Design Thinking and Remote Workshops with Prabudha Agnihotri
Powered by innovative thinkers, influential leaders, and creative networking platforms, switching careers is becoming safer via slow and steady progress. This change is not about perfection but realistic progress or slow changes that improve over time. This change is for happiness and contentment and something that we will get to see more with the changing definitions for work integration at home.
The second part of the podcast moves to Design Thinking, a process of change, a process that helps to innovate, strategize and create. Design thinking — a user-centric methodology that uses techniques borrowed from the designer toolbox, such as empathy, to generate innovative solutions and unexpected approaches to particularly difficult problems. Its value stems from its ability to innovate not only at the level of products but also it's capacity to forge new ideas and reimagine business operations and management models.
In this episode, we unpack the key elements behind design thinking and talk about conducting remote workshops and how successful they are in converting concepts into strategic actions for businesses. Let's Listen!
"Design thinking is not something that can be only used by designers, design thinking is there from a long time and all the great innovators in different sectors like literature, art, music and, business have practiced it. The good thing about design thinking is that you can systematically extract information. You can teach things, you can learn and apply human-centered techniques to solve business problems in a very creative and innovative way".
- Prabudha Agnihotri
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Priyanka Jeph: Welcome to QED42's podcast designwise. I'm your host, Priyanka Jeph. And I'm a design writer at QED42. This is the second episode of the podcast and our guest today, Prabudha Agnihotri is a NIFT graduate in fashion and lifestyle accessories. He switched his career from designing physical products and entered the digital world of design and landed in microsoft as a UX Designer.
At present, he's working with ServiceNow as a senior UX designer. And we'll be speaking about his interesting journey today. We'll also be getting in details of design thinking, a process of change, a process that helps to innovate, strategize and create. Hello, Prabudha, welcome to the show. We're really happy and equally curious to know more and more about you. How are you?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Thank you for having me here. I'm good. How are you?
Priyanka Jeph: I'm good. Thank you. Um, so Prabudha the first question that comes to my mind when I speak with you is, you know, how did you arrive where you are as a UX designer? Would you like to tell us more about that journey?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Yeah. Um, I started my. Design journey with my bachelor's in NIFT, uh, which was in fashion and lifestyle, accessory design. Uh, initially I was working, uh, in leather accessories and products where I did accessories for some time. And then I got into leather surface treatments where I worked on carpets, uh, leather tiles. Furniture and other and many more leather products.
And it was really interesting because, uh, leather as a material is very interesting, because you can do a lot of things. You can do a lot of surface treatment and you can create a lot of texture onto that you can create a lot of, uh, surface modeling you can do, and you can. Use it in multiple products.
So it was very interesting, uh, where I worked and later on, I shifted into titan industries, uh, where I was working as a watch designer. I also did some of the trophies for some events. So it was really interesting because there, I got to explore different materials. I worked with ergonomics and sketching.
Uh, research was an integral part because I was working in Sonata and it was a low cost. Segment product where, uh, it was very important to know what users want. And we used to go to different parts of the country to understand what our users are actually looking for. What are their ambitions, what is their motivation?
So, um, that was another very interesting thing where I was able to use the knowledge I earned from the college and apply it into the product. And after that I joined Microsoft as a UX designer, and recently I've shifted to service now, and I'm working here as a product designer in UX space.
Priyanka Jeph: This is a very interesting, uh, journey and I would like to know, like know more about it. So how did you make that shift, you know, from the physical to the digital enterprise product?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Oh, yeah, that's, that's really interesting story because when I was working in Titan, I worked on a side project, uh, which was later turned into a startup and the idea was, uh, Disrupting the fine art market, because what is happening in country is that there are a lot of good, fine artists and they make amazing artworks, but they are not able to sell.
And I was thinking that probably I can create a market digitally where they can bring their products and sell them. Idea was really good. Probably I didn't have the right experience and I probably, I was not, uh, ready for that. And, but the good thing happened in that.,thing that I was exposed to UX as a field.
And the reason was that I was creating my own application and website and I met developers. I met a lot of people who were working in the UX field. And when I actually got to know about UX, I realized that this is something which I want to do and I found my fit. And I thought that this is it, this is what I want to do. So that's how I shifted from products to, uh, UX design.
Priyanka Jeph: That's nice. So, uh, what was it like, what was your experience to work with enterprises and how did it help you grow as a designer?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Yeah, and, uh, so when I joined, uh, UX design as a, as a profession and I started working, that was a transition period for me.
And there was a big learning curve as well because, uh, working in UX design is quite different from working in the product design industry, because, uh, you have to first know the product. You have to know the rules, you have to know the tools. So there are many things which I had to learn, which I was aware of, but many of the things you learn when you work on actual projects.
So there was definitely a learning curve, but. Uh, the good thing was that I was working in the service design segment where I was solving the real business problems and in that I got to work with different sectors like healthcare manufacturing, retail, automobiles. I also worked on some of the government projects and the, the type of work we were doing for different sectors was very different.
Although, uh, the process was the same, but. And there were different business problems and there were different solutions required because you cannot do the same things, what you were doing for government projects and for a conglomerate or for a corporate. So every time it was a new challenge, which was really good because every challenge was teaching me something and.
I also got a good exposure in the enterprise world because I attended a lot of seminars. I gave a lot of workshops, attended a lot of UX events. So basically it was a, uh, I would say a 360 degree development for me. And, uh, the benefit, uh, Of working in this service design enterprise industry was that I was applying the design thinking and design thinking was something which I learned in college, but never knew how to apply into a real product.
And this was the time when I was, uh, looking at it, how it was done and how, uh, the P colleagues of mine were doing. And then, uh, slowly, I also picked it up and I applied in multiple projects in solving real business problems, understanding what, uh, Empathy is how design thinking can be used in different types of challenges?
Uh, and there were a lot of mentors on that road who helped me. So, yeah. Uh, that's how I developed this skill.
Priyanka Jeph: So, um, as you said, like you've learned and you think design thinking is one tool that can help you solve a lot of problems. So that's what I want to get into next. Why do you think design thinking solves problems?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Yeah, that's, that's a really interesting one because, uh, Design thinking is something which people think it can be only used by designers, but that's not the truth because design thinking is, is actually there from long time and all the great innovators in different sectors like literature, art, music, um, business have practiced it.
And the good thing about design thinking is that you can systematically extract information. You can teach things, you can learn and apply human centered techniques to solve business problems in a very. Creative and innovative way, uh, clean in business, but also in your life for your country, for your, uh, Organization, you can solve problems.
So, and it's a very hands-on way of working, uh, where you meet people, you understand what their real problems are. You understand, you empathize and you ask questions. Basically, you get to the real problem. Not. Uh, surface level problem. So you go into the root, you understand where the problem is, then you apply the human centered techniques and, um, you apply empathy and that's how you get to a solution.
If you see, there are a lot of big names in the industry who have applied design thinking and they have grown like anything. Like Uber is one of the examples where Uber actually, uh, got in touch with their customers. Understood they are. Basic problems. And, um, one of the examples is that earlier people would have had to struggle a lot to get the change, to pay the drivers.
And then when they applied design thinking to the problem, and then they, uh, brought up the digital payments in their application. So that's how, uh, companies were growing, uh, through design thinking. And those are some of the examples which I can give, um, Although there are different methodologies people use in design thinking.
Uh, some people use UX lean canvas uh, where they have given a canvas based on the book. Uh, their theory is basically based on the book of Eric Rayes, uh, the lean startup and they have come up. Uh, with that lean UX canvas to, uh, solve business problems. Another way to do is, uh, jobs to be done, which was by Clayton Chris Denson.
Uh, he was a Harvard business school professor and, uh, he helped McDonald's to solve their business problem and how they can optimize their business. So that is also one of the ways to do that. Another way of doing it, which was vibrators and in school, uh, where you can. Uh, understand the business problem you diverged, and then you can wish for a problem statement and then you, again, are diverse towards solutions and then, uh, get, uh, converse to, uh, to one or two solutions for a problem.
So there are different ways of doing it. People choose it based on challenge, based on the environment and based on the team. Um, I think, uh, uh, All, all are very important in their own ways and all they are very effective. Uh, it depends what people use. And I personally prefer a double diamond mostly because it is, it works really well for me. Uh, and it helps release all the business problems.
Priyanka Jeph: Okay. Um, so the more I listen about it, the more I want to know. So how do you exactly implement the process of design thinking during a project and also at enterprise level? Like, what is the process of actually implementing it?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Yeah, I can, I can probably take an example of one of the projects which I've worked on, uh, when I was working in Microsoft and, uh, it was with one of the biggest conglomerate in the South Eastern Asian country and the, the problem which they gave us was that they wanted to increase their revenue.
Now, if you ask. Uh, as a designer to me, can you solve this? I will be blank about how I can increase revenue hammer design, where I can design something good on a paper or probably on the screen, but how can I increase your revenue? And this is when, uh, it is important. When I said that understanding business is very important for a designer, because if, as a designer, if I understand what business is, then I can probably solve complex problems and problems, which are not, uh, You know, we'll say directly that design something.
So when, when this problem came to us, uh, increase revenue. So, we thought about how we could do that. And again, the thing which strikes to us was, uh, design thinking is the way to do it. So we had a team of different people. Like I was from the design team. Then there was a project manager and there were people from tech teams, uh, engineering, so that they could help us with what we should actually do.
So we went, uh, to the country and met the people in the organization. And then we realized that first we have to align with the stakeholders. So basically stakeholders are the people who were, uh, giving us this work. And we want to understand from that, that, uh, is it the right problem we are solving or not, or why do they want to do it?
What is their motivation? What is the vision and what, what, what is the purpose they want to do it? Is there just money-making or there are other hidden agendas behind that or what they actually want from us. So I think the stakeholder alignment in the design process as a first part, where you go and understand what your stakeholders want.
Once you understand that, then you go into the process of design thinking. So when I was solving this problem, I used a double diamond where we took this business problem of increasing revenue as well.
Which is what we did. We did a lot of research where desk search was the first, uh, milestone for us, where we researched on cultural trends, we searched on economic trends, external internal trends. Like, if I talk about culture, why culturally, because every country works differently. Things which are working there probably will not work in Russia.
Right. So it is very important to understand the culture, why people do what they do. So. The first thing was that we will do the desk research. We understand we'll get some understanding and then we'll go into the field. So we did the cultural research. We understood the economy because if you're talking about revenue, that means somebody has to pay to increase this revenue.
So it was very important to understand how the economy of the country works, how much people earn, what are their spending habits. So we did a search on that. Then we understood that, uh, what are the technology trends? What other trade trends. And is there any recent event happening in the country or what is history, uh, So we, we decided on all those things and the best practices, who are the competitors, what are the rules and regulations of the country?
Is there any law which, uh, which is coming in the way? So we researched all of those things and we came up with some conclusion that these are the things which can, if you've worked on this weekend improve, but again, our desk research is. A secondary research, not a primary research, probably this was done by someone two years back, three years back and all the scenarios have changed, but this gave us some perspective.
So as a next step, what we did, we did the field research. Uh, in the field research, we actually met real users, uh, around 30 customers. We met and we did the interviews. So in that, the outcome of that field research was to understand the stories, because everyone has a lot of stories. And in those stories, people talk about their pain points.
People talk about their motivations, their ambitions. So that was the. Main thing, which we wanted to get out of that because we also wanted to validate what we learned in the desk research, as well as we wanted to understand what the customer wanted. So field research really helped us. And that was the point where we understood who all our personas, what are the main problems people are facing.
So we made a list of all those problems. Problems, uh, basically the problem statement. And then we, uh, we, we, we basically did an exercise where we thought that, okay, if these are the problems, how much effort will you give and how much, uh, Money. We have to spend so basically effort and money both on those two dimensions.
We understood that there's one problem. If we solve, we will be spending less money and we'll be creating more revenues. So that's how we came up to one particular problem statement. And that was a time when we converged. So that's how, if you see. The double diamond, the first diamond was closed. And then that was the point where we thought, now we have to be diverse again, to understand what solutions we can provide, because from the business problem, which was increasing revenues, we reached a problem statement where we had to improve the sales service. That was the problem statement. We came up with that. If we improve the sales service, we will be able to get more revenues because that's what we learned during the interviews that, uh, the sales people were not good enough. They didn't know about the product. So they were not able to provide the right information, things like that.
So we reached a conclusion that this is the problem we have to solve, and then we did a workshop, a design thinking workshop. Now this is a very important part. I believe in the design thinking process because this is where you get to the solutions and you understand what is important for the users.
So, um, a design thinking workshop is nothing but a workshop where you invite people from, uh, different. Age groups, different, um, sectors of the life, different income groups, basically your personas, you invite them in a small group, like six to 15 is the ideal number. And then, uh, we create this, uh, basically we have to prepare for this workshop because when you are inviting people, you are asking for the investment of their time.
And time is very important. Time is money for people. So. It should be very well planned. And if it is very well planned, then you will get the solution that you're looking for. So what we did, uh, that if I have to explain this, I'll probably go into four different, um, uh, topics. But before I go there, do you have any questions in between?
Priyanka Jeph: Um, I was just all this while wondering that it's like a very intricate process that has been followed in, uh, since, you know, we've, we've shifted completely remote. How are you actually managing these workshops? And, uh, are there any challenges that you're facing? Are you able to conduct them and, you know, get results the way you used to get it before? Uh, how is it happening now?
Prabudha Agnihotri: Yeah, that's, that's a really interesting question because, uh, when this pandemic started, we also had to face this problem because we were very well-trained or doing workshops offline, but then pandemic started, we couldn't move from our places. And then the industry was also, uh, You know, shifts really fast because as soon as it happened, there were few tools were available, but that came into, uh, use a lot because if you see zoom is something which, uh, gained a lot of popularity, uh, teams is getting a lot of popularity because of this.
So similarly there was a tool called Miro which we use for the workshops. And I would say that the ground rules have changed, but, uh, the, the crux is still the same. Earlier, we used to think about how we can, uh, well prepare for four different senses of humans, like smell, what kind of smell should be there in the room, uh, what kind of food we should serve so that people don't sleep in your full day workshop and. Things like that, but when you're working offline, you don't have to worry about that, but there are other challenges that come with that. That, uh, is the internet connection good. Uh, is the room noise proof, um, are people putting their phones on mute or not? Uh, do they understand the, uh, etiquettes of online calls?
Because it was not. common for everybody. Um, probably people who work in it industry, they understand it, but not everybody. So these are some of the things, uh, which we have to deal with. And those were some of the challenges. But, but if I, if I go back to the discussion, which I was having, where I was talking about the design, uh, that double diamond and design thinking.
So, um, whether it is offline or online, I think, uh, crux is the same, the ground rules are different. So. Uh, coming back to the discussion where I was, uh, we were into the create group where, uh, we were looking for solutions. So, uh, whenever we do these kinds of workshops, we basically, uh, first. Plan. And then we prepare for the workshop.
Then we run the workshop and then we close the workshop. Now I will talk about all the four pillars. So what happens when we, uh, plan a workshop? So first we have to understand what the topic is. So, uh, we already had the topic that we have to improve the sales service now, who are the right people for this workshop.
So we invited very carefully the people who can help us, uh, which were the customers of, uh, People who recently got the job, people who were experienced and were buying, uh, another, uh, such product or from different life of, uh, people we were inviting in that workshop. And then what is the size, how many people would you like to invite?
Uh, how much time would you like to give? Will it be three hours, half day, full day. So that is very important to plan. In advance. And what kind of activities will you do? When will you give the breaks? Uh, what is the purpose? What is the presentation style? Will, will it be digital? Will it be, uh, physical, uh, what kind of materials will we use?
So all those things are very important for planning and then comes. Uh, the preparation, uh, one day before, probably, or a week before we had to decide the space, but nowadays it's, uh, either zoom or teams. What channel would you like to use? Um, then you are basically ready with everything and you are over-prepared because in the workshop, there are people who are coming there and giving you your time, their time and.
If you are not prepared, that's not good. So you have to be over prepared, even if it is online or offline, because online also, if your internet connection is not good,probably you will not be able to do it. So what we do is we, we are always ready with two different internet connections so that if one doesn't work, another one is there for backup.
Similarly for the city as well. If something happens with electricity, we have the power backup ready because online, if you lose the connection, you lose the context many times. So that is very important for preparation and. Then, um, earlier we, we, we also used to prepare how far we should go, the washroom so that people don't go and vanish.
So now if you see it, that is also one of the benefits of this, that people don't vanish because they have to come back after five or 10 minutes, they cannot go out anywhere everybody's locked. Uh, so that that's one thing. And then what kind of, uh, material you will need earlier, we had to use. A lot of material, we have to invest a lot of paper, but now I think, uh, it is really nice that digitally, you don't have to waste any paper.
You can do everything on the miro board or on some tool. So that is also one of the benefits of doing it, uh, online. Uh, I also think that, um, When, when you do it digitally, like these days we are doing the good thing is that earlier we were not able to reach all the places. Like if something, some places are too far, or if there are restrictions, we are not able to travel there.
And then we used to ask some other team members to go there and do this workshop. So there was a problem of that sort, but online, you can write to anybody and you can do that workshop. So that is a good thing about running it virtually. So those are some of the things. And, um, we then come to the third part where we run the workshop.
So basically what we do is we set the tone, we set the expectation that what we want from this workshop. And we start with our intro in the agenda, what we are going to do, how the activity, activities, our plan. And at this point, basically we want to know what the journey of this customer is, how they are using the product.
And during that we understand and empathize that, okay, these are the problems. These are the things which we were not doing wrong, or we were doing wrong, or right. So we validate all those things. We ask for solutions from, from customers, if they want, what kind of a way they would like to handle this problem.
And we get a lot of good ideas in that, based on that we ideate and create things. Um, we also time track because again, even if it is. Virtually or physically it is very important to time track that too. It is so that you finish everything in time and entertaining people is very important. So, uh, when, when we run workshops, we make sure that we do some fun activities.
Also from time to time because, um, If it does a job, you will do it because you know what you're doing. But if you are coming for a workshop for you, it can be boring or it can be stressful. So we take care of that. We entertain people, we take pictures, uh, And nowadays we take screenshots and we leave some time for discussions that people can talk about things, what, uh, things they are understanding or what other ideas they have or if they have any conclusions.
So, uh, we always leave some time for discussion and which actually brings up a lot of, uh, insights to us. Uh, in the workshop, the important thing is to use a non verbal communication style. But now again, when we are online, uh, the rules again have changed. So we have to probably interrupt at times and we have to pause.
We have to change tone. We have to comfort some, uh, participants because it can be overwhelming for people. So those are some of the things we are doing and trying to maintain the same level, uh, virtually as well as, uh, When we were doing it offline. Uh, so those are some of the things we take care of. And, uh, so yeah, when, when we did this workshop, we got a lot of insights in this whole process.
And, as the last process, when we're closing up the workshop, uh, participants started summing up what they learned and what the industry, and they again gave us, uh, some. Uh, you know, uh, again, points and things to which they were thinking were not right. So we got a lot of, um, uh, Process related things.
We got a lot of pain points. We had a lot of ambitions, what people had. So those were some of the really good things. And then, um, since we are doing it virtually nowadays, so we don't have to digitize anything earlier. We used to take pictures of all the posters and everything, and we used to sit and write the art to digitize it so that we don't miss out.
So that is again, one of the benefits I think we have doing it virtually. And then we just, uh, send, thank you note and secure next time slot, because what happens is that in this workshop, we got a lot of information from the users and customers. Now, after getting this information, what we will do with the art.
So we, what we do is we take two days and we do some quick mock-ups. And that's what we did in, in this exercise also, where we got a lot of insights. Then we did quick mock ups in two days, and then we invited these people again for two hours. And we showed those mock-ups to these customers and asked, what do you think now?
Because they gave us a lot of information and it was our responsibility now to give them back something and we showed those mock-ups and they were really happy because they could see, uh, those mock-ups were solving their problems. And in return it was increasing the revenue for my customer, because if the problem is solved, they will do it.
Uh, word of mouth, uh, promotion, and they will come back. There will be a return customer. So if more and more people are coming to my shop or obviously my revenues are going to go up. So in this focus group discussion, uh, these customers gave us a lot of, uh, uh, Feedback again, that we can change a few things.
We can add things, we can probably remove a few things. So we did that and then, uh, we sent them back and we sat down again for two weeks and where we, uh, took all the feedback, took all the, uh, insights and created a better version of those mock-ups. And that was a starting point for us where we. Uh, in, in, in this whole process, we came up with one solution that if we do, uh, then probably we can solve the problem that you had earlier.
And then we presented it to our, uh, stakeholders and they were really aligned and happy. And then we also give them a roadmap. Uh, if we want to succeed, we have to do these 10 or 15 things in the first round, and then we can do a few more and a few more. And that's how we will grow as a product and as a, um, you know, conglomerate or as a corporate.
And then we will solve the real problems and we will get more revenues. So if you see, It took a lot of time to explain that, but it was really important to explain because, uh, The problem was a very straightforward business problem. Increase my revenue, but how the design process, and how design thinking helped me get to that solution was really interesting. I believe.
Priyanka Jeph: Yes. Uh, I completely agree. And, you know, after being touched by the pandemic, our ways of working might have changed, but the intent remains the same to understand the users and to grow business. And it is not possible without following a process that has the best design thinking.
Our Listeners are probably. And they for sure have learned a lot through what you had explained, and it was really nice of you to explain the whole process to us. So this is one last thing that I would like to understand . Um, you know, uh, does it also play a process like the design thinking process? Does it also play a major role in innovation and the product development process?
Prabudha Agnihotri: I definitely believe that because in any, uh, development process, you have to go through. Oh, sorry. Then activities and design thinking is one such beautifully crafted, uh, way of doing it because, uh, first you understand.
What the problems of their customers are. And then you try to come up with solutions. So I believe whenever innovation happens, it happens with design thinking and keeping in mind, because either you do it directly or indirectly people go through those steps where they understand, they empathize with the users, they understand their problems, their ambitions, based on that, they come up with a solution and, and, you know, uh, come up with that. So I believe design thinking is the key, uh, to innovation and product development.
Priyanka Jeph: Okay. Uh, thank you for that information. It was really insightful. Everything that you especially mentioned about the workshop, the way you mentioned everything in detail, that was, there were a lot of insights. The key insights that I took and I'm so sure that the listeners. I also took a lot of key insights from this. Uh, we're really glad that you took to time to speak with us and thank you for being on the show.
Prabudha Agnihotri: Thank you so much Priyanka, it was a pleasure for me.
Priyanka Jeph: So that was the conversation with Prabudha, which was nostalgic, expressive and focused on organic experiences about making a switch in career, implementation of design thinking and conducting life and remote workshops. Thank you for listening to us. This was Priyanka Jeph in designwise, from QED42.