My first contact with Design Thinking in practice –a mixture of inspiration, excitement and a big helping of confusion.

Our class’ Service Design studies at Laurea started with a two-day learning project with IDEO’s Mariana Valença as our facilitator and guide through the Mindshake Design Thinking Model Evolution 6², developed by Katja Tschimmel. At first the project seemed like fun and games at first –  with drawing mind maps and making models with Legos. It didn’t take long to realize that despite of what it may look like a new student in the field, coming up with ideas and words together as a team, maybe building up on another team mate’s idea, coming to a consensus of the direction for the product or service, and executing the given tasks in a short time frame is in fact hard (brain)work.

We started to build the project from a mind map. Whereas many of the other teams’ projects dealt with software-based services, our project moved more to the direction of study environments, what opportunities there are to make them more convenient and inspiring for students, as well as how attending a lecture might be like in the future, both in physical and virtual classrooms. Some sources of inspiration for the future classroom might be the interior design company DSIGN Vertti Kivi & Co. and Kalasatama primary School, a new school in Helsinki designed by JKMM Architects.

New ideas emerge from diversity and inclusion

David Kelley explained IDEO’s unorthodox approach to problem solving in an interview on 60 Minutes (YouTube Jan. 06, 2013), which is by throwing a bunch of people with different backgrounds in a room. It reminds me of my class in Laurea. On the first day of our studies everyone were to introduce themselves. As I listened to everyone’s stories about their lives, professions and how they ended up that room, I was fascinated about the diversity of fields of expertise and how different we all are. “The hardest part is to have a diverse group of people and having them be good at building up on each other’s ideas” (David Kelley). I think we gave a good effort at it, but it is certainly something to keep working on.

Another element of the Design Thinking process is inclusion. Instead of trying to tackle a problem in a small group, Design thinking aims to reach solutions by including all of the people involved in the process, as seen in Tim Brown’s article Design Thinking in Harvard Business Review (June 2008, p. 86).

Iteration, Iteration, Iteration.

One of the most difficult parts of the design process to accept is that mistakes are an important part of the process. (D-Think, 7). According to my past experiences in the work life, mistakes are often frowned upon and there isn’t very much room for them. I know this well because I’ve learnt it the hard way. Having being programmed that mistakes are bad (which is true in some cases), accepting errors and taking back a step to redesign or rethink a part of a process was a challenging task. Yet at the same time it is a comforting thought that it’s o.k. to be imperfect. Given the time frame for our project there was simply no time to go and take a step back as the project had to move on. A part of me is left curious to find out what may have come if we’d been given a little more time to go back on certain parts of the process. Say, about a week.

Practice of empathy

One of the key points to Design Thinking is empathy – figuring out what humans really want or need by close observation and interviews. I consider myself an empathetic person. Yet, as our project moved forward, I realized I still have a lot to learn about the true understanding of human needs and really trying to understand the problem from the user’s perspective. I found out that, in some cases, even if the evidence was against my hypothesis, I was keen to move forward with our original idea anyway – because it seemed appealing to myself, and not regarding the feedback based on for example our image interviews. It could be also argued that, as Nigel Cross (2011, 21-22) pointed out, I was too attached to my favorite idea instead of looking at the problem more objectively and from several angles, which turned out to be this designer’s weakness.

On the basis of this acknowledgement, in conclusion I find that service design is in its essence serving people  – by putting aside personal desires and listening more carefully to find the best possible solution. I will try to take this lesson to heart and take it with me when moving on to new projects.


Cross, Nigel, 2011. Design Thinking: Understanding how designers think and work. New York, NY. Berg.

Dsign Vertti Kivi & Co.

Tim Brown, 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review. 

SRV 2016. Redi, Kalasatama primary school.

Tschimmel, Katja, 2015. Evolution 6²

Tschimmel, Santos, Loyens, Jacinto, Monteiro & Valença, 2015. D-Think Research Report. Portugal, ESAD Matosinhos.

2 thoughts on “My first contact with Design Thinking in practice –a mixture of inspiration, excitement and a big helping of confusion.

  1. For me it helps to think catching mistakes and success, along the process. It is success to you and your process to capture those ideas and details that migth not work so well as early as possible. It would be a bigger issue to put hundreds of hours e.g. developers time into the project and publish it just to find those mistakes. Well that happens occasionally too, but you can still think that by finding the mistake right after launching it you still have chance to do something about it before that many people see it and got disappointed.

  2. Well said! I find it very interesting that you also thought of moving along so quickly was bad for the process. It is a good example for us to remember when we are the ones to “lead” the process. The last chapter of your blog post was especially moving to me. I think I also have so much to learn about empathy.

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