“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together” – Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

Hi everyone. I attended a un-conference session on design thinking as part of SAP D-code this year and that got me hooked into design thinking. Prior to attending the session I didn’t know much (Read: Anything) about design thinking and after attending the session I was introduced to the topic as well as intrigued about it. From then on I have been surfing the web for more information on the topic. This blog is me summarizing my learnings and findings.

The TED talk by Tim Brown on design thinking can be found here. https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_urges_designers_to_think_big

He talks about Mr. Brunel, a 19th century designer who designed the Great Western Railway. He said that he wanted the passengers to experience floating across the countryside. This was the human need he designed for. To do that in the 19th century meant that creating flat surfaces across rivers and valleys. He imagined an integrated transportation system across the pacific ocean. A passenger who wants to travel from London to New York can board the railways and cross the ocean in S.S. Great western, a ship and then the rest of the journey on land in the rail. 

I read a book called “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelly. In the book the start to introduce design thinking by looking through the experiences of a designer in GE. A person name Doug works for the company General Electric on the healthcare sector. He helps lead design and development of high-tech MRI machines in GE healthcare. The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) looks painlessly inside the human body.


One day after the completion of a 2.5 year project, Doug was invited to see it installed in a hospital’s scanning suite. Doug was very proud of his work and spoke highly of it with the hospital technician. On the way out he saw a small girl wall in along with her parents. The scene he noted was that the parents were worried and the girl who is the patient was clearly scared of what lay ahead. The father of the girl urged the girl to be brave while he himself was strained with emotion. The little girl started crying and the technician started making a call to the anesthesiologist.


Doug was surprised to see this emotion. Doug learned that hospitals routinely sedate paediatric patients for the scans because they cannot lie still enough due to fear. As much as 80% of kids were sedated before the MRI. If the anaesthesiologist wasn’t available on that day, the scan is postponed to another day and the same emotional drama was to be repeated for the poor family and the child. Doug witnessed this anxiety and fear among the most vulnerable patients and his perspective changed from viewing his MRI machine as an elegant and sleek technology to the perspective through the eyes of the young child who looked at MRI as a big scary machine through which the child has to pass through. Doug felt that he had let down his patients and on returning back to office he decided to make a change. He told himself that he would make MRI less frightening for young children.

He applied human-centred design and created the first prototype of “Adventure Series” scanner. He transformed the MRI suite into a kid’s adventure story and patient was the lead character of the adventure. He created a script for the machine operators so they could lead the young patients through the adventure.

pirate ship mri.jpg

With this new MRI redesign, the number of pediatric patients needing to be sedated was reduced dramatically. The hospital was happy too as the less need for anesthesiologists meant more patients could get scanned each day and patient satisfaction score went to 90%. But Doug’s satisfaction and reward came while talking to a mother of a 6 year old who after the scan had come to her mother asking “Mommy, can we come back tomorrow?”. This simple question made all the efforts of Doug worthwhile.

For every innovation program, there are three factors to balance, which are viability, desirability and feasibility. Desirability is about the human needs. It is about getting people’s motivations and core beliefs. Technical factors are well taught in science and engineering and companies everywhere focus on business factors. The human factors offer some of the best opportunities for innovation and this is the place to start.

Now let us look at the story of node chairs from the company called Steelcase. The company wanted to redesign the classroom chair which was an uncomfortable wooden version with writing surface rigidly attached to the chair arm. They came up with over 200 prototypes in all shapes and sizes. The experimented with paper and scotch tape models, plywood components attaching to existing chairs. They went to colleges asking students and professors to experience this new design and took their feedback. They carved out shapes in foam and fabricated parts on 3D printers to get a sense of shape and size. All this experimentation and learning paid off. The node chair is created.

node chairs.PNG

The node chair replaced the rigid chairs with a comfortable swivel seat, adjustable work surface, casters for manoeuvring, a tripod base of hold backpacks. The result is a classroom chair that quickly transitions from lecture-based seating to group activities, fitting in the varied teaching styles.

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that has 4 main components.

1> People

2> Prototyping

3> Stories

4> Culture.

The designers are looking at people’s experiences and listen to their issues. They make a design,  but design being a pictorial representation is not very open to interpretations. So the designers make a film of a scenario or a prototype. They quickly prototype the possible solutions and get the people’s feedback on them. They build from those success or failure stories and build better models considering the culture of the people as well.

Design methods and strategies that we choose are crucial to a project’s success. Design is an iterative process and first designs are often thrown away. An outline design is required first and then the details emerge progressively. There are two types of thinking.

1> Vertical thinking – It is logical thinking which converges in unique or few solutions. This is more natural to us.

2> Creative thinking – It is imaginative, divergent and lateral which generates many possible solutions.

design thinking phases.PNG

The design process is what puts design thinking into action. It’s a structured approach to generating and evolving ideas. It has 5 phases that help navigate the development from identifying a design challenge to finding and building a solution. It’s a deeply human approach that relies on your ability to be  intuitive, to interpret what you observe and to develop ideas that are emotionally meaningful to those you are designing for.

These phases are

1> Discovery

2> Interpretation

3> Ideation

4> Experimentation

5> Evolution

In the discovery phase, one has to understand the challenge. Review the challenge, share what you know, define your audience and refine your plan. Then we continue to prepare the research by  identifying the sources of inspiration, selecting research participants, building a question guide and preparing for fieldwork. Then we gather the inspiration by immersing ourselves in the context, seeking inspiration in analogous settings and learning from experts and users.

In the Interpretation phase, we first tell stories by capturing your learnings and sharing the inspiring stories. Then we search for meaning by finding themes and making sense of findings and defining the insights. Then we frame the opportunities by creating a visual reminder and making the insights actionable.

In the ideation phase, we generate ideas by preparing and facilitation brainstorming, selecting promising ideas and sketching to think. We refine the ideas by doing a reality check and describing the idea.

In the experimentation phase, we make the prototypes by drawing a diagram or doing a mock-up or a model, with interaction and role-play. We get feedback by identifying sources of feedback, selecting feedback participants, building a question guide, facilitating feedback conversations, capturing feedback learnings, integrate feedback and identifying what’s needed.

In the evolution phase, we track learnings by defining success and document progress. We move forward by planning the next steps, engaging others and building a community.


This is just the beginning of my learning on design thinking. Will add more as my learning progresses.

To report this post you need to login first.

Be the first to leave a comment

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.

Leave a Reply