Design Thinking vs Agile: Don’t Choose, Unite
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You may have heard the terms ‘design thinking’ and ‘Agile’ a lot by now. It seems like every other startup or fast-growing organization is talking about how they’ve adopted one of the methods and how it has transformed everything, from their company culture to the way they approach product development.
It sounds great, however, sometimes people misuse the terms and have trouble figuring out where to draw the line between the two. Some have even suggested that Agile and design thinking are the same thing. But is it really so?
Eleken is a design agency for SaaS businesses. We won’t exaggerate by saying, our team consists of Agile designers and design thinkers focused on products that users love. In this article, we are going to put design thinking against Agile to explain what they are, compare their similarities and differences, and help you understand whether you could combine them.
What is Agile?
The Agile methodology came to the business world in the early 2000s. It was a call for all project managers and developers to become more flexible.
Before Agile was born, project teams would negotiate the requirements for the future product in detail with a client or stakeholders. And only after specifications were set, the team would start working on the solution. The development cycle sometimes could take even a year or two. Changes were not desirable, as they intruded on the developing process and could slow it down even more. In the end, no one could guarantee that clients or users will be fully satisfied with the end-product.
Agile did not make projects immune to failures or mismanagement. But it provided more flexibility and responsiveness to market changes than traditional project management techniques.
Agile is a framework that focuses on iteration, flexibility, and adaptation to feedback. Instead of designing a perfect plan and executing it flawlessly, you make new decisions as the development goes and learn along the way. Agile helps to break down big projects into manageable chunks of work with the goal of delivering quick results. The main components of Agile include: requirements, planning, design, development, release, and result monitoring.
Agile has shifted attention from heavy documentation and development to ready software and most of all to people involved. While being more human-centered than older methodologies, Agile relies on values and principles stated in the Agile Manifesto and is implemented through certain practices. Sprints, daily standups, and retrospectives are all Agile practices that have become widely popular.
The methodology has its roots in software development life cycles, and it's still most widely used in that field. Agile practices were adopted in such world-known companies as Microsoft, IBM, Lego, Lonely Planet, and many others.
Agile can be applied in any project, where the goal is to improve the development process and decrease time for product delivery. This is a thing to remember about Agile: it does not look for problems to solve, it deals with predefined problems and focuses on getting the job done as fast as possible.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking has been around since the 1950s, and it has been most popularized by its advocates at IDEO - the Silicon Valley design consultancy known for its offbeat, outside-the-box approach to innovation.
We call it Design Thinking because the method takes its roots from the design field and because in a general sense, it still refers to the design of a solution. However, nowadays design thinking is applied to various project types. What's more, some of the world-known companies like Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, and the like appeared only thanks to design thinking.
Design thinking is a process that entails empathy and creativity in order to generate innovative solutions for complex problems, while also focusing on customer needs. User research plays a big role in uncovering insights about user needs (problems) and ensuring that their experience with the product is delightful. This is achieved through multiple cycles of prototyping.
The design thinking process consists of five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Each following phase goes from the previous one, and it's important to strictly follow the order. The whole design thinking process is about listening to users’ feedback and implementing changes for your solution based on the feedback. This creative method lets you ask the right questions and reveal the core of the problem you are trying to solve. Simply put, design thinking is a way of discovering and solving problems.
What differs design thinking from brainstorming or the scientific approach is that it is the most human-centric way to discover what users want. Wait, but Agile is also human-centric and focuses on delivering the product users want, isn’t it? Correct. Both methods are extremely user-oriented, even user-centric, yet they are not the same.
What is the difference between design thinking and Agile?
Comparing design thinking and Agile is like comparing apples to oranges - it’s pretty easy to notice that the two are different. Still, the biggest difference between design thinking and Agile is that they serve different purposes.
Design thinking is a way to define the problem, while Agile helps to solve the problem in the most efficient way possible. In a more academic language, Agile is a process for delivering software of known value within a fixed timeline, whereas design thinking is a process for finding solutions to unarticulated problems.
What do design thinking and Agile have in common?
Despite having a different scope and execution, design thinking and Agile have some striking similarities:
- Both methodologies are human-centered. However, there's a small difference still - design thinking focuses on users, while Agile’s focus is on the team developing the product.
- Speed of result delivery, iteration of stages, and general agility are important for both Agile and design thinking.
- Both rely on testing. Agile projects are built early and often, constantly testing the result to see what's working and what isn’t. Testing is equally important for design thinking to validate new ideas and come up with a better solution.
Still, despite having a common ground, terms `Agile` and `design thinking` are not used interchangeably as we already learned. So the conclusion can be made that you have to think of what would be the best match for your project and just choose between the two methods. But wait, what if there's a way to use both Agile and design thinking?
Agile and design thinking: can they be friends?
There’s no need to pick exclusively Agile or design thinking. On the contrary, let Agile and design thinking complement each other and you’ll be surprised with great results.
Choose what methodology fits best to a certain stage of your project. In the early stage when you are only shaping your idea, you definitely need a more creative and innovative approach. This is the best time for design thinking. Agile is most effective when the problem is already defined and needs fast and most effective implementation. There are also cases when design thinking is used in Agile development if the team is stuck over a complex problem and wants to create an advanced solution with users’ needs in mind.
But it’s not the only way to mix design thinking and Agile. For example, design thinkers might use Agile methods in their work, like working in sprints, running retrospectives, and having daily check-ups and weekly planning meetings. This is especially effective when you implement design thinking to a bigger problem that needs more time to solve. Agile teams can also use methods like user interviews or prototyping, which aren't exactly part of Agile processes, but are more typical for the design thinking method.
Let’s go back to IDEO, design thinking pioneer practitioners. IDEO never publicly stated they are Agile-driven, but a closer look at their work proves that the company applies Agile principles and practices while following the design thinking method. For example, in their collaboration with Ford Motors, IDEO worked in cycles (sprints) that lasted 8-12 weeks long. After each such sprint there was a product review and testing, the team was in constant communication with the feature owner (read ‘product owner’). All this indicates that IDEO actually used Agile practices when designing a solution for the client despite them being early adopters of the design thinking.
Usually, such a hybrid approach brings the best results, but you should mitigate certain risks before marrying Agile with design thinking.
Potential challenges in combining Agile and design thinking
Design thinking and Agile methodology are great together, but nothing comes without challenges. If you haven’t used any of these methods before, it might be hard to get into the groove and change the old pattern you relied on. Our brain is very reluctant to change and will slip into old familiar problem-stating and solving patterns.
If your team is already using design thinking or Agile it can also be challenging at first to introduce another approach. Agile has its own very strict rhythm and it can be hard to implement design thinking into an existing project that is already running. It may require a whole rethinking of what the team is doing.
It is a good idea to run the workshops on each methodology for the whole team, so everyone can better understand the principle of both design thinking and Agile . Make sure that the team is aligned around the common vision, it will help them to see the purpose of changes and adopt new approaches faster.
In the end, the discovery of the problem provided by design thinking and delivery of the solution backed up by Agile methodology will make your product impeccable.
In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive world, the pressure to deliver products that users will love has dramatically increased. But this crazy speed has taught companies how to use design thinking and be Agile. Thanks to these two methods, we can now discover the problem and solve it as quickly as possible. If you want to create an innovative solution and deliver it fast to the market, design thinking and Agile development are meant to be together for the sake of your product.
When you're interested in the topic and want to learn more, read our other article on ideation techniques in design thinking to unleash your team's creativity. And if you feel like you could use some help, our design team is ready to join up to implement your ideas with rocket speed. Contact us to discuss details.
Applicant Tracking System Design: How to Make Recruitment Better for Everyone
Do you know how long the best candidate stays available? On average, ten days only 🤯. That means recruiters should be very nimble to hunt successful candidates and win them over. But that is easier said than done.
An immense workload and poorly organized hiring process exhaust recruiters, and they can easily miss appropriate job seekers by losing candidates’ resumes or failing to reach out timely. Things become much easier with the recruitment process automation or so-called applicant tracking system or ATS.
Being a SaaS design agency, Eleken embraces design trends from various industries to be able to help our clients with even the most specific requests. Thus, we have some insights to share with you regarding the recruitment industry as well.
What benefits ATS offers, which features an effective ATS should include, and how to build applicant tracking system design - these questions we will discuss in this blog post.
What is an applicant tracking system, and how to know if you need one?
Applicant tracking system or ATS facilitates collecting and processing data of specialists applying for a specific position. The ATS’s primary purpose is to streamline the recruitment process by workflow automation and optimization. Although the recruitment tools market is quite saturated, offering various services from common recruiting platforms to technology-based services like Textio, you can still build a unique ATS solution that will perfectly fit your niche needs.
The time to think about implementing an ATS comes when you find your business in any of these conditions:
- Your business is rapidly growing, and you lack hands in a people’s management department to handle all new openings.
- Your employee turnover rate is high, and the staffing process gets out of control.
- You have issues with reporting and legal compliance due to the applicants’ data being scattered chaotically.
- Your HR staff is running with sweat in an attempt to fulfill the positions.
- You’re hiring during pandemics and need the help of AI-driven analytics tools to find the best candidates.
Applicant tracking system benefits
If you’re still considering building an applicant tracking system, 94% of recruiters will tell you - yes. Just look at the advantages the ATS system brings to your organization.
- Saving time
The reality is that around 80% of submitted applications don’t match job openings and just waste recruiters’ time spent for the analysis. Thanks to workflow automation, recruiters don’t spend tons of time on application screening, which is the most time-consuming part of the recruitment process.
- Saving cost
Without an ATS, you’d probably need to expand your recruiters’ headcount to handle the staffing process. That means you have to increase your monthly payments by thousands of dollars, whereas the ATS cost is around a hundred dollars a month per user. Isn’t it attractive mathematics from a business perspective?
- Recruitment simplification
The ATS layout visualizes each candidate’s interview stage and makes it easy to track progress by moving cards on the Kanban board. You won’t lose resumes. And you don’t need multi-sheet Excel files to keep the hiring process on track.
- Legal compliance
This ATS’s functionality keeps recruiters aware of changes in laws and regulations that can impact hiring decisions. Besides, the system preserves all the information about an applicant and justifies the refusal in hiring if someone, for example, has lawsuits.
- Quality candidates
Usually, the best candidates are taken first. According to the research, the brightest professionals stay on the market only for ten days before getting hired, so the quickest company wins. The ATS system allows you to be quick.
Industry experts state that to be effective, the applicant tracking system should include the features that really matter.
What’s that? Let’s figure it out.
ATS features that matters
Who knows better about ATS features than people engaged in recruiting daily? Hung Lee, the CEO of WorkShape.io, the talent matching service, shared his opinion with the experts of Workable, the all-in-one hiring solution. Mr. Lee named the top features an applicant tracking system should have.
Here are some of them:
- Candidates data import and export;
- Universal search (the possibility to find a record by any part included);
- Messaging (customized messages functionality);
- Tags (or data segmentation);
- Collaboration (involvement of other team members in recruitment);
- Google apps integration.
To complete the picture, the experts from Workable add some more ATS desired features they believe play an essential role in the recruitment process optimization.
Perhaps the least expected one is...
- Employer branding
Even being not that obvious, brand consistency conveys confidence and makes a positive impression on potential employees.
- Multi-sourced data aggregation
Sometimes, to compile a full picture of a candidate, a recruiter should pull the information from various sources. If the ATS can collect all candidate’s data in a unified profile, it enables recruiters to work more efficiently.
- Interview management
It’s nearly impossible to handle dozens of interviews smoothly without seamless calendar integration for both a recruiter and a candidate. The more structured and organized the interview process, the better overall impression a potential employee will have about the company.
- Candidates’ data hub.
If the information chunks about the candidate and their interview performance are scattered across spreadsheets, emails, and social media messages, it can be quite a hassle to assemble the comprehensive picture. An ATS enables building well-organized candidate profiles to keep all necessary information at your fingertips.
- Mobile application
In a fast-paced world, contacting potential candidates only when you’re in front of your PC or laptop is a sort of unattainable luxury. The hire-on-the-go is a new norm, so building a mobile app is a must if you’re concerned about your customers’ great user experience.
How to build (and design) an applicant tracking system?
Despite the abundance of software tools on the recruitment market, finding a suitable solution seems to be not such an easy task. Either the feature is lacking or UX is bad, the reality is almost half of the companies that implemented ready-to-use ATS are not satisfied with their choice.
The same situation happened to our client that came to Eleken for UI/UX design of his own ATS called Hirerise. While all the existing ATS tracking solutions on the market were a bit outdated and complex, we wanted to design an app that is both appealing and functional.
So, if you decide to tackle this challenging task and build your in-house ATS, here are some tips on arranging the process and creating the applicant tracking system we learned while working on Hirerise project. .
Define your expectations from ATS
You basically have to answer three simple (relatively) questions:
- What are those issues you want to address with the help of the new ATS?
- What frictions do you want to avoid in your future applicant tracking system?
- And what features do you want to add to/remove from your current ATS (if you have any)?
To make the process of answering the above questions more effective, it’s crucial to conduct a competitive analysis. It will give you a clear understanding of what customers expect to find in your applicant tracking system, as well as it will allow you to define your competitive advantage.
Once you’re confident with the expectations from the new ATS, it’s time to outline a features’ list. Not to base such important design decisions on bare assumptions you’ll need to question your recruiting team (that is, conduct user research). Together with the specialists directly involved in working with recruitment tools, you’ll be able to shortlist the must-have features and then rate them in order of importance.
Going through user research helped us to make very important decisions on how to streamline team communication in Hirerise. The thing is that the whole hiring process consists of many stages that require the involvement of various people from different departments (consequently they need to communicate with each other). Recruiters complained that the hiring flow they got was complex and confusing, as each time they wanted some feedback from other team members they had to somehow contact them.
To make this process simple and straightforward, Hirerise users can create a team, add the needed members, and together easily comment on candidates, tag each other, or set tasks. Besides, we placed comments on the same screen with the applicant’s bio, so users don’t have to switch between tabs.
Build your ATS MVP
The next step after the brainstorming sessions is to create a minimum viable product or a pilot version of your new ATS. With such a fundamental product, it’s wise to start small and check if you go right before making huge investments.
What features can you include in your MVP?
Social sharing (LinkedIn integration is a must-have!)
Once a job description is ready to go, you can quickly distribute it with a few clicks to different social media.
Fast CV download
You can effortlessly download a candidate’s resume to the database with just one click. You just need an API (an application programming interface) to integrate your applicant tracking system with job search platforms and social media websites.
Typically, ATS includes a large applicant database, so you can make a keyword or a boolean search within. The keyword search means you can quickly find a necessary candidate by typing in specific skills or experience. The boolean search allows you to search for several parameters simultaneously. Search functions help significantly reduce time spent on candidates’ pre-selection.
When talking about scheduling, a Google Calendar integration comes top of mind enabling you to have all set appointments in one place. A smart scheduling tool extracts data from participants’ calendars so a recruiter can see free slots and suggest appropriate timing for an interview. It’s as easy as pie to set up the interview just with a couple of clicks.
Here’s how the calendar looks in Hirerise:
That’s already a common thing for a modern ATS to have analytics and reporting capabilities. It’s a great feature to quickly see hiring statistics to know whether you need to improve the hiring process..
For Hirerise, we added the analytics report to the dashboard’s overview tab. We designed it with a lot of white space and only the most crucial indicators so that users can spot the needed information in a few seconds.
In the era of smartphones, when most people spend five-six hours daily on their mobiles, it’s no wonder that a job search also moved to mobile devices. So, mobile hiring can be fairly named one of the most noticeable trends in recruitment. Your ATS should be easily used on smartphones. Thus, make sure it fits any size’s screens and loads fast.
Ensure your ATS is user-friendly
To be successful, the app has to be beautiful inside and outside. That is, it has to provide both great UI and UX. As a customer-focused design agency, we approach UX design with special responsibility as the experience customers get when using your ATS literally decides the product’s success. Taking care of the UX, you’ll be one step ahead of the competition since lots of current staffing tools don’t pay due attention to the ATS user experience.
Here is what you should consider when designing your ATS:
It should be intuitive and easy to use. What would be your first impression if you look at the system with an unbiased eye? Does it evoke a desire to try using or better closing it? Go with your guts and mind that with high probability other users may feel the same way.
It should be a no-brainer for recruiters. Do you know that it takes more than four months to hire new staff? If you plan to expand your recruiters’ team, they should be able to learn fast and hit the ground running as soon as possible. The self-explanatory ATS will ultimately reduce time and cost for long introduction training.
It should be mobile-ready. As we’ve already discussed above, the reality is that recruiters often work on the go. Thus, it’s crucial to design your ATS the way evenly usable on desktops and mobile devices.
And here’s how we took care about Hirerise’s look and feel:
- To perfectly think out clear structure, logical and convenient design elements placement, we used wireframing.
- To create a clean and intuitive user interface for Hirerise, we, together with the client, created a moodboard that put our design ideas in the right direction.
- As a result, we managed to design an app that makes the hiring process hassle-free and pleasant.
The applicant tracking systems constantly evolve. They bring immense value to businesses by optimizing the recruitment process and bringing the best professionals on board. Even though building and designing your own ATS is not that simple, this game is worth the candle. Let us know if you need any design help on the way. And here we have more about systems’ design - check out our article about how to design a CRM.
Designing Geospatial Data Products: Overcoming Challenges for Success
As of now, there are over 11,000 satellites orbiting the Earth. And we don’t seem to stop there, as there have already been 1,354 objects launched into space in the first half of 2023. So, it’s safe to say that geospatial data and technology are no longer niche sectors but are quite common these days.
While the advantages of using geospatial data are clear, designing geospatial data applications presents many challenges. When creating such products, designers should consider many factors, namely the level of detail, the visualization paradigm, the sophistication of the required demonstration, the data volume, the user's level of knowledge and ability to interact with map data, and so on.
Luckily, you have Eleken to help you out. Our experience of working with geospatial SaaS products, like Involi, Astraea, and Gamaya, allowed us to identify the most common challenges and choose the best UI/UX design practices to overcome them. And we want to share them with you.
Are geospatial data products worth the investment?
In short, yes. Geospatial data has the potential to benefit us all, serving as the basis for strategic decision-making and helping minimize risks in many areas, such as business development, production, strategic issues, risk management, and agriculture. Demand for such data increases day by day. It is expected that this segment market will be worth over $96 billion by 2025.
Venture capital (VC) investments in the geospatial data sector are growing, supporting the appearance of new solutions, tools, and data sources. In 2020, US startups in the geospatial domain raised over $2 billion in VC funding.
According to the Geospatial Industry Advancing Sustainable Development Goals report, the societal impact is expected to be more important and valuable than the economic impact. The table below shows that emerging geospatial technologies have already improved resource efficiency and productivity, creating a high-value impact on economies and raising billions of dollars across the world.
Sure, companies that invest in developing geospatial data products gain a competitive advantage. However, designing these solutions is not something that can be approached by junior designers, and here’s why.
Why are geospatial data products difficult to design?
Geospatial data applications deal with complex data types, such as satellite imagery, aerial photographs, terrain models, topographic maps, and various spatial datasets. These data can be static (the location of a piece of equipment or earthquake event) and dynamic (a moving vehicle or the spread of an infectious disease).
For most startups, developing data-heavy geospatial data apps is a tough nut to crack. They need to make this data organized and user-friendly for non-experts, which is complex and challenging by default. What's more, it takes a lot of time and effort to assemble imagery and visualize geospatial data in an intuitive and visually appealing manner. That's why, having experienced designers and developers on board is a must for geospatial data solutions.
Now, onto the challenges.
Visualization and user experience challenges
Here are some of the challenges we personally encountered while designing geospatial data products and ways to overcome them.
- Showing data from different sources
Satellite data and drone imagery are becoming increasingly popular in many industries, from engineering to agriculture. Still, it is not so easy to analyze different photos from various sources and glue them together in the right order. And we just can’t help mentioning our project, Gamaya, as an example here.
Gamaya is an AI-powered SaaS platform that collects agricultural data from NASA remote sensing satellite data and drone images and gives its customers knowledge about their crops. To let users see data from multiple data sources, Eleken designers organized the platform's components into layers.
The drone images, combined with red highlights on the map, allow users to see planting gaps:
Apart from images, another data visualization option is to organize data into tables. They help users view and track information across different fields and locations.
- Visualizing layers and objects
When designing maps, it is critical to distinguish each layer visually from others. This helps users understand what types of data are presented as well as simplifies navigation. To achieve this goal, Eleken designers use different colors, line styles, and patterns.
For example, our team needed to display solar panel installations and wind turbine locations for Greenventory, an energy solution for calculating necessary energy resource placement and generating reports. Our designers used one distinct color for solar panels and another for wind turbines. This clear color distinction helped users recognize and differentiate various types of data.
To let users switch between different layers and turn them on/off, we also implemented the toggle buttons on the right. And to prevent layers from overlapping, our team offered opacity and transparency settings.
Another critical aspect to consider is choosing the right color palettes and themes for geospatial products. For this type of solutions, colors become a language that carries the information value. Users associate most phenomena with particular colors unconsciously and expect them to be connected with a specific color, namely blue for everything related to water, brown for mountains, green for nature, red for potentially dangerous actions, and so on.
Knowing the basics of colors used in cartography and spatial data visualization would be a great plus as well. Our UI/UX designer Alex also notes that all colors should work with every mode or type of the base map: light and dark, flat and satellite. Each mode, in turn, presents unique challenges. This means that colors that work well in one mode might not be as effective in another one. To avoid overloading the user visually and mentally, there should be visual boundaries that have sufficient contrast with the adjacent background.
- Simplifying the search process
It’s typical that geospatial data app users have to manage large amounts of information, which might lead to information overload. For example, Astraea, a geospatial SaaS startup, allows its users to acquire, discover, and analyze satellite data at scale. But at first, it was hard for users to work with so much data at once. To overcome this challenge, our designers categorized the navigation menu. Each category is located behind an icon on the right side of the screen. For searching and information sorting, we added filters at the right.
- Taking a lot of time and effort to create complex components
As your user base grows, the development costs, as well as app complexity, may rise. Yet, if developers write code in components, they can add or reuse existing components for new technologies, which helps reduce development time and improve the ROI.
Many apps today are created on React, a popular front-end library. Developers opt for React, as its reusable components help them reduce software development time dramatically. For example, while working with Gamaya’s team, Eleken designers offered to use Ant Design, a ready-made React UI library, and adapted the platform’s design to this library. As a result, our clients could reuse materials from the library and build new products faster, saving time, costs, and resources.
- Overlapping and details representation when zooming in and out
Users often zoom in or out to see maps at various scales. The challenge here lies in the map's ability to dynamically adjust the zoom level based on different factors like screen size or user preferences. Let’s look at Greenventory once again. Our designer created a progressive loading mechanism when essential data points load initially, and additional points load as the user zooms in. In this case, the app displays only relevant data loaded at each zoom level. There is no unnecessary data overload, and, as a result, the loading speed is increasing.
Another Eleken project to highlight here is ReVeal, a solution for analyzing data for real estate. The app users have to browse a map with many objects to find out how regularly people visit a shop, whether the rental location is favorable, and so on. Such actions affect the app speed.
To optimize the design and improve the application performance, our designers offered to group the objects on the maps. When users zoom out to see the whole map of the chosen city, the number of spots on the map is limited to neighborhoods. Users can view all objects at this location by clicking or hovering on the group spot.
Designing geospatial products isn’t a walk in the park. To advance the use of geospatial technologies and accelerate geospatial innovation, startups should collaborate with design experts. Bringing the UI/UX designer on board early will provide a solid foundation for future growth, making the solution easy to use and understand, as well as scalable, effective, and accessible.
Not every designer has enough expertise and in-demand niche skills for designing such data-heavy products. But we do. Our team has extensive experience in designing interfaces that manage imagery data and provide a logical and intuitive flow for users.
It is unusual to find a designer who has experience building applications with geospatial data - especially imagery data. We found that in Eleken.
Jamie Conklin, VP of Product at Astraea
Contact us, and we will provide you with the best expert for the project, no matter how complex and data-intensive it is.