|06 March, 2017

Design thinking: how to build disruptive products

Joost Wolzak has been heading up dubizzle’s user experience design team since June 2016. He previously worked at OLX from Cape Town, South Africa. Prior to OLX, he was product owner at eBay inc. in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he designed and implemented the first mobile user experiences apps and mobile website for With over 16 years in the classifieds, e-commerce, finance and travel sectors, Joost takes an interdisciplinary, deeply collaborative approach to understand user needs holistically and to design towards them in small, yet viable steps.

Design thinkers like Airbnb and Coca Cola show a remarkable 219% growth of their market capitalisation over that of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index between 2004 and 2014. But what does it involve?

We are at the beginning of a disruption revolution. Previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3D printing, nanotechnology, genetics, robotics, etc are converging on each other and amplifying. New disruptive products continuously arise out of the ashes of old ones. Creative destruction is speeding up. For example, the expected lifetime of a company founded in 1960 was 55 years whereas, in 2015, that decreased to 20 years. *

Disruption to existing business models is having a profound impact on the landscape. At dubizzle we assume that insurgents will continuously pop up, because if we don’t then we might be gobbled up, bit by bit. We decided not to let that happen and rigorously apply design thinking in our product development process.

What is design thinking? Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, says: “Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

Design thinking insists that if we intend to find our next “unicorn” we need to constantly grow our capacity for a deeply collaborative, holistic approach and this starts with asking questions instead of seeking answers. This is the hardest challenge for any business because it requires the company to embrace uncertainty, a concept that most listed companies deeply dislike. How does one explain this to shareholders? After all, it is much easier to focus on loyal customers with a healthy willingness to pay and whose behavior can be predicted than those new, unknown, trial customers whose behavior is naturally erratic. This is the innovator’s dilemma.

At dubizzle we agree that the only way to deal with this dilemma is to apply design thinking. It forces us to pay equal attention to all customers irrespective of whether they are new, loyal or lost. It’s the only way to understand their reasons for failing to sign up or returning for more. Is it due to causes that we can influence or is it outside our control? Focusing on getting answers to these key questions, especially for people who switch away from us, continuously reveals new opportunities to us.

At dubizzle we track every user’s lifecycle, which gives us clear signals when our users are starting to switch away from us. Design thinking enables us to deep dive on “root causes” and to ideate new personalised ways to help the user make progress with dubizzle, usually through new functionality. One example is our new and improved Chat feature. Chat has solved many problems people had with the previous version of our app. It radically improved reliability of message delivery to 99.6 percent. It now shows users if the other party has received and read messages and much more. Additionally, our daily active chat users went up by 51 percent in January.

Our account managers, user experience designers, researchers and product managers are constantly opening windows that allow us to empathise with our user’s needs and to design towards them in small, yet viable steps. They organise talks with users, either online or in person. This is a simple, yet often forgotten art. While users are not trained designers, with a bit of prodding we can uncover what holds them back, what pushes them forward and what outcomes they desire.

Tech companies are typically great at being data centric, yet few of them succeed in reaching the next level of greatness, the level where we can get a glimpse of the emotional side of our users’ behaviour. Design thinking enables us to understand our users’ emotional struggles whereas a database filled with user data never will. Only through human interaction can we truly understand the impact of the digital interactions we offer.

Therefore, at dubizzle we talk to our users all the time. Together we apply design thinking to understand what special causes lie behind the variations in the behaviours we see on our site.

Design thinking is also making our business more fun and our teams happier. It instills deep collaboration within teams and gives all stakeholders equal speaking time. The latter is the single most important factor in creating successful teams, per Google’s Project Aristotle.

In short, design thinking works. Studies have shown that companies classified as “design thinkers”, i.e. Airbnb and Coca Cola, show a remarkable 219 percent growth of their market capitalisation over that of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index between 2004 and 2014. **  dubizzle can attest to that!

Our advice: Engage!  Start talking with your users. “Get out of the building”, as serial entrepreneur Steve Blank says, and look your customers in the eye. Focus especially on those that failed to get hooked in the first place and on those that switched away from you. You will see nothing but opportunity. Get ready to disrupt yourself!




Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own. 


© Opinion 2017

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