Design thinking and Blueprinting "overlap"... but each also does what the other does not.
When New Product Blueprinting users have experimented with Design Thinking, they have enjoyed its refreshing customer-empathetic mindset… and the fact that the two methodologies can complement each other. It is seen as a “good thing” that they do not completely overlap.
In some cases, Design Thinking goes further than New Product Blueprinting:
- Beyond the Front End: New Product Blueprinting ends with a business case which, if approved, allows the team to proceed into the solutions-focused development stage. Design thinking continues, providing methods for developing potential solutions. Some solutions-based brainstorming is included in New Product Blueprinting (Step 6: Technical Brainstorming), but the goal here is merely to identify technical avenues—not solutions—that would be pursued post-Blueprinting if the business case is approved.
- Prototyping: Design Thinking also includes approaches for testing the new product design. These include rapid prototyping and user-experience modeling. In some cases, trade-off analysis can also be useful to test multiple design options. Why doesn’t Blueprinting include these? Blueprinting stops before the product development stage begins. Typically, this prototyping is done after front-end work is done… but you could consider using some low-cost prototyping in the latter part of the front-end.
- Ethnography: Finally, Design Thinking includes ethnography (study of people’s activities) and other methodologies for understanding the customer’s world. In most cases, these were designed for consumer applications, and Blueprinting users report some are difficult to use “as is” for B2B customers. Still—depending on the nature of your B2B market—you may find helpful tools or “inspiration” for new approaches you can use to supplement Blueprinting methods.
In other ways, Blueprinting goes further than Design thinking:
- Front-end roadmap: Blueprinting has a “roadmap” nature, allowing modestly-trained users to effectively complete the front-end of innovation. Less commonly appreciated is the fact that these roadmap steps are linked and intensely focused on one thing: customer outcomes. As shown in the diagram, Blueprinting looks at these outcomes with nine increasing levels of “magnification.” This typically surpasses the level of insight depth that can be achieved with traditional Design Thinking. This means that the outcome you uncovered in Discovery interviews (Step 2) will be rated for customer eagerness in Preference interviews (Step 3), compared to competitive offerings in side-by-side testing (Step 4), and so on. Could users develop this linkage on their own? Sure. Should you count on this happening for employees with busy “day jobs” across your entire organization? Probably not.
- Skill mastery: While some seek to train organizations in Design Thinking, it has historically been the province of designers and other full-time experts. When Design Thinking training does occur, users typically find they are exposed to a wide range of methods… but may struggle to know when and precisely how to apply them. In the case of New Product Blueprinting, the focus is on mastering tools and skills, using over 20 BlueTools, 31 e-learning modules, Blueprinter software, and extensive role-playing.
- B2B Optimized: Blueprinting is optimized for B2B customers, who typically have high knowledge, interest, objectivity, foresight and industry concentration. As such, its methods differ from Design Thinking and other methods in several regards:
- Respectful: Some methodologies assume “customers can’t tell you what they want,” so they rely heavily on observational methods. To sophisticated B2B customers—who can explain their needs—this observation can feel like “Jane Goodall studying her chimps.”
- Engaging: Many B2B markets have few buyers, so Blueprinting interviewing is designed to impress and engage these large customers (no selling, great follow-up, etc.) so they will later buy your product.
- Customer-led: Instead of using a questionnaire or interview guide, Blueprinting interviewers employ triggers and other methods to help customers diverge to whatever they think is important.
- Quantitative: Because most B2B customers are quite objective, Blueprinting interviews lead to an unbiased, unfiltered Market Satisfaction Gap profile… so the supplier knows exactly which outcomes to pursue.
Bottom line: New Product Blueprinting can be considered part of the broader “family” of Design Thinking methodologies. We encourage you to explore Design Thinking to see how you might learn and benefit from it.
Keywords: design thinking, New Product Blueprinting, front end, prototype, ethnography, b2b, customer-led, interview