You may be a Design Thinking expert, but there is still a lot to absorb as the methodologies make their way into mainstream thinking.

Did you know, for instance, that George Lucas heads an educational foundation focused on innovation in schools, and promotes…? You guessed it. Design Thinking.

We’ll dive into five interesting and fundamental things you may not know about Design Thinking:

1. It starts with empathy.

Design Thinking - EmpathyThe best way to design products for users is to start with a deep understanding of their needs.

Here at Kaleidoscope as a leading innovation consulting firm, we believe empathy is the crucial first step to creating products with purpose. We call this Purpose Driven Innovation™.

“Empathy is the start of all design thinking programs,” says Kaleidoscope Director of Innovation Geoff Zoeckler. “The reason is simple. You create better solutions when you care about the people you are solving for. We are hard wired (with mirror neurons) to care about each other as human beings.”

(As a side note, Zoecker’s latest webinar, Advanced Design Thinking: How to Start with Empathy to Deliver Breakthrough Innovation, is available for free download here.)





Advanced Design Thinking Webinar




2. It is happening across industries.

Harvard Business Review - Design ThinkingFrom the Harvard Business Review to Fast Company to Forbes, it seems everyone is thinking about Design Thinking and its implications on society—even well beyond the scope of product development.

A Wall Street Journal article details the following recent transformation of Design Thinking into a concept applied outside of product development:

With physical objects there is a long tradition that every so often you must take a radical approach. Think of changes in the visual arts and fashion over the years. Think of advances in engineering and the whole new ways of envisioning bridges, cars, computers, phones and music players through the ages. Think of innovations in the architecture of buildings and urban environments.

But, we’ve seldom applied such design thinking to organization-wide innovations – be it a company, government agency, educational institution or health care system. In fact, the problem may very well be that we have not thought of an organization as a holistic system at all, but rather as a collection of people, departments, buildings, processes, information and so on that somehow come together and do whatever they are supposed to do, with no one really in charge of the overall architecture or its evolution into the future.

Wall Street Journal, “The Evolution of Design Thinking

Design Thinking has now expanded into museums, education, businesses and more.

Why? Because it works.

Acclaimed filmmaker George Lucas’ philanthropic organization, The George Lucas Educational Foundation, focuses primarily on innovation in schools. Check out what they have to say about Design Thinking in schools, under their brand name Edutopia.

3. It empowers non-designers to start thinking like designers.

Design ThinkingDesign Thinking allows non-designers to use design principles to improve innovation within their communities, whether that be in the business world, the nonprofit sector, governmental agencies or any other organization.

With this in mind, Kaleidoscope has supported a nonprofit, social design firm called Design Impact since its inception. This group holds to the mission to “design a better world” and among their other social impact work educates non-profit staff and volunteers—who may not have a design background—about Design Thinking principles.

Design Impact Co-Founder and Design Director Ramsey Ford says, “In the social sector, Design Thinking can elevate the user’s voice – making the solutions more appropriate and inclusive.”

4. It requires embracing emotions.

Design ThinkingZoeckler has elaborated on the essential role of emotions in the Design Thinking process:

All humans experience a common set of emotions. They are variations or combinations of a core set of 8: Trust, Fear, Surprise, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Anticipation, Joy.

All creative problem solving requires that you have identified a user tension and can imagine what benefit a solution will provide to that tension. Knowing which emotions are present in the tension and in the solution provides guard rails for your ideas and something to test when gathering feedback on your prototypes.

5. It’s not about you.

Design ThinkingPerhaps the most vital aspect of design thinking is that it focuses fairly exclusively on the user. What is problematic for the user? What are the user’s needs? How can the product (or service) fill those needs and improve the user’s life? How can this product be adjusted to better fill those needs and improve the user’s life?

Notice that there are zero first person pronouns in the questions above. If the questions you are asking include “I,” “me” or “my” anywhere in the sentence, your focus needs to shift.

Before anything else, know the user.

“Design Thinking has two unique elements that separate it from any other problem solving method,” explains Zoeckler. “First, you must start with empathy and gain a personal understanding of the user and their needs. Second, you must be willing to test your ideas and get feedback from users well before you think you are ready. Both of those steps require a willingness to be vulnerable. This isn’t about you. We must all ‘get over ourselves.’”

Design Thinking Sources

Wikipedia: George Lucas
Fast Company: Design Thinking… What is That?
Harvard Business Review: Design Thinking Comes of Age
Forbes: Why Design Thinking Should Be At The Core Of Your Business Strategy Development
The Wall Street Journal: The Evolution of Design Thinking
Design Thinking for Museums: Trending Topics
Edutopia: Design Thinking
Design Impact: Improve Society by Design


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