Design when everybody designs

When, a couple of years ago, I announced I was going to quit my job to attend the HPI School of Design Thinking, most of my family and friends thought I was about to neglect the business path I had been following to find my true self in sketching trees on a notebook. (Which, by the way, is a back thought I never really excluded).

Later on, when sitting next to a scientist, a film producer, a psychologist and a dancer, all aiming to become design thinkers, I wondered what would bring us all together.

Once clarified that our goal was not to become excellent drawers, what does design mean to us? And if background is not a differentiator, what’s that make us feel in the right place?

Tim Brown (2008) lists a number of characteristics shaping the profile of a design thinker:

  • Empathy, as in the ability to observe situation from multiple perspectives
  • Integrative thinking, as in approaching a problem holistically
  • Optimism, as in having trust in finding a solution that fits, no matter how blurry the process is
  • Experimentalism, as in curiosity and resilience to failure
  • Collaboration, as in a natural tendency to work in teams


This last point is further explained, again by Tim Brown in his book “Change by design”, where he summarizes the profile of  design thinker as a “T-shaped” person, meaning someone with a deep expertise that can clearly contribute to the outcome, but also with a certain capacity and disposition for collaboration across disciplines.

In other words, the success of your output is not (only) related to you being a successful artist or a talented engineer, but rather to an inclination to lower your ego and work in symphony with other people toward a common goal.  


This is what we tried out on our own skin during the Practical Design Thinking masterclass led in early September by Katja Tschimmel at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Throughout the two-days course, we had our very first occasion to get to know each other by applying Mindshake’s Innovation & Design Thinking Model “Evolution 6²” to the challenge of improving the student experience at Laurea.



Among the various tools and methods falling under the “Evolution 6²” Model, which is articulated in 6 phases (Emergence, Empathy, Experimentation, Elaboration, Exposition, Extension) I was particularly impressed by the following two:

  • Opportunity Mindmap (E1 Emergence): it consists in organizing information in a visual way, in order to portray a theme in its general overview, but also break it down into sub-sections that can be connected one another and highlight potential opportunities.
  • Semantic confrontation (E3 Experimentation): an ideation technique that challenges a team to think differently by combining two ideas to generate a new one based on unexpected and unusual associations.


These two days together ended with a few key takeaways:

  • Design Thinking today is more than a set of principles: it is an effective toolkit that, embraced with the right mindset, connects the creative design approach to traditional business thinking with the aim of solving complex problems through innovative, non obvious solutions (Katja Tschimmel)
  • Collaboration among team members is key to achieving a successful outcome
  • Creativity is a quality to be trained, and that applies to us all.


“Creativity is not painting yourself in blue and running through a forest while screaming. It is actually about sorting out stuff and finding workarounds to real life challenges. Like accountants do everyday.

Adam StJohn Lawrence, co-founder of WorkPlayExperience and co-initiator of the Global Service Jam


Relieved about not having to impress anyone with a glossy pair of glasses, I now look forward to see what inner resources the rest of this Service Innovation and Design journey will unleash in all of us.  



Brown, Tim. 2008. Design Thinking

Tschimmel, Katja. 2013. Design Thinking as on effective Toolkit for Innovation

Brown, Tim. 2009. Change by design

2 thoughts on “Design when everybody designs

  1. Your question, “If background is not a differentiator, what’s that make us feel in the right place?” is a very valid one. Usually when studying for a career, it’s some general field of specialty that unites any group of students. But I think the power of design thinking lies just in the fact that it can be applied to virtually any field, and that’s why it draws people with such a huge scale of backgrounds. This makes me think of Tim Brown’s idea of a T-shaped person that you mentioned. Maybe background is, after all, a differentiator in that design thinkers can go both deep (when it comes to building your talent, education, expertise etc.) and wide (when it comes to learning from the background of others).

  2. I like your interpretation of the T-shaped personality as one that do not focus solely on the final destination, but rather on the journey. In this train of thoughts, Design Thinking is the “guide” that provide us orientation during the journey, while its visual tools serve as the “clues” that will shape our path.

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