Design Thinking, what is it what is it used for?

18 Jul 2022

We live in an era of permanent change and the pace of change is accelerating. In this environment, the competitiveness of any organisation increasingly depends on its ability to innovate, in other words, on its ability to transform challenges into new solutions that provide value. This ability to innovate, allows the organisation to adapt or even transform itself before it becomes obsolete. Innovation must be part of the DNA of any company that wants to remain competitive.

But innovating is not easy, there are many barriers and inhibitors. In this sense, design thinking can help us potentiate our capacity to innovate. This is why Elisava offers 3 Executive Education master’s degrees: The Master in Advanced Design Management, Strategy and Entrepreneurship, the Master in Research for Design and Innovation, and the Master in Strategic Design in Complexity.

What is design thinking?

What is the meaning of design thinking? It can be defined an iterative, people-centred process that seeks to find solutions to complex problems.

This definition highlights the following elements:

  • Iterative process: design thinking is not a linear process, but an iterative process in which each iteration allows us to better understand users, redefine problems and create better solutions to those problems.
  • People-centred process: from two perspectives; first, design thinking focuses on understanding the problems and/or needs of users/customers and other stakeholders, which increases the chances of developing better products, services and/or internal processes; second, design thinking is a team sport involving different people in the organisation, which leads to accelerating and/or consolidating an increasingly customer and people-centred mindset, fundamental aspects for any company’s future.
  • Finding solutions to complex issues: design thinking starts with the identification of a complex problem that affects a set of people.
  • Finding solutions to complex issues: design thinking is extremely useful for tackling complex or ill-defined problems, as it focuses on understanding the needs of the people involved in those problems in order to understand them so that better solutions can be developed.

Even though design thinking intends to find the desired human, technologically feasible and economically viable solutions, it is true that the focus is on the desirability variable.

Design Thinking is applicable to all types of organizations, independently from its sector.

Phases of design thinking

Depending on the organisation or author, design thinking can be divided between three and seven phases. That being said, in this post we are going to refer to the 5 phases proposed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the, as it is one of the most widely used.

The 5 phases proposed by the are the following:

  • Empathise: it focuses on empathising with the people involved with the problem you are trying to solve in order to develop a better understanding of the users’ needs.
  • Define: it focuses on organising all the information generated during the Empathise phase to better define the problem from the perspective of the people who are suffering from it.
  • Devise: it focuses on generating the maximum number of ideas to solve the defined problem from different perspectives.
  • Prototype: it focuses on developing a set of reduced and inexpensive versions of the best ideas (prototypes) with the aim of validating certain hypotheses on which they are based.
  • Test: it focuses on testing the prototyped solutions to validate whether they are suitable and/or can be improved based on user experiences.

As mentioned above, design thinking is not a linear process in which the five phases are always sequential. The phases can alternate, run in parallel or be repeated several times. In the end, it is about applying the ideal combination to discover the best solutions. And this combination will depend on many factors (issue, team and context, among others).

Design thinking in project management

At Elisava’s Executive Education masters you’ll learn to apply, among many other business design and innovation tools and methodologies, design thinking in specific and real projects. Because the best way to learn is by doing.

The 3 Executive Education masters combine design and business with the aim to consolidate an explorative and design mentality, fundamental in an environment as complex and ever-changing as the current one equip students with a set of tools that will enable them to make better decisions to lead and develop innovative solutions.

Although all students of the 3 Masters will interact and collaborate in some activities and projects (e.g. during the 2 field trips and the transversal projects), each Masters focuses on a specific aspect that differentiates it from the others:

  • The Master in Advanced Design Management, Strategy and Entrepreneurship focuses on developing a team entrepreneurship project, giving an important weight to learning and how to iterate and pivot through experimentation applied to business development, service design and ethical leadership to find the best value proposition and business model.
  • The Master in Research for Design and Innovation focuses on developing a team project for a client. The projects in the first part of the master’s degree focus on researching and identifying trends and designing future scenarios, while the projects in the second part focus on developing innovative solutions that allow the client to adapt to or even anticipate changes in the environment.
  • The Master in Strategic Design in Complexity focuses on increasing problem-solving skills in increasingly complex and uncertain environments. To this end, it fosters a process of individual reflection that combines strategic design, systems thinking, sustainability and other applied social sciences to increase the capacity to devise new and better approaches in the field of business and social innovation that respond to the challenges of our time.

Article by Enric Bayo, Executive Masters and Postgraduates Coordinator.