miro and PowerPoint are the ones that work best for me and for the teams I work with.
I know what you may think. Powerpoint, really? Well, this isn’t an article about all of the great tools that exist, but practical ones for daily work. So, yes, Powerpoint is one of my main tools. I do have one rule though: I only create slides that are necessary. I’ve got my marks with it after several years of use, and I’m impressed by how much it has evolved and keeps being updated with new features.
Throughout the years, I’ve created templates for personas, impact matrix and other analysis tools. The magic of it is that it’s widely used and can be quickly updated and adapted.
Miro is a fantastic tool. Think of a mix of Adobe Illustrator and Powerpoint in terms of features, all accessible online, and collaboratively editable in real-time. I use it to create experience maps and visualize complex journeys and interactions. I also use it for digital co-creation and fast prototyping, for example we’ve animated cards sorting workshops with Miro, and we’ve prototyped to-be processes.
Their free plan is very generous with up to 5 team members and unlimited access to preview for anyone with the link. There are always pre-made canevas such as mind maps or Kanban, which I have not yet used, but plan to do so.
Miro is one of the tools that are exactly in the spirit of Design Thinking: it’s collaborative, easy to use and has many features to help vizualize information.
#4 For Project Management
Especially as a consultant, following up planning, resources and risks is key to the success Design Thinking approach. Being excellent at conducting a user-centric approach is not enough if it’s not backed-up by the solid backbone of project management, which translates into tools adapted to the kind of project.
I use Teams as a collaborative space, to discuss, share documents and track project progress, and it works wonders both for internal and external projects. It’s part of the Microsoft suite so other tools (planner for example) can easily be pluged, as well as outside tools (RSS flows for example).
I do enjoy Trello as well. The interface is smooth and very practical. I usually have a lot of ideas flowing and Trello work a bit as my “personal backlog” with bliss moments when I archive many tasks that have been there for a long time. There are usually no firewall issues when using clients, so that’s also a plus.
I’ve recently discovered and started using Clickup for more complex projects with several streams. It’s quite close to JIRA Software in terms of spirit, but the interface is more friendly. I especially enjoy the possibility of creating subtasks that can each be attributed to a specific member.
Yeah, tools. We talk about them often, complain about them always, but rely on them everyday. We don’t always have the choice of the ones we use, and in a sense, it’s good: it forces us to try new things, to adapt and to discover new, useful stuff. We grow to use them so much that when I had no choice but to make a presentation on Google slides, I was so grumpy about it all. I was just not my tool.
This put into perspective the fact that when you’re conducting a Design Thinking approach, you design and co-create solutions, some of which happen to be tools. Most of us are change-averse when it comes to tools because they take a long time to master, and we develop an emotional attachment to them. So when we’re designing new tools, whatever they are, digital or not, we should remain aware that changing tools is a journey itself that can be accelerated but can’t be rushed, that can be accompanied but can’t be delegated.