Academy Xi Blog

Design Thinking for innovation? Yes please.

By Academy Xi

More than just a process and a set of tools and frameworks, Design Thinking is a mindset that simplifies complex problems by putting yourself in your users’ shoes.

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By conducting research, constant innovation and iteration till you come up with something completely new, its main goal is developing innovative and creative solutions for complex issues.

Issues that are otherwise tough to solve using traditional ways of thinking.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not the stuff of and for Designers alone. A growing number of strategists, leaders, managers and innovation specialists are turning to Design Thinking to gain a fresh perspective and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

Integrating Design Thinking into business processes has a lot of benefits: increased ROI, faster time-to-market, improved work culture, reduced development and testing related costs, to name a few.

In fact, 9 out of 10 forward-thinking companies are expected to increase their investments and resources in design-thinking-related activities in the coming years (source).

There’s been books written about its contribution in other industries, TedTalks discussing its importance, and a podcast featuring change-makers and design thinkers. More so it’s been at the forefront of driving social innovation for years.

But what exactly is Design Thinking and how has it helped brands like Uber, AirBNB, Pepsi, and GE innovate products and improve how their teams operate?

Here’s a list of organisations (and products!) that have harnessed the power of Design Thinking and have created a culture of innovation in their teams:

1. Airbnb

The moment you Google “design thinking examples”, this is probably on the top of the list. And there’s a reason for it:  the company was on the verge of bankruptcy earning less than 200 dollars a week in 2009 and they discovered one simple problem: potential customers are not booking rooms because they can’t see what they’re paying for. Joe Gebbia, one of the founders learned about Design Thinking from the Rhode Island School of Design and thought that they have to put themselves in the shoes of their customers.

The founders embarked on a journey, rented a camera, spent time in their customers’ homes, and took photos of the properties themselves. This is where the first step in the Design Thinking process comes to life: empathy. Airbnb has now made its name as one of the most successful startups in the tourism industry, thanks to Design Thinking. The company reported an $859 million revenue by the end of last year—a long way from the $200 per week they were raking in before switching gears.

2. PepsiCo

PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi put Design Thinking in the center of the company’s innovation strategy when she led the business in 2012. From hiring a chief design officer, to the creation of more health-oriented products, to how they look in store shelves, and to how consumers interact with the products after buying it—they have reaped the benefits of putting “design” in every important business decision.

Pepsi ImagesThe Pepsi Spire that lets users personalise their favorite brands and allowing for a more emotional, user-centred experience (Source)

Products like Pepsi Spire (that let you personalise your favorite pepsi brands) and Mountain Dew Kickstart were created through Design Thinking processes. This is more apparent in the case of the latter, by making women ‘kickstart’ their day with its slim-can design and lower calorie content.

Nooyi emphasises however that good design is not all about how a something looks but, from a company perspective, adapting and offering consumers true and honest choices.

3. UberEATS

UberEATS believes in three things to solve its complex logistical issues: deep immersions, quick iterations, and constant non-stop innovation.

Learning a city’s food culture, studying transportation and logistical infrastructures, and interacting with delivery partners, restaurant workers, and consumers, are just some of the immersive activities that UberEATS is doing to address its logistical challenges. With constant innovation through rapid field testing, team experiments and quick iterations through “innovation workshops”, the company is also able to replicate and improve design processes as efficiently as possible.

4. Not-for-profit and Public Service projects

Not only does Design Thinking apply to for-profit organisations but to not-for-profits too.

In Cambodia, access to affordable sanitation is a big problem. Through Design Thinking processes, The Easy Latrine was developed by the International Development Enterprises which provided affordable and sustainable latrine designs that made household sanitation easier and healthier in Cambodia.

In response to a growing concern in the transformation of its public food services, design company Hatch & Bloom used Design Thinking to shift The Good Kitchen’s employees’ perception of themselves and their work, resulting in a 500% increase in orders and customers. Through prototyping, design workshops, and direct user insights and dialogues, it won the Local Government Denmark Prize for Innovation in 2009.

5. GE Healthcare

Healthcare company GE utilised the Design Thinking process to revolutionise high-tech medical imaging systems, resulting in a $18 billion revenue. They had one challenge: how do you create a CT, X-Ray, and MRI scanning procedures that children will love?

GE did this by observing and gaining empathy for young children at a daycare center, talked to specialists, experts from local children’s museums, doctors, nurses and staff from hospitals. This gave birth to the first prototype of GE’s “Adventure Series” scanner that was piloted in the University of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital. Patient satisfaction went up 90%, children did not report anxiety, and this also minimised the need for additional resources in the scanning room.

Scan MachineGE’s Adventure Room and its Adventure Series scanner (GE-Adventure Series – The Adventure Room, Source)

Design-centricity and Design Thinking in practice does not refer to a concentration on designers or the abundance of them. But rather, companies and organisations that use and benefit from good design, emphasising user-centricity through empathy, and fostering a culture of innovation. 

If you’re looking for practical Design Thinking training with mentor support and classmate collaboration, check out our 12-week Design Thinking for Innovation course