Design thinking is used in everyday practice throughout Queensland… and not just in the realm of “traditional” design practices.

Onkar Sandhar is a Queensland-based design thinking practitioner whose career initially commenced in digital user experience/customer experience (UX/CX) roles. He’s worked in small business, large corporate organisations and in government across Australia, Canada, and the United States.

His work has brought about change in the way customers interact with both digital and physical spaces, using design thinking as the process to improve and simplify the experience.

Onkar lives and breathes design thinking and he was kind enough to share his insights about design thinking today.

Tell us what you do.

I have always been involved in user experience at some level over the last 14 years. It was always a part of what I did. For example, my background started off in web development and digital marketing and there was always this thinking that if I improved the online user experience, it would increase revenue and make tasks more efficient.

For the last three years, I’ve been much more heavily involved in user experience where improving the customer experience extended beyond a computer screen resulting in better physical layouts of customer-facing centres or improving systems and processes.

I would describe my work as a way to help organisations build and improve products and services that customers love in a way that doesn’t waste time, money and resources.

And I do this using techniques that innovative companies, like Google and Uber, employ.

How have you used design thinking in your career?

Design thinking can be used to solve pretty much any business problem. I’ve used it to find out the underlying pain points that customers face in different moments in their service interaction journey. I’ve used research insights to facilitate ideation workshops and brainstorm different solutions to different problems. I’ve created prototypes and tested them with customers to ensure that our solutions would address their needs. And I’ve worked with project managers to make sure what is being implemented ‘hits the mark’ for customers.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to conduct workshops and teach others how to use design thinking for their own projects to build their capability. It’s amazing to walk into a group that is somewhat sceptical of design thinking and then have them walk out with a good idea of what’s possible if they put it into practice and how much time, money and resources it can save.

Why do you think design thinking is being embraced by government and businesses in Queensland? Where does the future lie with this thinking process?

I believe that design thinking is embraced by organisations because it’s been proven to be an effective way to solve real-life business problems. It’s not just a theory. I’m seeing this trend where organisations are moving away from the traditional inside-out approach and giving more weight to what customers actually want and then catering to their needs. It just saves so much time and energy this way. The last thing that any organisation wants is to launch something that costs millions of dollars and then realise that it’s something that customers didn’t actually want.

My prediction is that organisations that take advantage of this process will be the future titans of industry.

What advice can you give someone leaving school or university, looking to pursue a career in human-centred design/CX/UX roles?

Get involved through experience. It’s the only way that you are really going to learn. Taking design thinking courses are great as they’ll give you a foundation but it’s only when you put theories into practice and see how things work in the real-world that you’ll understand. There are many courses out there and some of them are even free.

My recommendation would be to take on a project while you’re taking any course and use that project as a way to implement what you are learning so you gain the experience. And if you don’t have a project of your own, you can approach a not-for-profit and use a business problem that they have to practice your skills on. Speaking to others in the industry would also be beneficial as they may be able to point you in the right direction.

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation to me is when you look at something in a different way to solve a problem where you put your end users at the centre of the entire process. This could result in a brand new product or service or it can be an improvement to a process or product. Innovation doesn’t always have to be something that’s earth-shattering. Sometimes it’s very simple changes that make a big impact.

What design thinking books do you recommend?

Sprint by Jake Knapp is a great book that shows how to take your research insights and use them to brainstorm different solutions, prototype those solutions, and then test them with your customers.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans is a book that shows you how to use design thinking to design the right path for your own life.

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