Using Design Thinking in the Life Science Industry
Getting Product-Market-Fit Right
Design Thinking in Life Science
hos to Employ it for Innovative Product Development
Agile methods, which include Design Thinking, can be used to solve complex problems. For example, how can an innovative technology be used to create a successful product - a must-have product, how can a medical device be miniaturized, how can a point-of-care test be digitized, or how can a service be offered even more cost-effectively or patient-friendly?
Design thinking is an innovation method that focuses on the customer needs very early and effectively in the process. Customers may be patients, doctors or health insurances. This is a decisive advantage, because in life science companies there is rarely a lack of ideas or technical expertise, but often a hidden perspective on how to create the next even better product with the right product-market-fit. Another hurdle can also be insufficient knowledge about which product features are really needed to convince the customers to buy. Which added value can I offer to my customer? Design Thinking offers very clever approaches to solve the above-mentioned challenges.
As the name suggests, Design Thinking is not a single ideation method, but rather an iterative and systematic process with interdisciplinary input to creatively address such issues. The core is the iterative and step-by-step design of functional and increasingly detailed prototypes for testing. With the test results insights are gained to further improve the prototype. Input has to come regularly from various disciplines and particularly the users, to guide the development and to avoid bias from assumptions and believes. This avoids pitfalls and products that nobody really needs.
Since every innovation should serve to secure and advance the company's future, it is important to recognize trends, which must already be incorporated in the development phase. This might be a change in customer behavior, e.g. patients are much better informed today, new regulatory guidelines or new technologies such as AI. Also here, Design Thinking provides an exceptionally good structural approach.
We will introduce the basics of Design Thinking in the following two chapters. In the 3rd chapter, we will go into more detail about the opportunities this method can offer for life science companies.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words,
a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”
The term "Design Thinking" is somewhat misleading in certain languages. It is not about product design in the sense of aesthetics or user interface design. The term design actually stands for conception. It is also not about strained thinking. On the contrary, a lot of construction and testing is done in the lab or workshop. What is meant is the mindset of the method.
What is Design Thinking?
In short - it is a systematic and iterative process to creatively solve complex problems. Obviously, since there can hardly be a universal solution method, design thinking is characterized by an extensive toolbox and can therefore be applied directly to the development of products and services in the life science industry as well. The Design Thinking team asks 3 fundamental questions:
What does the customer need (desirable)?
What can be technically implemented (feasible)?
How can the company capture value with the product (viable)?
The individual questions in themselves allow many answers: 1. usually customers have all kinds of wishes - but no all of them can be satisfied at reasonable costs. 2. many features are technically feasible, but not every feature is really needed. And 3. there might a nice solution, that meets the customers expectation, but how to earn money? The challenge for the team is to develop a solution (product, service, process, etc.) that answers all three questions at the same time.
The design goal is to achieve the product-market-fit.
Prinzipien des Design Thinking
Der Nutzer steht im Mittelpunkt des Designs
Embrace the Ambiguity
Das Problem aus (sehr) verschiedenen Perspektiven betrachten.
Design is Re-design
Technologie verändert sich, grundsätzliche, menschliche Bedürfnisse bleiben.
Ideen als Prototypen darstellen oder in Experimenten umsetzen.
If the team does not succeed in finding such solution, only a small part of the full potential of the innovative product can be exploited. Since an individual is not able to do this alone for complex products, an interdisciplinary team is necessary, consisting not only of technical experts from a single discipline, but also, for example, of physicians, UX designers or marketeers. To get this diverse group of people working together efficiently, productive and without barriers, Design Thinking uses special frameworks.
The 6 Phases of Design Thinking
Understand. It is about understanding the problem. This step may seem almost trivial, but often people look at the problem too narrowly or one-sidedly. This is where interdisciplinary collaboration helps. Is the problem big enough that it's worth solving?
Observe. This is where you quickly try to gain a deeper understanding of the user experience, e.g. a workflow, needs of the user. Time and time again, products fail because they are not useful in a day-to-day clinical setting.
Define. With so many insights gained, it is necessary to focus on specific needs / problems of the user that require a new solution. This step is often abstract, but crucial for the further steps.
Sometimes design thinking is seens as walls covered with post-its. Unfamiliar to the scientist. But the point is to visualize the ideas in the team rather then just talking about them. If that works better with graphs or sketches, just go ahead.
Ideate. The first step is to find as many ideas and solutions as possible. Think as broad as possible. Ideally, partial solutions are built upon each other by the team, so that it does not remain within the first level of ideation, but solution concepts are designed.
Prototype. The most promising solution concepts are implemented as a prototype. The prototype can be a model, a piece of code, or of course exploratory laboratory experiments. It has to be testable and demonstrable.
Test. Prototypes need to be tested, input sought for further improvements, and often discarded. Ideally, the user is already involved at this stage so that the solution concept is later accepted as a product.
Some textbooks like to talk about the optimal setup of a meeting room or workshop area for the design thinking team. Of course, this makes little sense in a laboratory environment and is not necessary. We ourselves have conducted design thinking projects with global teams. With the appropriate digital tools, this is easily possible and effective.
There are at least ten different process variants of the original Design Thinking approach developed at Standford.
The first step, "Understand" is a useful extension of the original five-step process, especially for technical/scientific companies, since a technical framework already exists here.
For each step, you use a set of methods to address the specific question or task. The
6 steps together form the micro cycle of design thinking. Since product solutions can rarely be created in five or six days, the micro cycle is repeated several times. A Hackathon can only be the kick off! The goal is not to accept the first solution right away, but to exploit the design space for the best solution. For this purpose, there are different techniques and correspondingly certain types of prototypes, such as the "critical function prototype" or the "funky prototype". A real design thinking project consists of a macro process broken down in several micro cycles. The goal is to develop a final prototype up to the point where it can be implemented in product development.
Medicinal Chemistry. Design thinking was originally developed for engineers. Therefore, the terms have to be transferred to the respective industry. The design space becomes the chemistry space, prototypes become hits and leads, with structure-activity relationships, and the final prototype is called a development candidate.
Benefits of Design Thinking for Life Science SMEs
The Design Thinking method can sound very abstract and theoretical to someone who is unfamiliar with this method. It can then happen that Design Thinking is quickly dismissed as an abstract creativity method and ends up in some "think tank". But if the result of a Design Thinking project is not a realizable prototype that goes into development & production in the company, something has fundamentally gone wrong. Often, too little attention has been paid to the 3rd requirement "Is it viable?". That's why a Design Thinking project should also include financial plan. Accordingly, we routinely use financial tools in our consulting approach to valuate an innovation.
To use Design Thinking in the life science business the method and its terminology has to be adapted. What is meant by a prototype, e.g. a lead structure that meets certain requirements, what is a suitable toolbox, e.g. a lab or method to quickly generate (preliminary) data, what competencies does the team need, e.g. understanding regulatory requirements, toxicity of ingredients etc.?
"Don't fall in love with your first idea"
One important aspect why we like to use Design Thinking is the following situation: Strongly scientifically oriented teams often suffer from their purely technological approach. Especially in a scientific environment, where experiments (prototypes) take a long time and are often extensive, there is a risk of focusing too much on the scientific solution alone. Albeit understandable, if so much afford has been spent, it is difficult to accept that the great idea does not resonante with the user and changing the path once taken is not an option. But not everything that is feasible or is offering deep scientific insights is actually needed by the physician. What is the point of developing an innovative measurement technique, for example, if the physician can actually do little with the even more precise result in practice?
Here it is really important to develop an understanding for the later user. With topics such as personalized medicine and patient-centricity, this necessity becomes immediately obvious. Fortunately, this does not require extensive market studies right away. Design thinking offers more effective approaches to quickly capture this user understanding, approaches, which are also accessible to the scientist. Further on, in contrast to traditional market research, these methods are designed to capture future trends and are therefore ideal for innovative products, for which there is usually hardly any market data available.
"Focus on evidence, not opinions"
The VISU360 von Zeiss is an example of a medical product developed by a design thinking team.
VISU360 is a telemedical platform that connects patients, doctors and eyeglass retailers remotely. This has made it easier for patients to access ophthalmologists, ophthalmologists have achieved better utilization of time and equipment and, last but not least, Zeiss has been able to add a service business to its optometric products.
There are numerous examples of the successful use of Design Thinking in the life science industry: companies such as Siemens or Zeiss use this method, medical products for the convenient measurement of blood sugar levels were developed in this way, and hospitals have used it to improve patient management. Success factors were the effective collaboration in interdisciplinary teams and the structured exchange with the future users, which was decisively accomplished by Design Thinking.
In summary, with the goal of developing a product or service that simultaneously answers the three critical questions, "Is it desirable, feasisible and viable?", the Design Thinking method establishes the essential product-market fit.
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