Design Thinking – what´s that got to do with me?

Starting out I was not really sure what this is all about, I mean, I signed up to study service development and first thing off when the semester starts they put me in a class about design. Design, not my line of activity (or so I thought). Of course I soon noticed the idea behind starting off the whole study program with the Design Thinking course, rather brilliant actually.

As said, I was a bit confused in the beginning, but, I did suspect there was a master plan behind the layout of the course set-up. Mind you, during the introduction day on Sept. 3rd we did not really get a whole lot more info about the set-up than: “Design thinking starts tomorrow 9 am, be on time”.

So, day 1, students packed into a room, teachers and slides, a typical set-up (I remember this…), but no, something´s different; there is more excitement and expectation in the air, the whole scene is relaxed and easy going. We have visiting teachers from abroad, that´s nice – they are probably good at what they do since they have come all the way from Portugal (and they are good at what they do). There is kind of an agenda for the day(s) but nothing really concrete but I decide not to mind and just go with the flow.

Out come the slides, theory, background, history, different methods etc. We start talking about a design thinking model called Evolution 6 > now I understand where this is going, I have seen and done this, it was just called something less exiting, but the principle is the same: gather input, analyse, plan, develop, test and deploy.

During the following two days we did a group work around the Evolution 6 model, I must admit I enjoyed this, it was a fun task with nice people. My group ended up renewing the intranet of Laurea (how ambitious is that?). We got to do a lot of thinking, drawing, lego´s, coffeedrinking and talking. All groups did a good job (as the first task in this school with these people). The walk through of the projects at the end revealed very similar kind of results, what surprised me the most was that the “restonomi” group teams came up with development ideas that all could (if you wanted to) be seamlessly integrated to each other – and this without the teams cooperating when starting off on their own projects. Impressive I´d say.

So people were happy and at good spirit and group work went well, but how was the course overall in my opinion then: good for most parts and as mentioned I did eventually understand why the training program started off with Design Thinking as a theme. Anything to improve then, well maybe the overall agenda for the two days, it was kind of missing the whole time and that annoyed people a bit, but then again, it might also have been a deliberate approach…

The course included some compulsory reading as well: Katja Tschimmel´s article “Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation” and a book, I chose to read “Muotoiluajattelu” by Satu Miettinen (Red.).

Katja´s article argues about the evolution of Design Thinking as a toolkit for any modern discipline, not just traditional design of e.g. furniture or vehicles, this she concretes in the statement: “Design Thinking (DT) is not only now a motor for innovation promoted by designers, but it offers new models of processes and toolkits which help to improve, accelerate and visualise every creative process, carried out not only by designers, but in multidisciplinary teams in any kind of organisation.” Well put. By giving a walk-through of the evolution of design methods and how those have evolved over the past ~ 50 years, she keeps coming back to the theme of user centered design. I should have read the article before going to class, but did not have it by then (and maybe this was the intention as well). One thing that struck me while reading about different models of the Design Thinking Process was that all models are linear, you gather input, design and create output. In the IT industry focus is already shifting from the linear model to the Agile development model (have a look at:, I wonder how well this is incorporated in Design Thinking already?

The book “Muotoiluajattelu” I chose as it seems to be addressing the current state of Design thinking in Finland, I thought I better start locally and not embrace the world at once since this is a somewhat new territory for me. In the book different people who are in some way influencers in the matter write their own chapters or “stories” and they wary a lot. The main message of the book is that in Finland, design has traditionally been seen as the “desing of things” with an engineering approach, now there needs to be a shift into “desing of everything” and how the global design scene is becoming more evident. I´d like to make a quote here as well, Anne Stenros of Kone puts it like this:

We design:

  • To simplify complex and multidimensional products and services for people to use and administrate.
  • So that quality, usability and user safety are top class.
  • Because of environmental and sustainable values
  • To enhance the human importance (design for all)
  • Because of emotions
  • Because of success with the intent to produce better products and solutions in global competition.

Well said.

Thomas Riska

2 thoughts on “Design Thinking – what´s that got to do with me?

  1. I was also wondering the same thing about whether it was a deliberate decision to not give us too much information about the subject (or the schedule) of the course or not. Either way, in the end all of it made sense, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. It ended up being a very interesting and innovative course, that started the studies in an exciting way for us new students at Laurea.

  2. Thank you for the well written blog. Absolutely agree, it seemed rather interesting that we were not explained too much about the topic at the start. Some things only started to make more sense through the following courses. Despite this however the Design thinking course was a very nice start to the studies with lots of interaction and new things to learn.

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