Design thinking in product development at ProductTank Oxford

Design Thinking is a process to gather insights and turn them into innovative products.

Design Thinking is about:

  • Learning by doing
  • Exploring
  • Asking questions
  • Being ok with being wrong

Barriers to Design Thinking

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Unwillingness to share bad ideas
  • Lack of social trust in the group

Benefits of Design Thinking:

  • Easy
  • Affordable
  • Flexible

Problem framing, problem solving, functionality & usability, aesthetics

Empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test.

Be flexible about the amounts of time in each part depending on the nature of the problem to be solved.

Design Thinking is good for tackling big complex, ambiguous problems.

Kaizen, on the other hand, is about incremental improvements.

Divergent thinking is open to explore and change. Convergent thinking is about having a clear path towards a clear goal.

Structure in the world offers freedom in the mind.

Design Thinking is about exploring and testing solutions to ensure they fit the problem before investing significantly.

Get better at finding problems.

Prototyping is about getting feedback and learning from users. The level of fidelity of the prototype depends on what you want to learn.

Don’t get too invested in a prototype, it might not be the right one.

Need to explore lots of different potential solutions to give confidence that the chosen one is the best.

UX in publishing meetup

The ‘UX in publishing’ meetup put on by OpenAthens, the academic single sign-on service with the goal of creating a seamless end-user journey for people accessing password protected e-resources across all platforms and publications.

We talked about:

  • RA21 – the publishing and medical industry’s initiative to improve the user experience of people accessing academic articles whilst ensuring that only those entitled to access get it. They recently published their ‘Recommended Practices for Improved Access to Institutionally-Provided Information Resources’. It’s slightly ironic that their website doesn’t have great UX, but it’s interesting that they are working to make it easier for people to get access, or that they are tightening their grip on controlling access, depending on your point of view.
  • Publishers using ‘impact factor’ as a metric for understanding how successful an article is, and how that is made up of things like how many times the article has been cited. I think the idea behind a single metric like this is to provide librarians with a guide for purchasing and customers a guide . I wondered if there was any use for a similar approach with Standards that uses socially-driven measures from other customers to help potential customers make purchasing decisions, something like ‘x number of business have used this standard’. This relates to how publishing as a concept communicates it’s value proposition when the purchaser doesn’t know if they are going to get value from what they read until they’ve read it, but they have to pay up front in order to read it. It’s a commercial model weighted in favour of the supplier and using a traditional optimised-for-production approach. I wonder what publishing (books, articles, standards, or any communication of ideas) might look like if it took a more modern optimised-for-consumption approach.
  • Chest Agreements, which are negotiated preferential licence agreements for software and online resources for the academic sector. The business model here is that universities are judged by how much money they save rather than how much they spend, and so an organisation that negotiates with the likes of Adobe to agree bulk purchase prices on behalf of academic institutions can corner that market. Then, they become the default place to go for purchasing access to software and other digital products such as books published by the American Psychological Association. They serve as an intermediary and aggregater, and are attempting the tackle the issues around access control of digital content and software products.
  • Sci-hub, the pirate website “that provides free access to millions of research papers otherwise locked behind paywalls. Widespread dissatisfaction with scholarly communications has led many to overlook or dismiss concerns over the site’s legality, praising its disruptive technology and seeing justification in the free access it affords people all over the world.

So, clearly there is a theme running through all of this that is about controlling access to content, on individual and institutional levels. There is some thinking around shifting away from the commodity approach of accessing individual articles, standards, etc., towards accessing the service that provides those things. I wonder how much research has been done on how accepting the market is of that shift (although I probably wouldn’t be able to access it even if there was research about it).

I also read Open Source Beyond The Market, DHH’s Keynote on open source software, markets, debts, purpose from RailsConf 2019. He reflects a similar line of thinking; that selling digital products is often based on the unit economics of our traditional commodity commerce where each individual thing produced had a cost, and so the selling price had to be based on that, but that with software and access to digital content, there is no unit production cost, and so the old way of thinking breakdown. As he’s talking about open source software he’s talking about allowing free access rather than developing different different pricing models, but he presents some really interesting thoughts on the context of it all.

Rory Sutherland: External Wisdom session

Advertising adds value to a product by changing our perception, rather than the product itself. Rory Sutherland makes the daring assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value — and his conclusion has interesting consequences for how we look at life.

Change behaviour by telling a story, make people perceive something differently.

Economics makes decisions based on fact. Works under the impression that people buy things they haven’t used because they know exactly what it is and what they will pay for it. Not true. We don’t have perfect information or perfect trust.

Today we see marketing as simply ”bought media” but that is just one arm of marketing. You have to look at it through a psychological lens.

Rory is a huge video call advocate. “If people delivered meetings at the speed they typed it would be a very long meeting”. Huge importance of face to face or Skype.

Brilliant efficiency doesn’t always need marketing budget – see TED talk for Eurostar case study.


Kings Cross Champagne bar example – “longest champagne bar in Europe” – moved a transport hub into a destination. Created value.

Virgin case study – first airline to introduce films in Economy and handed out choc ices at the start of the film – emotional efficiency.

BT case study – they knew from research people were annoyed about waiting in all day for an engineer but what were they really annoyed about. They had to take a day off work? No, the uncertainty of when someone was going to arrive. So BT text them when they were 40 mins away.

Christian Aid Week – 4 direct mail tests:

  1. Flap at the end of the envelope to return easier.
  2. Mentioned that it was dropped in by hand.
  3. Higher quality paper.
  4. Mentioned gift aid.

The first 3 all increased the response rate by 40%. The mention of Gift aid reduced the response rate by 35%. Learning – test everything.

KFC case study – one of their new products wasn’t selling well, so suggested they put the price up. It worked. Perceived value. Taste has a different psychological advocate, need to be able to perceive the trade off or they don’t trust it.

Overherd: Making digital work for the not for profit sector

Notes from talks about digital from Samaritans, Water:Charity UK, War Child, and Crowe UK.


Sometimes digital happens by accident.

Always ask ‘why’ before starting a new project.

Should be using digital to make people’s lives better.

Not everything has to be done the way it’s always been done.

Challenges of achieving brand consistency on website and across social channels.

Rebuilding the website was undertaken in two phases. Phase one got the technical base in place, and phase two was design and content.

Content strategy evolved by accident but involved auditing the current content, learning about the audience, identifying measures of success, and creating toolkits and workflows.

Creating ‘toolkits’ helped people learn as they understood what the phrase meant and how it matched their expectations.

When creating the Toolkits, be aware that:

  • You are not the expert
  • You are not the user
  • You need to connect the two
  • It’s going to require some work
  • But it’ll be worth it

Toolkits involved:

  • Audience research
  • Key messaging
  • Writing for users & analytics guidance
  • Social media guidelines
  • Photography and image guidelines
  • Training sessions
  • Workflows
  • And lots of support


Mission is to reinvent charity.

Use digital to tell stories and solve problems.

Not talking about the charity but about the people who are helped.

Aim to do everything with excellence, we owe it to our supporters.

100% of donations go towards front-line services. Overheads are funded by a small number of high-value individuals and families.

Work with influencers and provide downloadable assets for them to use.

Challenges for digital is how to take what Charity:Water does and do it online.

First to do Birthday Pledges to ask people to make donations rather than buy gifts.

Add all projects to Google Maps to increase transparency.

Received a grant from Google to add sensors to pumps to monitor flow to show when and how pumps are being used, and detect and predict faults.

Digital brings the supporter closer to the impact their money has, it connects them to ‘someone like you’.

Just keep trying new things.

War Child

Digital at Warchild is made up of a Digital and Content Team,  a dedicated Gaming Team, digital skills in other teams, and a cross-organisational digital maturity team.

Challenges around showing beneficiaries: Accessibility, Representation, Complexity.

Constraints force you to think creatively.

When you can’t talk to service users you have to think differently about how to show the impact, e.g. Graphic novel and #EscapeRobot video.

Use longform content to digitise large pdf reports.

Sometimes people think that because something is digital that it needs to be new and cool.

Explore new spaces and opportunities.

Crowe UK

Cyber Fraud accounts for 54% of all crimes.

Crime has transitioned to online.

43% of organisations have suffered a breach. The others either haven’t found it yet or it’s happening this year.

There’s a strong relationship between online fraud and the dark web.

Online fraud isn’t about ripping off individuals, it’s about using individuals details to rip of businesses.

Most online fraud isn’t investigated because police forces don’t know how to handle crime that doesn’t occur in a single geographic region.

Digital Strategy by Clive Gardner at Overherd

Notes from Clive’s presentation:

  • The NSPCC has a child audience and an adult audience with very different needs
  • They have about a hundred campaigns a year.
  • The campaigns explain a need, and that the need needs help.
  • Only about 20% of the messages in a campaign ask for money.
  • Other messages build the NSPCC as a favourite brand.
  • Charities are not transforming digitally fast enough to reflect the world around us.
  • Charities shouldn’t be at the leading edge of marketing.
  • In order to innovate, big slow charities need to work with fast partners.
  • Learn from those who are doing it well
  • Digital is a way of doing things.
  • Digital has to help set the culture to be able to respond to needs faster.
  • Building a preference centre helped towards a single customer view but it’s still five years away.
  • Digital Risk Assessment needs a ‘Pace’ dimension to add to Severity and Likelihood