Design Thinking for Business Innovation

Lesson 5/15 - Design Thinking In Action


Design Thinking for Business Innovation


Lesson Info

Design Thinking In Action

We've gone through the process of design thinking, understanding what design thinking is conceptually as a method and a mindset for framing problems and finding solutions. Now, we're gonna pause a little bit for story time. So this is design thinking for business innovation and so we will focus on the process and some of the creative methods but we also want to see how design thinking has been successful in different industries and how they've improved people's lives for users and made business cases for innovation through design thinking. So, the first example is a story from GE Healthcare. This is a story that was shared by Doug Dietz, he gave a TEDx talk about this. And this is really a story about how some printed decals with cartoon characters and paint made all the difference on top of all of this high tech medical equipment. This is an MRI scanner; heavy-duty, expensive medical machines that are used for people with different illnesses, different conditions. They exist in medica...

l context, so in a hospital. But imagine being a sick child, or the parents, the family members of a sick child as a patient. The thing about these machines is they're necessary scans if you have different health issues, but going through the process of getting an MRI scan if you haven't had one already is a little bit scary and particularly traumatizing for a lot of kids. So what happens is you're strapped into this machine, it kind of looks like a coffin, and then you're placed in this hole. So, not good for people who don't like enclosed spaces. And then it's also really loud when the scanner is on and you have to stay very still. If you're not still, they have to sedate you or they have to do the thing again. So it's not a pleasant thing to go through. It's certainly not pleasant for adults, and definitely traumatic for children. So what happened was Doug Dietz as an industrial designer working for GE Health, went and inspected some of these machines that he had designed, from all of these little details of how it works, and he saw them in a hospital context. There's a difference between a 3D rendering and seeing a machine that's been photographed well with good lighting for a product catalog, and then seeing it in an actual hospital with probably some room with drab drop ceiling and fluorescent lighting, and then seeing the users of this; the medical technicians, the families, the children going in. And so Doug saw a young family, the child going in, she was holding her father's hand, and the father turned to the child and said, "Remember what we talked about, be brave." And just this look of fear and dread in the child's eyes really shifted Doug Dietz's perspective and his pride as a designer; thinking about all the time and effort that he had put in, that his team had put in to designing this machine to all of the technical specifications, and then realizing that it was still a traumatizing experience for the most direct users of that machine. So, besides that emotional trauma, there wass also this issue of medical risk and cost. So because so many children were having trouble going through the machine, getting scanned; they would have to be sedated. At one of the hospitals where Doug visited, up to 80% of the kids had to be sedated through general anesthesia. And so anytime you're going down for something like that, an anesthesiologist has to be on hand, there's medical risks involved with putting somebody on anesthesia like that, and then that also compounds some of the potential trauma of the parents having to worry about their kid being knocked out just to get a scan, and then the kids themselves. And then, not to mention, the medical costs of just having to administrate that sort of treatment just to get the scan. And so, the real problem they were solving was a human problem, but also a business problem of how to cut down on some of these costs and some of these medical risks just to get kids through the scanner. So, part of the norm involved in designing medical equipment is that they're often this sort of beige, gray kind of color, and that's just a norm of things have to be easy to clean in a hospital context, it has to look modern, high tech, clinical. But it was actually alienating for these young patients. And so they had to look outside of the norms of industrial design for medical context. And so Doug and his team actually paired up with a children's museum. So they reframed this from just a purely medical equipment design problem, to an issue of engagement; how can they bring story telling in to immerse or even distract the kids so that they don't necessarily have to be sedated. So based on this research with the children's museum professionals, and also bringing in kids, they came up with this concept that's now known as The Adventure Series. And so this is one of the examples that was taken from the GE site of this under the sea story, and they incorporate things like colored lights and scents, these printed decals, paint, etc. Compared to the actual physical machines themselves, it's not costly, it's just some extra aesthetic stuff. But by creating this story and shifting the message, they were able to significantly decrease the number of kids that have to be sedated. At one of the hospitals where they did this testing, the sedation rates went down from 80%, so 80% of the kids that went through the machine before had to get general anesthesia, to now just a couple kids. So less than 1% of kids, once that they had tested this for a while. If fact, in one of their user tests, when Doug was observing this in action, he actually overheard one of the kids tell her parents afterwards, "Daddy, can we come back tomorrow?" And if you watch his TED Talk, it's like a real TED jerker, he tells the story and it's really like a touching thing of how you can reframe a problem. It wasn't a technical problem, it was a human problem, and really understanding the needs of the kids involved and their families involved, and looking at that. And one of the clinical medical technicians actually told him during this process, that it really reminded her of why she got into medicine in the first place was to help people, and trying to understand that it wasn't just about ticking all the boxes in terms of care and in terms of the technical specifications, but really thinking about that story and that patient engagement. And that's only possible through starting with human empathy and reframing problems in new ways. So another story is a consumer packaged goods story. And this is not a project that I worked on myself, but this photo is from some design research that I was conducting myself and with my team in India, looking at ways that low-income Indians in slums in and around Delhi were getting access to clean drinking water. So this is not a story about that, but a related story about India. And P&G, Procter & Gamble, which makes Tide, had this realization that 80% of their consumers in countries like India, were actually using their products, like Tide laundry detergent, and hand-washing their clothing because they didn't necessarily have washing machines, or even if they did, electricity wasn't a constant factor so they couldn't use their washing machines all the time, or they just couldn't afford the washing machines. So they had to use this detergent, wash it by hand. Now companies like P&G pride themselves as chemical companies. They are in the business of making the best detergents or the best products possible from this view of engineering and science and chemistry. And so, they had created Tide, they had formulated these detergents to get the whites whiter or the colors brighter, but it was also very irritating to hands. We don't have to think about that in our context most of the time because we just dump it into the washing machine and it goes, and we're happy with our detergent. But what they learned from their user testing and their human empathy was that these people in India who were using the product would get sort of mild chemical burns and irritation because they were washing with this detergent with their bare hands all the time. It's not necessarily what's indicated on the bottle, maybe they even said, "Don't use this for hand washing," but 80% of their consumers had no other choice; they wanted clean clothing, they needed clean clothing. And so Tide found this opportunity, and they reformulated and created a product called Tide Naturals, which was less irritating on hands and also they were able to price it cheaper compared to the competition brands and then gain access to this whole market. So maybe they also found that people just weren't buying their product; not because it was an inferior detergent, maybe it was actually a better detergent for clothes, but a worse detergent for hands and for the people washing the clothing. So that's another example of how human empathy can really reframe a problem, of it's not just a technical problem, not just a chemical problem, but a human issue and how we optimize for that. So, one final example, this was an example that started out as a student project at Stanford, it's now a venture called Embrace, and this team was doing research also in developing country context, places like India and Nepal, where they were researching incubators for babies who were born prematurely, or needed additional warmth to survive. And they were finding that, in a lot of these contexts, infant mortality was high because they didn't have access to incubators. But when the team actually went on the ground into these countries and these contexts, they saw that there actually were incubators there; that incubators were being donated primarily from Western hospitals, places in richer countries where there's a surplus of medical goods, because they're upgrading things all the time and then they donate things to the developing world. So they actually realized that the problem was not a hardware problem, it was actually an electricity problem. That even in hospitals in some of these contexts in rural areas, but even urban areas in some of these developing countries, that not having electricity meant that you couldn't run the incubators to keep the babies warm. And so just having the hardware there wasn't enough to provide the care that these young babies, often born premature, needed. And so they reframed the problem. It wasn't about building a cheaper incubator for these contexts, because they were getting stuff donated or they had stuff already, and they turned it into this electricity problem where they actually built something out of, it's like a portable, basically baby wrapper with paraffin wax in it, that could keep heat for a longer period of time. And it would keep these babies warm without having to have access to electricity all the time. So now they've built out a whole business model around it where people in developed countries can buy products, baby products, that then support the development and distribution of the baby warmers in these developing country contexts. But they were only able to start with this by going to the context where people were and understanding that the original problem that they were given, the original challenge that they were facing, wasn't the real problem. And so they were able to shift, reframe, and build a solution that actually addressed human needs. So those were some examples of both healthcare examples and consumer examples of how really having human empathy, starting with empathy and reframing a problem, is so critical in design thinking. It's not just about putting Post-its on a wall or prototyping with a group of people in this fun way, but it's really taking the time here to understand people and framing the needs in the right way.

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.


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.