Skip to main content

money & life

Design Thinking for Business Innovation

Lesson 1 of 15

Class Introduction

Lee-Sean Huang

Design Thinking for Business Innovation

Lee-Sean Huang

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

Now when I say design thinking, you might think is that some sort of secret sauce for business innovation? Is it a misunderstood buzz word that's really just a diluted version of design or some more strategic version of design? Or is it something else? So we're going to talk about that today. We're going to demystify design thinking by doing design thinking. And that thinking part is really a misnomer. But first I'm going to talk a little bit more about myself, how I got here, and how that relates to design thinking. So, as Drew said, I am the co-founder and creative director of Foossa. We're a strategy and design consultancy based in New York City, but we work all over the world helping to design new services, to really innovate new services that work better for people and communities and working for and with those communities to design things. So really designing with people and not just for people. My background, a little bit about where I did my studies. I went to NYU, New York Uni...

versity, for my masters at ITP, which is the Interactive Telecommunications Program. And that's a hybrid art, design, and technology program. And so here are a couple of examples of my work there. The first one on the top is called the Headbanger Phones, where you move your head and then the music changes based on the position of your head. So it's looking at a new perspective of listening to music. And then I also hacked this video game controller and turned it into a midi controller, which is a musical interface, and I performed with it. So I was looking at new ways to express myself and for musicians to express themselves more generally. From there, I got into working at creative agencies, doing freelance work. So this is a project of a postcard that I designed for Miles, Made In the Lower East Side, which is an initiative that's sort of like Airbnb for storefronts. So helping organizations, whether you're an artist or a small business owner, to get access to small pop-up spaces for a limited amount of time at a lower budget. And so, looking at how to create a brand identity and communicate something, a whole system in a short amount of time and whim. A lot of what I was doing was also taking me around the world. So this is some research that I was conducting in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, with Purpose, which was my previous consultant-- the company where I worked at previously, and also with Maya Rio, which was our client down there. They're a Brazilian NGO that's looking at primarily young people in the city of Rio, looking at how they engage with the civic process and the local politics of that city to make the city more livable. My work also took me to American cities like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, working with MusiCares and the GRAMMY Foundation through UX for Good, which is a pro bono organization that brings user-experienced designers like me and from all over the world to work on social challenges. And so, one of the challenges we worked on was redesigning social services for musicians in the city, so how they get access to healthcare, counseling, and all sorts of services to really help them in their lives and their careers. But the connecting thread is really understanding people, their needs. So really engaging with the musicians themselves as well as their service providers and thinking about new services and products that we can design for them. More recently, I've been working at home in New York City with the city of New York in collaboration with the Parsons School of Design with support from CitiBank and their foundation, looking at redesigning financial services for New Yorkers. And in this specific project, I was looking at financial counseling, which is provided by the city through local nonprofit organizations. And we were looking at designing ways to increase client retention. So the longer you stay in your financial counseling, the more likely you are to meet your financial goals, whether it's paying down debt or getting that mortgage that you've always wanted and needed for your family. So we were looking at ways to work with those service providers, the financial counselors, and also with the clients themselves to design new experiences and touchpoints for that. A lot of what I do involves not just post-it notes, but bringing people together from a lot of different backgrounds, from front line service providers to folks on the government side, the business side, finance, operations, trying to make things happen and make new things happen. And so design thinking really is a way to serve as a bridge. So, thinking about a designer not just as someone who makes things in a solitary way, in a black box in a studio somewhere, but a designer who can act as a bridge, a facilitator and as well as a coach and a teacher to get people from all different walks of life involved in the creative process. So we can kind of think of design thinking as this Venn diagram here. Design thinking, or DT in the middle here, is a balance between user needs, understanding what people want, with business goals and technical feasibility. What can we actually do with the resources and the technology that we have right now? We can see that companies with some design orientation have a competitive advantage in the market. So research has shown that design-centered companies, design-driven companies, outperform the Standard and Poor's Index by 228%. So more than double the typical company, large company. And that just comes from the starting point with thinking about design and thinking about people and what they really need. So let's start to build a working model for what design thinking really is and define our terms up front. So like I may have mentioned earlier, design thinking is both a method and a mindset. A method in terms of a recipe, a way of doing things, but also a mindset, a culture. So really sometimes being open-minded, being divergent, and sometimes being a little bit more closed-minded, being more critical. And these are not permanent states, but really being able to turn that on and off, like being bilingual, in a way, or bicultural. A lot of what we're going to cover today is simple but not easy. You'll see that a lot of the stuff is pretty similar to the scientific method. Or just child's play, really, just the natural instinctive creativity that every human being has as their natural abilities. But a lot of times that's taken away from us in the way that we're schooled, the way that we're trained, and so we actually adopt unnatural behaviors. And this is just a way of resurfacing that natural creativity. And, to reiterate, we're starting with empathy, so understanding somebody who's not us, as the designer. There's often critiques of designers as designing things for themselves or designing things for their particular group, whether it's their gender, their ethnic group, their socioeconomic background, without necessarily taking into account how people from a different background might think differently and act differently. So how do we start with that empathy and pull out these stories to design from? We also want to reframe problems. We're not just simply solving problems or optimizing. If we need a faster car or a faster microprocessor or a faster engine, that doesn't necessarily require design thinking. Design thinking is best for situations where we're trying to find some new way of thinking about problems and dealing with those problems. It reminds me of Henry Ford and his faster horses, his idea that if he asked his customers directly what they needed at the time before he released the model T, they would just say faster horses. But the automobile was this innovation, this novelty, that changed the way that people got around. And so we're gonna think in terms of human needs starting with empathy, but also think about the norms, both social norms and just the norms of how culture works. So back before automobiles, it was just a norm that people got around with horses and horse-drawn carriages. But the novelty was that by taking away the horse and adding a motor, adding an engine, people got around in a new way. So thinking through this lens of need, norm, and novelty is one way to help us innovate. And then, finally, with this method and mindset of design thinking, we want to think by making. So design thinking is often a misnomer. People think, oh it's just thinking, it's just strateges. But really we want to get hands-on. And later on today, we're going to be really making things in a low-fidelity way, not for our craft skills or our art skills, but really doing things to help us think things through with our hands, with physical objects. Yeah. Jose? So I've been reading about design thinking and human-centered design as well. So, in that case, how would you place them? What are some of the differences you can identify from both, or common patterns? So, there's a lot of overlap and similarity. And oftentimes, these are just kind of branded terms where some people would prefer design thinking, other people prefer human-centered design. But they have very similar structures and patterns, which we'll talk about a little bit later on. But oftentimes, people who practice design thinking never even use design thinking in their organizational context. So I once taught a workshop where we brought in Claudia Kotchka as a special guest speaker. Claudia used to work at P&G, Procter & Gamble, as head of innovation and design innovation. And because of the way that their departments were named and the way their culture was over at P&G, she didn't actually call it human-centered design, or design thinking even, she just did the process. So design thinking really is a big tent that brings a lot of people in the door, same as human-centered design. But you can call it whatever you want. And you'll be able to see the similarities and differences and make it work for you. Alright. So I want to introduce you guys to Benny the Blowfish. At Foossa, we have a lot of animal mascots for things. Our name actually comes from an animal from Madagascar called a foussa. It's like a weasel, cat-like predator on Madagascar that eats lemurs. So, Benny the Blowfish though is a lot friendlier. He's a way of thinking about the creative process whether we're doing design thinking or innovation more generally or anything creative. And so, if you've ever seen a blowfish, they can be pliant and prickly. So, look at a real blowfish. That's a little bit better looking than my cocktail napkin sketch. With a blowfish, when they're expanded, they're prickly. They're really in defensive mode. And so think about when you need to be critical and really fight for your ideas and your creative concepts. Versus when Benny the Blowfish is pliant. You're not all puffed up. You can just go with the flow. This is "Yes, and..." thinking, thinking about being additive and just going along with things so you can really fit through these cracks in the coral reef there or fit through a sort of corporate culture or team dynamic where you don't necessarily want to fight on everything. You want to suspend some of that disbelief. So Benny the Blowfish here also helps us illustrate some of the different aspects of the creative process and understanding the opportunities that we can create through design thinking and innovation. So I mentioned empathy before, and we'll start with this inner world. We want to understand what's going on inside people's heads, inside their hearts. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Understand their motivations. Then we want to look around the world, look at the contemporary context. What are other companies doing? What are competitors doing? What is recently possible in terms of technology? What's recently possible in terms of social behaviors and cultural norms that we can take advantage of? We also want to look backwards into historical precedent. So, I've already given this example from the past, looking at Henry Ford, Model Ts, faster horses. Looking at how innovations have taken place in the past. Not that history is cyclical necessarily, but that there's patterns that we can look at and apply to the present. And to the future, which brings us to futurecasting, which I'll be teaching a whole other course on focusing on looking at what's in the future. This is not necessarily about predictions. Nobody has a crystal ball. But it's about rehearsing different possibilities in the future. So whether you're in business strategy or if you do martial arts or some sport, you're not necessarily going to where your opponent is right now or where the ball is right now. You're going to where the ball is going to be. And there's lots of possibilities of where the world is going to be, where the ball's going to be, your opponent's going to be. So how do we think about these different kinds of futures and rehearse getting there? Sort of like a fire drill for innovation. So here's one way of visualizing the design thinking process. There's different terms for this. Different companies, different consultancies use slightly different terms but they map more or less to this process. We'll start at 12 o'clock at the top with Discover. So this is really this understanding of what people need, what's going on in their heads, what's going on in the world. It's the research phase, although research is really happening this whole time. Next we have Define, and that's when we need to get a little pricklier, more convergent in our thinking. So we're saying, we've gone wide what we discover, explored a lot of different things. Now we really want to define a specific problem that we can focus on, and we can frame that problem in a way that's useful for us. Because if we never come down to this definition phase, the problems are usually too big, too broad, too vague. But once we've defined a specific problem set, a specific frame, then we want to open up our minds again. This is where we return to a pliant blowfish mode, and we ideate. We go through a lot of ideas. Some of them might be absurd, they might sound stupid, but the bad ideas help us get to the good ideas. And then we'll narrow down the ideas again and get a little bit prickly with the choice of the ideas, the debating of the ideas, so that we can prototype. And prototyping is more of that making to think things through. How do we create things, often with craft supplies, with paper mache, with storytelling, things that really help us save money and decrease risk. Because what happens when you go into production for something that nobody really wants. There's no market for it or it just doesn't work. It seems good on paper as an idea, but it didn't really make sense. So we want to prototype things quickly and cheaply to learn and to iterate, to move forward. And that's where we're testing them with users too, hopefully before we go out to the real world, before we go out to market. And then we start the process all over again. So it's not really a linear process. And you may be jumping through all of these stages in any given phase in any time of the day. This is not meant to be a prescriptive, now we're in this mode, then we're in the other mode, then we're gonna go on. Once you get more advanced and experienced with this, you'll be able to jump to different phases. But think about this as a compass or a roadmap. And this is to help diverse teams understand, in this particular discussion, we need to be prickly or we need to be pliant. And so people can understand which mindset to bring to the table and to engage in the way that's most productive to the process.

Class Description

You know that one of the top trends in business innovation these days is design thinking. Only problem is, you’re not quite sure what it is. You’ve heard it described in a bunch of different ways, and you’re starting to wonder if no one else understands it either.

But the truth is, design thinking is one of the most effective new methods and mindsets for framing and solving problems. Top businesses, organizations, consultancies, schools and governments are adopting it as a way to innovate their processes and service offerings, using human empathy, design principles, action-oriented solutions, imagination, intuition and systematic reasoning.

Taught by Lee-Sean Huang, cofounder and creative director of Foossa, a community-centered design consultancy, this course will help you understand what design thinking is and how to apply it to your own work and life.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify the key design thinking techniques.
  • Utilize design thinking in your professional life.
  • Get hands-on experience with design thinking principles.
  • Become an advocate for design thinking within your organization.
  • Separate the truth of design thinking from the media hype.
  • Use design thinking to innovate and create new business opportunities.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Design Thinking Resources

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Getting Started with Adobe Stock

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I loved it! It's amazing how ideas can be built up : )

Carlos Encalada

This course was exactly what I was looking for! As a psychotherapist looking to enter the world of design and facilitation, this primer for design thinking set up the facilitation workshop perfectly. Dynamic workshop. Grateful to Lee-Sean for sharing his process.


I loved it : )