Today at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum in NYC, I’ll be running a workshop to introduce our clients to design thinking. What is design thinking? It’s an approach and a process that you can use to improve and innovate customer interactions across all of your digital and physical touchpoints.

To understand what that really means, it would probably help to know a little about what we’ll be doing in the workshop. Teams of two will start out by interviewing each other about a recent gift giving experience. Through questions like, “How did you come up with the idea for the gift?” and “What was difficult about finding and giving this gift?” they’ll try to uncover each other’s motivations, needs, and emotional drivers. Immediately after, they’ll synthesize their individual learnings and focus on a particular challenge that they want to take on — a gift-giving problem that they want to solve for the other person.

Then they’ll sketch out at least five different ways that they could address that problem and get feedback from their partner (and target customer) about those ideas. After they refine their solution, they’ll prototype it using large sheets of paper, sticky notes, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, colored markers, and other craft supplies. This may sound like playtime — and it will be fun — but it’s also a serious and highly effective way to make their ideas tangible and testable. And testing is exactly what will come next. The partners will share their solutions with each other and get feedback about what worked well and, perhaps more importantly, what could be improved.

Corporate design projects might take many weeks or months to complete, but we’re going to get through all of this in just over two hours. Still, we’ll hit all the major phases of a typical design process: research, analysis, ideation, prototyping, and testing.

The exercises will also hit on two of the hallmarks of design thinking: making and iteration. Rather than getting stuck in analysis-paralysis, designers focus on making their ideas tangible through quick and cheap low-fidelity prototypes. Then they iteratively test and refine those prototypes, adding additional levels of fidelity to arrive at an optimal solution in a time- and resource-effective manner. And that means that companies can find out what works — and what doesn’t — before they sink time and money into implementations built on flawed thinking.

The net result of this type of approach is that it can help you to make the right customer experience changes and implement those changes the right way. Those changes can be incremental improvements that you’re confident will work because you’ve actually vetted them with real customers. Or they can be radical innovations that stem from insights gleaned through in-depth customer research and then developed and refined through prototyping.

By the way, the materials that we’re using in the workshop actually come from the Stanford Institute of Design, which is often referred to as the “” In addition to educating Stanford students who want to add design thinking to their degrees, the institute is working hard to embed design in the corporate world. To that end, it's made its workshop materials freely available online and encourages organizations to use them in their own sessions. The materials are a fantastic resource, so be sure to check them out.

If you’d like to learn more about the design process, please check out my latest report, "Executive Q&A: Customer Experience Design." And please add a comment if you've been successful using design to improve or innovate your company's customer experience.