Design thinking is useful when we need a paradigm shift, for instance, when something is fundamentally broken about a service” – Thomas Fisher.

With Design Thinking, you can generate incredible solutions to complex problems. It is a methodology that creates tangible results by placing users at the centre of value creation. There are different schools of thought regarding the Design Thinking methodology. The opponents see it as absolute rubbish while the proponent and DT practitioners believe in its power to solve complex problems and facilitate innovation. However, there are people whose position is neither here nor there. Whichever School you lean towards, I believe that the success of Design Thinking is consequent on the willingness to embrace a radical change of mindset. Without the desire to change, the benefits of this proven methodology will remain an illusion.

Design Thinking teaches us to embrace ambiguity and trust the process rather than the traditional method that requires certainty; that have answers to every problem before we begin. It focuses on human values rather than ego-driven solutions. It believes in iteration rather than getting it right the first time, and finally, it challenges us to walk the talk and demonstrate our concept through rapid prototyping. If we trust the process, then the design thinking methodology works. Below are few of the success stories of its application.

Design Thinking Controls Crime at Kings Cross Sydney

King Cross means different things to different people. However, an undeniable fact about King Cross is that it has a higher incidence of anti-social behaviour than any locality in Sydney. About 30,000 young people go there every weekend for clubbing. The Designing Out Crime Research t (DOCRC) report shows that it is a place where both criminals, prominent artists, writers, musicians and others congregate. It is a ‘red light zone’ – an area where young men test their masculinity by visiting sex shops and strip clubs. A place of disadvantage, risk, delight and opportunity. The high rate of alcohol-related crime become worrisome to the government and all past measures, including increasing the number of police and applying curfew after 1.30am only displace the problem without solving them.

In 2013, the city of Sydney commissioned the Designing Out Crime Research Centre (DOCRC). The panel constituted a study group made up of undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as their lecturers. They observed a pattern; the activity at King Cross was akin to that of a music festival; however, unlike music festivals, the night gathering at King Cross was infested with violence. DOCRC employed the Design Thinking methodology. They framed the problem into two: distraction and extraction. They engaged different stakeholders to understand their needs and values, after which they came up with a distraction strategy that nudged users from anti-social behaviour. They observed that most of the patrons leaving the clubs, bars and strip ended up at the same time on the road. The distraction strategy was to provide them with food stalls, outside sitting areas for relaxation and networking, free Wifi, other social amenities and street entertainers.

The second problem they observed is that the majority of them get stranded after 1:00 am because the trains and buses have closed. The extraction intervention prevented them from lurking around due to the absence of night transportation. Part of the extraction solution is to provide night buses and smart wayfinding. At the end of the various design solutions, the late-night crimes drastically reduced.



Pepsico: Performance problem solved

PepsiCo the American multinational food, snack and beverage company whose popular products include Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Lipton teas, Doritos, Lay’s potatoes chips was struggling under the leadership of its CEO Indra Nooyi. Not too many people believed that Nooyi would survive because the company was losing market share and profitability. Part of her problem also includes her shift toward a more health-oriented product line. How did she overcome the challenges and returned Pepsico to steady profitability and growth? In her September 2015 interview with Adi Ignatius published in Harvard Business Review. She spoke about how she turned Design Thinking into a turnaround strategy for PepsiCo. She adopted Design Thinking to drive innovation for the company. Nooyi says, “design” has a voice in nearly every important decision that the company makes.  Do you breathe or think Design in all your strategic decisions?. For those who are thinking Design is all about aesthetics, this is a wrong and old fashion concept. James de Vries interviewed  Mauro Porcini, the PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer offered incredible insight into what Design means

“a strategic function that focuses on what people want and need and dream of, then crafts experiences across the full brand ecosystem that are meaningful and relevant for customers.”

How did Nooyi achieve the turnaround? Every week she will visit a market to see what PepsiCo product look like on the shelves and thinking like a mom and not a CEO, she said: “What products really speak to me?” Her observations led to a soul-searching answer which compelled the company to rethink their innovation process and design experiences for their customers -from conception to what’s on the shelf. Today PepsiCo share price continues on a steady rise.

Keep the Change program at Bank of America

How do you ensure that people who live from paycheck to pay to check to keep the money? This is a difficult design challenge; however, Bank of America commissioned  IDEO to develop a solution that enables a customer to open savings accounts.

IDEO employed the human-centred, ethnographic-based approach to solving the problem. They used empathy and immersed themselves in the world of bank customers. After a series of studies, they discovered an interesting pattern: back in the days where there was no mobile banking application, 1) mothers were in charge of the finance. 2) To make addition easier, most of the buyers loved to round-up to their figures to the nearest dollar. 3) this practice make them spend more than they intended. The insights made IDEO develop a service idea whereby people are nudged to enrol in a savings account that would round up purchases made with debit cards. Then, the extra is transferred to their savings account automatically, and the bank equally matches the money transferred with a specific dollar amount. The program which was launched in September 2005 became very popular and resulted in a savings of more than $2billion from 12.3million customers, and 60% of the bank new customers enrolled in the program.

Design Thinking save the lives of premature babies

Globally there is a record of 15million premature birth and the most common cause of death for these tiny innocent children is hypothermia. Designers are known to be problem solvers; therefore, solving the problem of how to prevent high infant mortality in remote places such as Nepal is a worthwhile challenge. A team from Stanford’s decided to take up this challenge as a project for the class: Design for Extreme Affordability. During winter in Nepal, road passageway is impossible if a child is born premature, the probability of death due to lack of access to the hospital is certain. The student from left the comfort of the campus a Stanford and travelled to Nepal in other to immerse themselves in the world of these families. On arriving at Nepal, the students thought that the solution would be solved by redesigning current hospital incubators by making it cheaper and simpler. However, to their surprise, they saw many incubators at hospitals which are just seating unused. What is the problem you may ask? The problem: many homes where these babies were born were 30 more than miles away. The roads are incredibly rough and when the babies were born the fight to save their lives is at home become paramount. After all, it is obvious the baby will die trying to get to the hospital due to the condition of the roads. With this knowledge, they jettisoned their initial concept of cheaper and simple to use incubator for a new product that could be used at home. Out of this concept, a portable incubator with the look of a heated sleeping bag named Embrace was born. The team prototyped the Embrace and interviewed several mothers, healthcare workers and shopkeepers all these are critical stakeholders. What do they learn as they develop a prototype and iterate? 1) in a village in India, most women there believe that western medicines are very potent so rather than using the prescribed dosage they will instead halve it, these mentalities they also employed in how they use Embrace since the product has temperature indicators mothers only heat the Embrace halfway. 2) most villages are also without electricity; this compelled the team to redesign the product so it could be heated using hot water.

GE Healthcare: MRI Scanner from fright to delight

MRI Scanner is an incredible machine for disease detection; however, for some patients undergoing the procedure is a frightening experience. The experience is even more challenging for the children; hence, 80% of the children have to be sedated before the procedure. The challenge is, how do you make MRI Scan a delightful experience for children? The Chief Designer at General Electric recognised that empathy is required in other to understand the attitude of the children towards the equipment. So, using the Design Thinking, methodology, he observed children going through the scanner, he engaged the caregivers in discussion and found that this piece of technology, is generally perceived by children as a scary machine. The experience led to the creation of CT Pirate Island Adventure was created. The MRI scanner was designed to look like a pirate ship, and it transformed the traumatic experience into a kid’s adventure story. Before the new Design, approximately 80% of children needed to be sedated before getting their scan, and after the redesign, the rate drop to 10%.


Image Credit: GE Newsroom


Everybody talks about it; however, there is nothing magical neither should it power be doubted. Rightly applied and rigorously followed, it will give the desired outcome; however, this is only possible when there is the willingness for a radical transformation of mindset, and this must begin at the executive management level. Failure to engage leaders who have the right attitude towards Design will make it impossible to get the best out of the design thinking process. As Porcini said, if “design is really about deeply understanding people” and then we need design leaders who believe in the power of developing a solution with the users. Organisational leadership must be seen as a big fan of the methodology. They must love the Design-led strategy and be willing to sponsor it in other to facilitate culture transformation and allow innovation to thrive. Beyond leadership support, there must be a buy-in by the various entities within the organisation. The employees and other stakeholders must own the process, this is where the leadership comes in, and they can only do this when they have a deeper appreciation of how it works. Otherwise, every effort at becoming a design-led organisation will only be like fetching water into a porous basket. The initiative will continue, but the bucket will never be filled nor retain water.

Olukunle A. Iyanda PhD, FCA, SNFLI.
Managing Partner DesignThinkers Group, Nigeria
Human-Centric Design Led Innovation Consultant