Design Thinking: Streamlining Creativity

A reflection by Alvaro Valls Boix and Erson Halili – Students at Service Innovation and Design MBA @Laurea UAS

Defining Creativity is a complex task, since the term is interpreted differently in different cultures and contexts. However, from a cognitive and mental activity perspective, Creativity is defined as the cognitive capacity to develop something new where we can identify that it’s a cognitive ability. This means that the cognitive ability it’s in all of us, loaded in our ’Operating Systems’ from the factory.  

Did you know that ALL individuals can be creative? Yes, you read it right! According to Kelley and Kelley (Kelley 2013), and academic publications (Tschimmel 2021), not only creativity is present in all individuals, but it can also be nurtured and developed, like a muscle, with practice and persistence.

What’s more, the basic skills to exercise and train creativity through themselves and their combination are well identified (“Perception, Interrogation, Comparison and Language” Tschimmel 2021), allowing that an individual can really develop its creativity, in the scope of personal and professional creativity.

However, being creative requires more than that. In addition to exercising our creative brain, being creative requires bravery to explore the unknown as well as acknowledging that failure is an essential part of the creativity process. This is an inspiring example of a singer composing a song live during a podcast. 

Image by Urhan TV from Pixabay

Creativity skills are critical in today’s and future working life. Survey results among CEOs reported that “creativity is the single most important leadership skill for enterprises engaged in the complex world of global commerce, where innovative solutions are necessary to pave the best possible path to success” (Kelley 2013).

Considering its importance, you might wonder, how can companies, organisations and individuals utilise creativity to solve complex real-life problems. Before we jump into the answer, let’s explore the types of problems. According to Jeremy Alexis from Illinois Institute of Technology, “There are two types of problems. There are mysteries and there are puzzles. “Puzzles” are problems where when you have the right level of data disclosure, when you have that absolute number, the problem can be solved […] On the contrary, in “mysteries”, there is no single piece of data, there is no level of data disclosure that will actually solve a problem. In fact, there might be too much data, and it’s about interpreting all the data that’s there. And that’s a richer, harder problem” (Cited in Liedtka 2012).

Based on this definition, we will focus on the second type, the ‘mysteries’, in which human interpretation is essential. Solving these complex challenges requires a comprehensive way of thinking and problem-solving mindset, and a multidimensional perspective. That is called Design Thinking (DT) which is described as a way of thinking which leads to transformation, evolution and innovation. Nonetheless, DT it’s not only a cognitive process but a valuable method for innovation processes (Tschimmel, K., 2012).

Streamlining Creativity

And this is the point in which we start streamlining the power of creativity, based on the principles of design methodology (Tschimmel 2021), into the DT method.

Design Thinking, with its principles, process models and toolkit, is a method that offers the opportunity to apply design tools to problem-solving-contexts with the form of businesses, services or organisational change.

Consultancy agencies and companies of all sizes use the DT method to address innovation through solutions to “wicked” problems in any kind of circumstances in which a product or service can be offered to users: health, travel, finance, mobility, industry, etc. 

DT Process and Tools: Where to Start?

DT is usually represented by process models, to represent conceptually a high-level road map of stages to be followed during the innovation process. It also allows beginners and not versed in the matter to understand at a high level the process and don’t get lost.

But wait… DT… one method… and how many different process models? Which is the most effective one?

DT mashup picture

As the DT discipline emerged, different institutions and organisations created their own process models, following their interpretation of what the process should be and what worked better for them (Tschimmel, 2012), although having all of them the DT principles at the core, and keeping evident parallelisms. Process models by IDEO, British Design Council, Stanford, Hasso-Platter Institute of Design,… could be the most popular or recognizable ones, but the fact is that many others also exist and will keep emerging. 

A picture from the process model followed at the DT Master class workshop in SID 2022, by Mindshake

How to Navigate the Abundance of DT Models and Tools?

The best process model can only be the one that works best for you, in your own context, with your own target audience, and the ability to choose it can just come with practice and understanding of the process.

In the beginning of the practice of DT, a process model can be a good friend and guide you through the stages of the process, giving you perspective and understanding, but the thing is that it cannot become a straitjacket. An acknowledged practitioner of DT and its principles, will use his/her own process model, maybe having as reference one or more of the existing ones, but tweaking it here and there, according to experience and concrete circumstances and needs of each project. A process model will rarely be followed as a recipe. On the contrary, the DT lead will conduct the team through different sequences of divergence (to zoom out and have a wide perspective, and consider many possibilities) and convergence (to zoom in, identifying concepts and patterns and selecting the most resonating ones) according to the requirements of the project and findings, using in each case the tool that best fits his/her purposes. In this sense, the more abstract a process model is, the more likely that it better describes a real project.

As a key takeaway, choose the model that looks best for you, test it in innovation and creative projects and tailor it and make it yours through practice. The power of creativity will take you beyond your expectations!


How can organizations unleash creative potential?

During the master class we felt ourselves and saw our fellow participants get ignited with a feeling of creativity and gaining a new appreciation of what is considered as creative. Many of us believed to not be creative, but when faced with the right questions and frameworks, most of us realized we indeed are.

We were left curious about how to use Design Thinking in an organization in practice. Why should organizations care about unleashing the creative potential of their members in the first place? What are the blockers in organizations?

Get rid of blockers on all levels

Most of us have lost our creative confidence while growing up. As children, we tended to think creatively, outside the box and without fear of judgment. Kelley and Kelley suggest for individuals to face their phobias around fear of judgment. Also a key element for creativity according to Kelley and Kelley is empathy with your clients or users of the end result. People should believe in themselves again, because they were born creative. (DTALE Design Studio. 2017.) It was evident in our masterclass that many of us had lost confidence in our creativity.

In our own experience, in organizations creativity is killed on a daily basis and the habit of doing so can go quite unnoticed. Often the difficult, disruptive questions are not appreciated, which effectively blocks any new thoughts on the raised subject. Also blunt answers like “we have tried that 10 years ago and it did not go that well” to any new ideas do not nurture a creative culture whatsoever. Which of these idea killers have you heard before?

According to Kelley and Kelley (2015) the key focus areas for organizations for getting rid of the blockers of creativity are: nurturing a creative culture, avoiding “the talking phase”, where management is on board and talking positively about creativity, but nothing actually happens in the organization. They suggest creating a team of design catalysts with members who are excited about design thinking from all over the organization to build creativity as a grassroot action with quick wins. Organizations should also lift their focus from short sight to a multi-year horizon. Innovation culture is made out of humor, getting infected with each other’s energy, minimizing hierarchy, increasing team trust and camaraderie and lessening judgment. (Kelley & Kelley 2015, 175-179, 184)

For us this recipe sounds like a place where people can truly thrive and give their all and more towards the goals of the organization. How could we get more organizations on board?

Getting the managers on board

Organizations are made of people with a certain training. Roger Martin, long time Dean of Rotman Business School in Toronto has recognized that business education and the management practice are quite conservative. He advocates for a change in management education: to start teaching students how designers think (design thinking) and design shops work (project based). Working in the design shop way, he argues, management would be more creative in solving problems and would embrace constraints as an exciting challenge instead of obstacles. (Dunne 2006)

(Tuuva Tiainen based on Dunne 2006)

What does it look like when an organization puts design thinking to use?

From reading research it becomes clear that both the definition of design thinking and its implementations can be remarkably varied. Carlgren (2016) shows examples of conceptualizing a fixed multi-step innovation process based on design thinking. At the other extreme the entire innovation work of a company can be given only three principles based on Design thinking and the rest is up to the project to define as it sees fit. With such a multitude of approaches it becomes hard to talk about the concept let alone research and compare organizations. To facilitate discussion and research Carlgren proposes a framework of five main themes: User focus, Problem framing, Visualization, Experimentation and Diversity. (Carlgren 2016)

Interestingly the word creativity is not included in the framework, even though creativity and ideation are foundational in the initial descriptions of Design thinking by Tim Brown and IDEO. Creativity is needed in many if not all the phases of the design process making it a pervasive attitude as a part of cycles of divergent and convergent thinking. As the researched companies are already using design thinking it might be less of an issue to foster a creative environment.

We are left hopeful since Katja Tschimmel’s Master class taught us that creative thinking is a skill you can learn and develop. We can therefore also learn how to ignite people around us. We now possess some knowledge about design thinking and can either help to implement it in our organizations or nudge them to improve in that area.


Written by Tuuva Tiainen and Janne Karjalainen

Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. 2016. Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.

Dunne, D. & Martin, R. 2006. Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education: An Interview and Discussion. Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol. 5, No. 4, 512–52.

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. Creative Confidence. 2015. Unleashing the creative potential within us all. Edition 2015/25. London: William Collins.

DTALE Design Studio. 2017. How to build your creative confidence. Accessed 27 September 2022.

Tschimmel, K. 2021. Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. In Perspectives on Design II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-79879-6.

The lone creative genius is dead

Design thinking can be defined as a human-centered approach to problem solving, creativity and innovation that brings along new and more effective solutions (Kaartti 2022; Brown 2019).  Its definition has evolved since the 1990s; with some viewing it as a cognitive process or a mindset, and others seeing it as a toolkit for innovation processes, connecting creative design approaches to business thinking.

Whichever the definition, what is certain is that it allows for exploration occur in multiple contexts and scenarios. As Brown (2019) stated, it is not only for trained professional designers, it is available to people from all disciplines, who wish to master its mindset and methods. 

Tschimmel (2022, 28) presents a five-principle model for design thinking as a process:
1. Human-centered approach, 2. Collaboration, 3. Experimentation, 4. Visualisation and
5. Holistic approach. Whereas Brown (2019) notes design thinking to consist of three spaces of innovation: inspiration, ideation, and implementation; with the steps often overlapping.

Whilst there are several different models for design thinking, they all hold empathy as central, helping create a deep understanding of people and experiences (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser. (2009).

How can design thinking support innovation?

Design thinking can support innovation, helping organisations to differentiate themselves in our fast moving world. Services are becoming more complex, and  ideas can be easily copied; thus design thinking can be used to allow true  innovation to occur.

By supporting the mindset and process to explore, take risks, fail quickly and learn, as well as allowing peoples’ empathetic horizons to be broadened, valuable insights are brought to light, to develop innovative services and products. 

Innovation proves not to be the outcome of the “lone genius inventor”, but rather the result of collaboration, hard work, human-centered discovery, and iterative cycles. As Thomas Edison puts it “Genius is 1%  inspiration and 99% perspiration”. 

Including multiple perspectives early on gives way to complete solutions that bring true value to customers. The designer is not just an add-on at the end, but rather takes part on collecting customer insights to create ideas.

One example for this approach is the Japanese company Shimano, manufacturer of bicycle components. They actively decided to better understand the people outside their core customer base to understand why 90% of American adults don’t ride bikes. This led to identify 4 main insights: intimidation, complexity, cost; and maintenance. Knowing the broader market better, they developed “coasting bikes”, built for pleasure rather than sport. Big manufacturers then began developing new bikes using their components, to reach a new, wider audience.

This is a good example of how design thinking can lead to more innovative solutions, creating breakthrough ideas by using empathy to observe from multiple perspectives and gain deep understanding of their customer’s lives to build value.

Design thinking in action 

On our days studying Design Thinking at Laurea, we followed Mindshake’s 6E model, utilising different design thinking methods to create more innovative sustainability solutions for Laurea. 

Through this experience, we saw first hand that breakthrough ideas–like our student garden– require strategic approaches, such as exploring lots of ideas quickly. We had to actively observe and listen to students and staff to empathise and identify insights through our teams’ multiple perspectives, as creativity also depends on the way it brings value and is perceived.

Overall, we learnt that design thinking is about mindset, collaboration and action. It is an iterative process, well supported by literature and models, but also by exploration, collaboration and willingness. Once you take an open minded approach to employ human-centred discovery, innovation begins to happen. And innovating can only lead to further innovation!

Written by Rosanna Thomasoo, Johanna Lahti and Juliana Romero, students in the Service Innovation and Design programme.


Design Thinking as a Discursive Phenomenon 

Design Thinking can be described as a discipline, a methodology or more broadly “a human-centered, creative, iterative, and practical approach that is used to find the best ideas and ultimate solutions” (1, 2), or simply a method for innovation, which requires creative thinking (3, 4). Creative thinking is the cognitive capacity of an individual or a group of individuals to intentionally generate new ideas – something that used to be considered as design thinking still some 30 years ago (3).  

Tschimmel argues that creative thinking has a dialogue format with four distinctive phases:  
1) perception, meaning stimulation of multi-sensoriality, 

2) interrogation, meaning provocative, procedural and imaginative questions, 

3) comparison, meaning thinking in uncommon associations, in new combinations and in analogies, and  

4) language, meaning narrative thinking and transition between expressive languages (3). 

Using this kind of creative thinking, the analogue of it as a dialogue can be extended to Design Thinking: If creative thinking is kind of a dialogue either inside the head of an individual or between different individuals, Design Thinking is the language as a system, which he/she/they speak. The language may have different dialects meaning the different ways how the Design Thinking process is structured – three, six or seven phases with changing names, doesn’t matter – but the content is still the same (3).  

Furthermore, the different Design Thinking methods can be considered as words of the language: The findings are what these words represent but the insights are what they really mean, when they join with other words and form sentences.  

As language is influenced by the discourses within and between societies, so is Design Thinking. Critical rethinking of Design Thinking continues, although it is claimed to be ‘undertheorized and understudied’. Whether one conceives design thinking as a cognitive style, a general theory of design or an organizational resource, we should move beyond individual, cognitive and organizational spheres and explore the design in its context and the flourishment of its practices across other developments (e.g. socio-cultural).(5) While considering the activity and the materiality and objects involved, a practice approach can elucidate the design within discursive practices. (ibid.) Given, the necessity of this rethinking in terms of concepts, evaluations, contributions, and applications exceeds the disciplinary discourses leading to a framework. This framework incorporates various contexts, spaces and concerns ranging from the practice of service design to the ramifications of its resulting services in culture, ethos and the society. Therefore, other authors, in line with Kimbell’s work, suggest that design should be replaced with designing – which is in essence, nonlinear, ongoing, collective and organizationally overarching. (6) Similarly, the term service encompasses an ongoing transformational, value co-creation process beyond its usual collocative pair product. “Designing for services” thus as a framework considers an ongoing engagement in transformational development and an approach to incorporable and accommodable innovation within practices attempting to render services beneficial to individuals’ daily lives and society. (7)  

A similar approach was also taken in the lectures, as thinking out of the box, considering all individual and collective ideas across practices and professions, bearing in mind all cultural angles and socio-economic aspects of both designing and the resulting services were emphasized.   

Written by Service Innovation and Design MBA students Kaisa K. and Daniel M.


1: Brown, Tim. 2020. ”Design Thinking”. In: On Design Thinking. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press  

2: Brown, Tim & Martin, Martin L. 2020. “Design for Action”. In: On Design Thinking, Boston: Harvard Business Review Press 

3: Tschimmel, Katja. 2022. “Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation”. In: In: Raposo, D., Neves, J., Silva, J. (eds) Perspectives on Design II. Springer Series in Design and Innovation , vol 16. Springer, Cham. 

4: Tschimmel, Katja. 2012. “Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation”. Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona. 

5: Kimbell, Lucy. 2011. “Rethinking Design Thinking: Part I.” Design and Culture 3 (3): 285–306.

6: Kimbell, Lucy. 2012. “Rethinking Design Thinking: Part II.” Design and Culture 4 (2): 129–48.

7: Sangiorgi, Daniela, and Alison Prendiville. 2017. Designing for Service. Key Issues and New  Directions

Empathy – a Core Competence for Design Thinkers

The modern business world is fast-paced and highly competitive. Companies must stay innovative to answer the complex demands of the ever-changing market and business needs. Design thinking has found its’ way to larger organizations as an answer to simplifying the challenges of both modern business and technology. (Kolko 2015.)  

For business success, an empathic approach of design thinking is fundamental, as highlighted by Kolko (2015). It cannot be something extra – it is a core competence. But what is empathy, exactly, and how do you enable empathy as a competence? And how does it link to design thinking?  

Design thinking is a mindset consisting of processes, methods and tools for innovation that can be used in any organization by multidisciplinary teams, not only designers (Tschimmel 2022). While reading industry literature and articles we noted that empathic design and empathy are some of the key elements in design thinking, and included in all of the tools in one form or another. 

Picture 1. The iterative process of Design Thinking, empathy as one of the key elements.

”Empathy is our superpower” – Teija Hakaoja, Head of Business, Design at Gofore Lead

Empathy is intuitive and a way to relate to the user’s circumstances and experiences. It is a natural skill that everyone has – and like any skill, it can be practiced. 

Understanding empathy as a concept is critical for a designer and it would take a deep dive to psychological research and literature to get to the core of it, but for businesses and their multidisciplinary teams applying design thinking, it can be enough if they instead use some common tools and frameworks to help them train their skills in empathy and to be more empathic in their work.  
One example of this could be the framework by Kouprie and Sleeswjik Visser (2009), that makes it easier to use empathic techniques in design. The framework consists of four concrete phases of empathy:

1) Discovery,
2) Immersion,
3) Connection and
4) Detachment.

A practical approach like this helps stepping into – and out of – the user’s shoes and builds the skill of empathy.  

Picture 2: Four Phases of Empathy by Kouprie and Sleeswjik Visser.  

During the first two days of our Design Thinking course for #sidlaurea 2022, we approached empathy from various angles by trying out some of the commonly used tools and techniques in design thinking, mainly based on the Evolution 6² model by Mindshake. We, for example, empathized with different student personas and created study plans best suited for each of them.  
At the end of the day, we feel that empathy means recognizing and responding to basic human needs in a simple yet effective way. This is a skill that can be developed by using well thought-out tools as described above. Even though empathy is already widely recognized in business, we believe there is still more to uncover – winning innovation comes through radically knowing the users and their needs.

Written by Sari Lindberg & Riitta Räsänen 

Hakaoja, T. 2022. Expectations for service designers’ competence. [lecture]. Held on 1 September. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. 
Kolko, J. 2015. Design thinking comes of age. Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. 
Kouprie, M. & Sleeswijk Visser, F. 2009. A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437-448. 
Liedtka, J. & Ogilvie, T. 2011. Designing for growth: a design thinking toolkit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press. 
Tschimmel, K. 2022. Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. In: Raposo, D., Neves, J., Silva, J. (eds) Perspectives on Design II. Springer Series in Design and Innovation , vol 16. Springer, Cham.

One Thousand Experiments Club

Mind shaking

Our Design Thinking (DT) journey started with two days of mind-shaking by Katja Schimmel (Katja). Learning by doing was absolutely engaging. We warmed up with creative thinking skills exercises. While perceptive thinking felt like a hard nut, associative thinking felt familiar and easy to master. In a playful spirit, we got to explore the concept and process of DT. Different DT models were discussed. Finally, using DT Model Evolution 6² as a base, we got to work in teams on a service design challenge. It was curious to work with the DT model incorporating sustainability. Surprisingly, the first tool, media research, intuitively guided us toward the organization’s sustainability goals. There were moments in the emergence phase when rationality would take over the playful spirit. In contrast, the elaboration phase felt like a game, and all team members were curious to experiment when building prototypes. However, the final result, Laurea’s sustainability hub, with spaces for startups, felt like a tangible creative achievement of a diverse team.

Inspired by Katja’s example of Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, we would like to share a video by another Spanish chef, David Muñoz, as a marvelous example of emotional storytelling:

Everyone is creative

People commonly assume that either one is born creative or not. However, creativity, like other abilities, may be developed via training, appropriate methodologies, and the guidance of a professional tutor. While innovation technique focuses on technological (feasible) and business (viable) concerns, design thinking prioritizes human (desirable) factors. The design thinker must believe in his potential to take one more complex problem in the future, continue longer, and overcome unsuccessful attempts before succeeding. The unbreakable relationship between failure and invention is a lesson that can only be learned by doing. Recognizing and overcoming fear, embarrassment, and failure is the first step toward creative purpose, and conquering a fear of failure is simply the first step toward creativity. Curiosity, optimism, perseverance, preference for action and experimenting fuel creativity. The key talent of the major inventor is a tendency toward action that balances preparation with quick prototyping. It does not have to be flawless the first time. It is preferable to tinker and alter something than to ponder and coast. Aside from talents, it is essential to be surrounded by creative individuals to assist in developing creativity. After gaining creative confidence in his initial projects, the designer may embrace continual learning and create his entire life.

Organizational DT chameleon 

Finally, we want to reflect on two articles researching DT practice in companies from a different perspective. 

Even though companies understand DT similarly as the concept is represented in the literature (with five central themes across contexts: User focus, Problem framing, Visualization, Experimentation, and Diversity), they apply DT in various ways in different contexts (as a process, method, toolbox, mental approach, culture, or mix). Therefore there is a need for a flexible description that takes account of the various facets of use. The key to understanding DT might be the interplay among the elements rather than a single element in isolation. To illustrate the idea, let’s look at the description of a Design – Centric Culture in the company. Four elements are necessary attributes: focusing on emotional users’ experiences, using DT tools to examine complex problems, tolerating failure, and creating a clear, simple customer experience. It is easy to notice that the diversity theme is missing. However, the aim is to describe DT as a culture, leaving other ways of applying DT outside. Diversity, as a key to innovation, may be absent when focusing on examining complex problems.

Reading Jon Kolko’s article was a pleasure. It offers a clear and simple user experience. Inspired, we researched the author’s ideas more broadly and can highly recommend his blog

SID students Ali Bider and Milda Jovsaite 

References :

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business. 

Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. (2016). Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.

Kolko, J. (2015) Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71.

Empathy is the superpower you need to design truly innovative services

In today’s world of complex systems and processes, people seek simplicity and real value. At the same time, companies’ competition for people’s attention is fiercer than ever. They face the challenge to differentiate themselves from competitors to gain the loyalty of their customers. Design Thinking might be the way we can add real and lasting value for people when designing new services. 

Design Thinking is not just a toolkit it is sometimes thought to be. It’s more than that. It’s a strategy. It’s no coincidence that the most valuable companies in the world have Design thinking at the core of their business.

One of the key aspects of Design Thinking is empathy. Empathy is derived from the principle of human-centricity in Design Thinking. To solve global problems like the climate crisis, we need to enhance our empathy for all living creatures and the whole planet. In this blog post, we want to explore empathy as a superpower of not only individuals but organizations, too.

Empathy helps designers to gain better understanding of the users’ needs, desires and emotions, which helps to design services that not only fit users’ needs but are joyful to use. In other words, empathy helps to create services that provide the users with better service experience. Empathy simply helps designers to understand better the context of the problem as they immerse themselves in the world of their users.

Empathetic Design Techniques

Design Thinking makes use of several techniques that are associated with empathy. For example, creating a stakeholder and system maps gives the designers an overview of the environment they’re working in. Field research methods such as observation helps the designers to understand users’ behavior. Interviewing the users and analyzing their responses gives designers even deeper insights in how to create a service experience that does not only satisfy the users’ needs and desires but their emotions, too. Insight maps can be used to visualize the results, to identify challenges and to find solutions to them.

The designers can also use methods which don’t require them to be in direct contact with users to understand them. Creating personas means that the designers define user personas with characteristics describing their needs, expectations, emotions and limitations. Personas can be used to test different scenarios when designing the service. Personas also help the designers to keep in mind that they are designing services for actual people. User journey maps can be used to track a user’s service experience, their emotional state during the service path, and to spot the user’s possible pain points in it.

Enhance Your Empathy

Do you consider yourself not empathetic enough as a person? The good news is that empathy can be practiced and reinforced. Even though empathy basically is an individual characteristic or a skill, we can practice it through training and discussion. Through direct contact with the users, we can better immerse ourselves into their world and their experiences. Role-playing helps us to understand the challenges the users face in their everyday life. With prototyping we can test how our ideas work with users and we can receive valuable feedback from them.

Picture of prototyping exercise with Legos
Practicing prototyping at Laurea University of Applied Sciences

When talking about Service Design and Design Thinking, creativity and empathy walk hand in hand. But it’s not just creative and empathetic individuals that design great services. Organizations and businesses need culture that fosters creativity, and for that they need to enforce empathy as a part of their strategy. To succeed in this, the organizations must encourage their employees to step into the users’ lives and motivate their empathy. Cultural changes do not happen easily, and they take time. Successful organizations understand that and make the investment.

To learn more about enhancing your empathy read The New York Times Guide How to Be More Empathetic.

The blog post was written by Otso Saarikoski and Katja Varjela, Laurea University of Applied Sciences students in Service Innovation and Design MBA programme.


Kolko, J. 2015. Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. Harvard Business Review, September 2015, 66-71. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Kouprie, M & Sleeswijk Visser, F. 2009. A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design. 20 (5), 437–448. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Mootee, I. 2013. Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Tschimmel, K. 2021. Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. Perspectives on Design II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-79879-6_1

Tschimmel, K. 2022. Design Thinking. [lecture]. Held 2-3 September 2022. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Tschimmel, K. and several authors. 2022. Are They or Are They Not? Creativity and Innovation Affairs. Mindshake. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Reflections on Design Thinking: a conversation with Sheena OhUiginn and Anmol Kumar

As budding Service Designers, coming together with this diverse group for three days of collaboration and problem solving was an incredible way to kick off our studies. After a few days of reading and reflecting, two of us sat down to discuss the experience and share our thoughts… 

Anmol: What an amazing and intensive master class! 

Sheena: Agreed, I’m looking forward to discussing this with you! Let’s start broad – What was your biggest “lightbulb moment” from our Design Thinking contact sessions? Did anything inspire or surprise you?

Anmol: It really surprised me how much human psychology plays a role in not only designing something aimed at end-users but also in the amount of psychological aspects that are important when designing a team and considering the personality dynamics among team members.

Sheena: Absolutely. I thought it was really interesting how certain activities and models are designed to help limit any hierarchy or otherwise change the dynamics to encourage contributions from everyone. For example, the Idea Hitlist activity really fostered empathy and compromise within our group. 

Anmol: Indeed! All the group work helped us get to know each other and work as a team.

Sheena: The workshop put us into groups and had us work together to identify a problem, conduct some research on campus, and begin prototyping our solution, leveraging the Mindshake Evolution 62 model. What did you learn most from our group and how can you see this informing your future approaches to Service Innovation and Design?

Mindshake design thinking model

Anmol: This was a great way to put knowledge into practice. It was quite fascinating to go through each step of the service design processes. With so little time, we came up with great ideas as well as rapid prototypes. I would definitely implement these steps in my future projects. 

How would you suggest that service design be integrated in current business models?

Sheena: Oh good question. I really do believe that Design Thinking is steadily becoming the most effective driver of business innovation and that the best way to integrate Service Design is by embracing the mindset. A lot of what has been taught in business schools hasn’t changed in over 30 years and is really rooted in a distorted concept of value. 

One of the books in Laurea’s ebook Library, Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation by Idris Mootee discusses this really clearly. Montee posits that “more than 80 percent of our management tools, systems, and techniques are for value-capture efforts, not for value creation” (Mootee, 2013, 59). What I think he means here is that we’ve been totally preoccupied with consistency and predictability and in doing so we’ve dampened our ability to innovate. 

Anmol: One of the best ways to move past the obvious is to conduct interviews. I will be going to focus more on collecting field data from end-users to further polish my prototyping. As rightly conceptualized, “Service designing is a constantly evolving process” (Brown, 2008) and end-users input is a key factor in improving design.

“Faces of creativity” Drawing of Sheena and Anmol

Sheena: I really appreciated how eager you were to talk to people on campus. I can be a bit shy, but it’s important to talk to your users – they might surprise you! Montee says that “innovation is about maximizing the chance of lucky surprises” (Mootee, 2013, 52), and so I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I think that one of the most valuable ways to integrate Design Thinking into current business models is to really focus on fostering a mindset that aims to push past the obvious and find something surprising, even if the unpredictability requires you to give up a bit of that control. 

Anmol: That takes a lot of creativity.

Sheena: It really does. I like how Katja Tschimmel posits that Innovation arises at the intersection of Creativity, Design, and Design Thinking and that Service Designers must form a nuanced understanding of the definitions of and relationship between these three concepts (“Creativity, Design and Design Thinking—A Human-Centred Ménage à Trois for Innovation,” 2021)

Throughout the Design Thinking contact sessions, where else did you see Creativity and Design come into play? Did you come out of the workshop with a deeper understanding of these distinct concepts?

Anmol: I certainly came out with a deeper understanding of these distinct yet essentially interconnected concepts. Creativity leads to better design and a better design fuels further creativity. In my opinion, this interlink is not so linear, but rather a more circular process in the design thinking process.

Sheena: That’s really interesting. I look forward to our next sessions and furthering my learning with you and the rest of the class!

Written by SID 2022 students Sheena OhUiginn and Anmol Kumar


Brown, T. (2008, June). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review.

Creativity, Design and Design Thinking—A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. (2021). In J. Neves, J. Silva, & D. Raposo (Eds.), Perspectives on Design II: Research, Education and Practice. Springer International Publishing.

Midshake. (n.d.). Design Thinking. Mindshake. Retrieved September 25, 2022, from

Mootee, I. (2013). Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business Or Design School. Wiley.

Unleashing our inner creativity- the more we practice, the easier it gets 

Anyone can be creative. That was the key thought gathered from the book Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. Too often creativity is associated with being artistic. In its’ essence, creativity is about finding solutions to open-ended problems – a natural part of us, that we must just learn to unblock.

How does one improve their creative thinking abilities and get rid of the fear of failure, the one thing holding so many of us back from realizing our inner creative potential? One way is through Design Thinking processes, the repetition of which can not only harness our brains to be more in tune with our creativity, but help us realize that failure is an inevitable risk in any endeavour. Every step of a creative journey – whether a triumph or a failure, is a step forward. The one taking the most steps is the most prone to succeed. 

“The inescapable link between failure and innovation is a lesson you can learn only through doing.”  

First steps of ideation 

In a Design Thinking workshop, such as the one we recently attended called Design Thinking Masterclass, taught by Katja Tschimmel, teams were challenged to “shake their collective brains” by going through a process of different creative steps and phases to come up with innovative solutions to open-ended problems and arrive at new, more or less ready-to-go ideas in the end.  

Our creative problem during this workshop was to innovate ways to reduce food waste at the school’s lunch cafeteria. As an example, one step of this creative process was prototyping. As Kouprie and Sleeswijk Visser expressed in their 2009 article titled A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life, “to evaluate if an early idea would fit the user’s needs, the designers could step in the user’s world, discover what aspects would have influence on the product use, wander around, try to understand how the user would feel and evaluate how the idea can be improved according to the imaginary user’s situation.” One way to step into the user’s world in this case was through prototyping what happens during the service scenario being innovated upon. 

Photo 1. Example of the prototyping phase during our workshop.  

In the book Creative Confidence, it is mentioned that Claudia Kotchka, vice president of design innovation and strategy at Procter & Gamble used similar workshops successfully at her company to get executives to brainstorm problems requiring creative thinking. 

“The workshop moves so fast they don’t have time to question the process. They are immediately engaged.” 

The above quote encapsulates the feeling during Mrs. Tschimmel’s workshop perfectly as well. You were constantly being challenged to come up with new ideas together. Especially the multicultural and multidisciplinary aspect of the teams resulted in a lot of energized discussion and fluid building of ideas on top of the previous ones. I suspect all of us would have had trouble assigning any specific idea to any individual team member after the workshop. 

“Bringing together a variety of life experiences and contrasting perspectives results in a creative tension that often leads to more innovative and interesting ideas.” 

Photo 2. Example of storyboarding during the Design Thinking Masterclass workshop.  

In closing, it can be said that the power of Design Thinking workshops lies in the very beginning of this post: anyone can be creative. Creativity helps us solve big and small problems daily, whether in our professional or personal lives. As creative confidence is defined as “the ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out”, as with any other ability, being confident helps us move forward. The first step could be as easy as trying to rediscover the familiar: doing something you do every day, a different way, and paying close attention to new thoughts that pop up in your head. You might just discover something new you’ve never thought about before. 

Written by Anna Laidinen & Janne Rönkkö


Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business. ( Quotes from pages 32, 103, 137, 147. 

Kouprie, M & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2009) Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437–448. Quote from page 10.

Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95. 

Design Kit.

Design Thinking: An Introduction. System Concepts.

Design for Humans

Design is the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones. – The Science of the Artificial, Herbert Simon

We, humans, are surrounded by an endless number of obstacles. From our evolution, we are designing new tools to deal with such obstacles. We keep on designing and optimizing such tools. We design, test, and iterate every time to create an improved version of the tool in each iteration. Not only the tools(engineering) but similar patterns can be seen in different fields such as art, literature, music, and so on. The iterative approach of creating a solution to the problem by understanding both human (users’) needs and problems by prototyping and testing is known as design thinking[1]. Carlgren et al. in their studies on companies have found design thinking could be themed as user focus, problem framing, visualization, experimentation, and diversity[2]. User focus is a key theme found in all companies.

A design is successful only if it has a human as a central element by balancing other elements.

© 2022 by Katja Tschimmel / MINDSHAKE for SID / Laurea University

As mentioned above and pictured in the image, human-centered design can be a way to reach successful results in design processes. In his study, Lockwood (2010: 134) highlights empathy for the customer as the most important principle to focus on in design [3]. It is important to understand customers’ articulated and unarticulated needs. Without deep empathy for and understanding of the customer, design thinking process is likely to lead to unfunctional or otherwise weaker results.

Understanding the customer puts human at the center of the design process. Another point of view is to see the design thinking practice and designers themselves playing a role that enhances human-centricity. The practice of design thinking tolerates failure, trial, and error in order to get results. (Kolko 2015) [4] It is, in a way, a more human and open-minded way of design. Human-centered design thinking is not only for humans but also from humans.

Anyone who wants to solve any human problem could be a design thinker. Design thinking is a cognitive process that forces a designer to answer four questions for a problem:

What is? What if? What wows? What works?

Source: Liedtka & Ogilvie 2011 [5]

What is?

What is the initial step of the design thinking process. In this step, designer (or team) begins with design brief, scope of the project and intent. In this phase, we can use different tools such as visualization, journey mapping, value chain analysis and mind mapping. Diagram shows intent map created in class to make the act of wasting more visible to make University more sustainable. This phase will help us to frame the problem and create insight of the problem by placing user in center. It will help to know the constraints that shape the solutions and criteria to define success.

What if?

In what if, team will ask all the possible questions to unlock all the possible doors for the solutions. The diverse team will help to analyze and glance problem for all possible angles and lens. It is divergent process where is no limitation on the possible solutions. This process is followed by the convergent process in which all the list possible solutions are ranked and evaluated. For an example, in intent described above we used evaluation matrix to arrange collected ideas in feasibility and impact axis as shown in figure.

What wows?

To find out what wows, it is needed to test the idea in question, which can be done via assumption testing and prototyping. The team must come up with the most central assumptions and test them. Initial stages of testing can involve only thinking and be done as thought experiments, after which there can be also physical experiments. In prototyping, the team builds a visual or experimental prototype of the concept to test. As an example, in the project described above, we prototyped the idea with legos to materialize and test our idea in an experimental way.

What works?

This is the final stage of a design thinking process, which aims to differentiate inventions from innovations. Customer co-creations are one tool to find out what works. It means collaboration with potential customers, having them try out the prototypes, and observing their reactions. Finally, a product or service can be beta tested in the marketplace. As a practical example, we asked other students to test the lego prototype, observed their reactions, and asked for their feedback all to develop the idea.

“Design thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing. It can’t be extra; it needs to be a core competence.” – Jon Kolko [4]

Written by Service Innovation and Design MBA students Shishir Bhattarai and A.H.


  1. Rikke Friis Dam & Teo Yu Siang (2022). What is design thinking and why is it so popular.
  2. Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. (2016). Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.
  3. Lockwood, Thomas (ed. by) (2010). Design thinking: integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value. New York: Allworth Press.
  4. Kolko, J. (2015). Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. Harvard Business Review, September 2015, 66-71.
  5. Liedtka, Jeanne & Ogilvie, Tim (2011). Designing for growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Gallery: Images from university workshop