Thinking with our hands and hearts

With emerging complex health and societal problems, such as Covid-19 and climate change, the world needs creative mindset and collaboration more than ever. Two new Laurea SID students interviewed each other about the key elements of design thinking after taking the master class of design thinking at Laurea.

Design thinking brings different people together and aims to liberate their creativity. Photo by Unsplash

M: Ahmed, what made you interested in service design?

A:  Well, I was born and raised in Egypt. It’s a country with no structure, and for me being creative was the only chance of survival. I have always dreamed of assisting humanity and adding value to the world. While I was participating in a fellowship in Washington and working on a digital application, I got introduced to service design. During the master class in Finland, I learnt that design thinking is actually a language of empathy and creativity, and that it allows us to create better solutions that are tailored based on consumer’s needs. What about you, Mirkka?

M: That’s so fascinating. I can certainly recognise the desire for wanting to create something meaningful that’s valuable for people and the planet we live in. I have previously studied social anthropology and have been always interested in human behaviour. While working in the communications roles, I have noticed that often companies lack resources or tools to understand consumers and service users. I agree that catching the valuable “native’s point of view”, as described in anthropology, is essential in order to create better services. Nowadays it´s even more important because we live in a world where every service is expected to be a great experience.

Design thinking tools include different techniques and activities. For example, mind mapping makes it possible to identify untapped opportunities.

A: What are your first impressions about design thinking based on the course?

M: One reason I like the design thinking approach is that it brings different people and perspectives together. It forces people to think differently, and more visually. Design thinking means exploring new opportunities, “thinking with your hands”, as Tim Brown puts it in his book Change by design. During our class, the creativity exercises demonstrated well how our own perspective is limited to what we understand and know already. If we want to find new solutions it’s essential to create an environment where a constant flow of exchanging ideas takes place. I see that the tools of design thinking are facilitating that shared process of thinking differently.

A: I totally agree with you. Also in my opinion, The Mindshake Design Thinking Model Evolution 6² with its six steps makes the process of innovating even more logical. In my opinion, empathy is the most important part of the design thinking process. Empathy focuses more on the consumer’s feelings and experience, by how they think, and what they feel. When an innovation project is based on the deep understanding of the consumer, you can develop truly creative solutions. Without empathy results can be very unsatisfying.

Design thinking in practise at Laurea. Fast prototyping makes it possible to build a shared understanding and vision and to test and improve ideas.

M: I agree that the user understanding is probably one of the most important elements in the design thinking process. Without it the service might be innovative but not necessarily needed or wanted. Empathic design requires curiosity and motivation from designers but also design techniques that assist designers in stepping into the world of a user. I used to understand empathy as an individual attribute, not as something you can trigger in yourself or in others or even create systematically. But it makes sense, even literature or theater uses the very same tools. Yet, I think that even empathy or user data isn’t enough if designers seek to be human-centered. Whenever possible, the users should be included in designing the services that matter to them. After all, they are the people whose lives we are designing.

A: Exactly the point. I also see that testing and evolving ideas is very important. One of the tools that grabbed my attention is the feedback map. The design team will develop and elaborate the prototype based on the consumers’ feedback. Only after this point you can be assured that the idea is 100 per cent user-centric. I can’t wait to apply all of these tools to the design challenges of our times.

M: Indeed. We really need new ways to tackle the world’s complex issues and in that design thinking can be very useful.

Text by Ahmed Abdrabo and Mirkka Helkkula

A note from authors: We wanted to test a different method of writing an article, using a dialogue as a format. We also used images to feed our imagination. Our goal was to demonstrate how an unconventional concept combined with a free flow of thoughts could create something unexpected, similarly to a design thinking process.

Inspired by:

Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

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

Kouprie, M & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2009) A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. in Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437–448

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.   

Tschimmel, Katja (2018). Evolution 6² Toolkit: An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Mindshake.

10 thoughts on “Thinking with our hands and hearts

  1. Hi Mirkka and Ahmed,

    I really liked your chose format, the dialog. It gives the blog a more personal touch, while allowing you to also convey facts on design thinking.

    I fully agree with Ahmed’s comment on empathy being the most important part of the design thinking process. For our blog, Elena and I read Michlewski’s Design Attitude. Michlewski did ethnographic research within the professional designer community and based on his research defined five aspects of what he calls design attitude. One of these five aspects was “Engaging deep empathy”. According to him, deep empathy requires courage, honesty and abandoning one’s mental models.

    Last weekend I saw someone carrying a bag that said “Empathy is a superpower”. And so it is. Also in Design Thinking 🙂

    (The other 4 aspects of design attitude are:

    Embracing uncertainty and ambiguity
    Embracing the power of the five senses
    Playfully bringing things to life)


  2. Hups, left out the last one and am not able to edit my previous comment. So here the last aspect in a separate post 🙂

    Creating new meaning from complexity:


  3. Mirkka and Ahmed,

    I want to give you a big hand for your fresh way to compose this blog post! I do it in two roles: as a SID student and a communications consultant. I felt like I got to know you a bit, in addition to interesting knowledge about the topic.

    Mirkka wrote that one reason to like design thinking approach is that it brings different people and perspectives together. Design thinking works just like that in your post as well, the authors come from totally different backgrounds but there they are, writing this together as SID students and aiming to find new ways to tackle the world’s complex issues.

    Ahmed, I agree with you that empathy, the ability “to walk in someone else’s shoes”, is the most important part of the design thinking process. When you develop empathy, you become skilled not only as a designer, but also at managing relationships, listening and relating to others. And like most skills, empathy doesn’t happen overnight. I hope we’ll practice seeing things from another’s perspective a lot during our studies!

  4. Thank you for an interesting post Mirkka and Ahmed.
    I do relate with Mirkka’s comment that companies (or even civil society organisations) lack resources and tools to understand their consumers/users/stakeholders. However, I think it is foremost an attitude issue within the organisation. If the empathy, user experience and stakeholder participation in co-creating services would be considered important enough, I argue that the resources would follow. Fortunately, I think design thinking is becoming more familiar and more valued as we speak. So, I agree fully with the importance of user understanding – and hope that you will come up with creative, amazing solutions to save the planet in your future careers!
    Br, Minna

  5. Hi Ahmed and Mirkka,

    I think that the Oscar for creative writing of SID blog ‘2020 goes to you!

    I was impressed reading you dialogue, you certainly succeeded in bringing your own personality and demonstrate your great attitude to the subject at the same time. I was especially touched when you described your desires to make changes, assist humanity and create something meaningful for people. And I agree with your point, that creating value through service development is very important nowadays, because as Mirkka wrote, every service is expected to be a great experience. That’s true, simply good service is not necessarily enough for user. People tend to desire a special approach and positive feelings even when visit a dentist, for example. I don’t think this should be seen as a wrong or negative thing, but users’ high expectations surely increase the role of empathy and human-focused design thinking in innovation.

    Thank you for your nice post,
    BR. Lena

  6. Great work Mirkka and Ahmed! It was really good choice to use dialoque format, it immediately catches the eye of a reader. Nice to read about your very different professional backrounds and the root of interest towards service design.

    Looking forward to future collaboration with you!


  7. Hi Mirkka & Ahmed!

    I think you managed to capture the essence of design thinking wonderfully in your headline! I also like the different approach you chose to write your blog text; it was interesting to follow your thoughts and dialogue.

    Ahmed, I love the way you describe design thinking as a language of empathy and creativity – I totally agree with you! And like you Mirkka continue Ahmed’s observations, I also recognise desing thinking and service design above all as powerful tools to create something meaningful for people and for our planet.

    I also read the Tim Brown’s book you quote on your blog and liked it a lot. To be able to follow his advice “Don’t just do design, live design”, you will definitely need not only your hand but also your heart. As you both pointed out, without empathy and user understanding, the service might be innovative but not necessarily needed or wanted. You definitely need both sides of the coin to be able to create services and innovations that will make a difference.


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