Finding Creative Solutions With Design Thinking

Through a glass wall, scattered Post-It Notes in the foreground and three men in discussion inside the room.

Design thinking helps us ground our solutions in user needs, ensuring they are desirable, technically feasible, and financially viable.

In this article, we’ll summarize three recent client engagements where our design team uncovered insights that sparked innovative solutions. The following projects represent the collaboration across a number of teams.

Uniting the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Communities

We partnered with a coalition of long-time leaders in the Chicago philanthropic community to explore pathways to create a new platform that raises awareness of the emergent needs of Illinois residents, represented by a variety of nonprofits, to promote more equitable and sustainable funding behaviors. The COVID-19 pandemic quickly revealed the weaknesses in the current system, and we helped uncover numerous fractures within this landscape of contemporary nonprofit funding to inspire opportunities for change.

Through interviews with professionals working at six nonprofits and seven funding organizations, we mapped the patchwork of disconnected and redundant application forms and data requirements, lack of transparency of networks, and outmoded behaviors, with the vision of a simpler, more holistic, and equitable solution.

We leveraged the Jobs To Be Done technique to challenge our own assumptions, ensuring we understood users’ underlying motivations and needs, and the actions required to address them. This technique was especially useful in helping distinguish and humanize the variety of users and contexts that any solution must support.

Sparking Useful Design Systems

One of our existing development clients knew their software had experience issues. They came to our team to help determine the best solution.

We began with 19 interviews with key stakeholders in six different departments, ensuring we incorporated a holistic cross-section of users. Then we led working sessions to map our assumptions, assess technical feasibility, validate business viability, and hone in on brand touchpoints.

Before diving into wireframes, we created service blueprints to establish the key personas, systems, workflows, and experiences. We also added new features to a prototype, and performed five user tests with two representative groups, ensuring our work remained rooted in user needs versus assumptions.

After testing our prototype with four enrollment advisors of varying backgrounds and two directors, we were able to leverage our findings to recommend several steps to help focus the product’s purpose and introduce the shift to more human-centered design practices. All of these recommendations — including: taming the complexity on each screen, optimizing system speed, redesigning the user model, refactoring user personas, and simplifying category labels — were intended to create a simpler, more intuitive, and usable solution that new employees can begin using with little if no specialized training.

We’re excited to continue our partnership with the client, identifying and implementing changes that have a positive impact on their business. We’ll be working with key stakeholders to investigate and define a roadmap (inclusive of refining dashboards) to better support the workflows for each role. We’re focused on improving the flexibility of existing experiences, restructuring navigation based on how users access information, and redesigning key screens that deliver information in a more meaningful way.

Helping Bridge the Democratic Divide

We’re collaborating on an exciting community-based application serving as a platform to broadcast voices and promote engagement in democracy beyond the ballot box. The vision includes forums, groups, and video content that can be shared with media and politicians. The entrepreneurs driving this effort are already working in collaboration with key associates of a South American government, and they came to 8th Light to design and prototype a compelling vision to inspire funding support from venture capitalists.

We began with a two-week experiment phase, during which we built Android and iOS versions of the app, and integrated three different SDKs for chat, video conferencing, and polling. Our goal was to see what functionality was available out of the box, how much we could customize with each SDK, and how viable they were for what the client was trying to achieve.

In order to meet a tight window to get our work in front of influential South American officials, we had to compress several weeks of work into one and benefitted from our ability to integrate design and development capabilities to create and implement the design. Our multidisciplinary team maintained tight feedback loops, prior SDK research, and prioritized asynchronous communications among the client, developers, designers, and project leadership to ensure everyone on the team had all the context needed.

These practices were critical as we combined branding, wireframes, and mockups to craft a navigable prototype with a homepage, chat, meeting functionality, polling, and a community forum intended to wow investors. The outcome of this work and our integrated team practices enabled our client team to take advantage of a new fundraising opportunity, resulting in a compelling investor deck to support our client in seeking funding.

What Sparks Your Innovations?

Applying Design Thinking when tackling new or existing challenges can lead to compelling outcomes for your customers, product teams, and overall business performance, and it just might be the spark you’ve been looking for.

If you want help envisioning a new future for your product, or exploring creative ways to connect with users directly, get in touch.