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.
”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.
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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-79879-6_1
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.
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.
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. https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age
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.
For yourself? For the leadership who asked you to drive a new project? Think again. One of the first phases of applying Design Thinking is understanding who your audience is by building a deeper understanding of who you are designing for. Steven Portigal shares a great reminder by saying; “You may be a user but be careful of being seduced into designing for yourself.”
Once you are familiar with who you are designing for, it is essential to remember that products and services should be always experienced from the user’s perspective via empathy.
In Design Thinking, empathy means understanding what the user needs, wants, feels and thinks. It is also a key part understanding why they demonstrate certain behaviors and thoughts. This leads to a question; How can one empathize with the user? To gain empathy with the users we should imagine being in their shoes. Ideally, as a designer it is extremely helpful to observe them in their natural environment, whether that is an office, a factory, a shop or home. Furthermore, if we want to empathize with the users it helps to try to adopt a mindset of a beginner. This means to drop our own assumptions and biases while making those observations.
Design Thinking is seen as a human-centred approach to solve problems, and in Design Thinking there is also an effective toolkit for innovations (Katja Tschimmel 2012). In the beginning of Service Design process, the importance of collaboration with the users is obvious. According to Kouprie and Visser there are three techniques for empathic research: direct contact, communication and stimulating ideation. Observation is one of the most effective techniques to have direct contact with a user. Beside observation, there are two other base elements of a successful design thinking process: insight and empathy, states Tim Brown.
Role of Storytelling
After observation, designer’s next goal is to translate observations to insight and try to represent the user’s experience somehow for example by storytelling. A good story well told delivers a powerful emotional and perhaps an intimate experience. Storytelling also helps in a biggest challenge of Design Thinking, which is to help people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have. Satiro and Tschimmel (2020) have highlighted, that a story makes the message more accessible, and it engage the audience to the innovation. Stories can be formed in multiple ways, such as digital storytelling, visual storytelling, storyboards, scenario generation, storytelling through videos, plays and such. Based on the storytelling method, we can generate questions and those questions can lead to more innovative ideas and concepts.
“You need to turn ideas into stories that matter to people” – Jennifer Greenwood, Storytelling and Design Thinking expert
A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like all innovations processes should have. The one reason why storytelling needs to be part of the design thinker tool kit, is that it organizes information in a temporal and sequential way.
Written by SID 2022 students Heidi Gustafsson & Minna Vainio
Today, the uncertainty around us is overwhelming. The world is saturated with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA). However, we need to manage our daily lives, improve, create, and deliver. Design Thinking (DT) methods provide us with a chain of systematic approaches to tackle the novel beast head-on and conquer. The DT process takes us from identifying the customer problem, analyzing it, coming up with ideas, validating solutions via prototypes, introducing them to others to receiving customer feedback. Yet, under the disruptive global pandemic, customer empathy is the key. But why?
Customer empathy research creates a deep understanding of the issue at hand, especially when what we earlier knew is no longer valid in the VUCA environment. The new norm and related changes in customer’s pains and needs must be thoroughly understood. According to DT principles, emphasizing requires that the customers’ issues be approached both from the favourable and endorsing position and from the more constructive aspects – challenge the existing! There must be a dialogue and an interaction between the Service Designer and the customer. The empathic insights in design are derived from three types of knowledge, that of
Customer needs. Deliver Design Thinking course remotely for the first time.
Delivery language (culture, information media). English with international participants.
Technological. Zoom and Miro. Which together provide a complete frame for knowledge construction and therefore enables empathy.
How did we manage in reality?
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Laurea Design Thinking Masterclass 2021 was organized fully online. Instead of chit-chatting with fellow students in the classroom with post-its and whiteboards, most of us sipped our coffees alone in front of the laptop screen – at home.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all methodology for bringing new ideas to life, empathy is a key feature in the human-centred design thinking processes. Several tools have been developed to support an empathic design process. We were able to grasp some of them during the two intensive sprint days.
Empathy in design means leaving the office and becoming immersed in the lives, environments, attitudes, experiences and dreams of the future users. According to Katja Schimmel, design students should become process experts with context-sensitivity and a human-centred systemic view.
Digital tools are not ideal for expressing emotions and for capturing various human traits such as empathy. In digital communications, empathy requires special attention.
We listed our key takeaways from the Masterclass, which can be useful when deepening empathy in remote Design Thinking processes.
Design Thinking online requires excellent planning and preparations. For example, ready-made Miro templates can make the process smoother if there are many first-time users.
Use creative tools to enhance empathy. For example, we practised our listening skills by introducing each other to the group and did most of the exercises in groups of five persons to build closer connections.
Keep the team motivated with digestible content and “learning by doing”. When one has a passion to learn, small technological challenges cannot stop them.
Patience, humour and mutual support – oh no, a gigantic photo of Leonardo DiCaprio just invaded our Miro board! A good laugh (and solid technological skills) help to overcome most of the challenges.
Written by Anna-Sofia Joro and Jukka Kuusela
SID MBA Students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences
“There is only one valid purpose of a corporation: to create a customer” (Drucker, 2006). As called by some “the father of modern management”, Peter Drucker drew attention to customer-centricity 67 years ago, dividing the management practice into two camps: those who strive for customer value creation vs. value extraction. But today, it is clear who the winners are.
However, firms that strive for customer value creation face newer and newer challenges today. As Daniel Pink writes (in Brown, 2008): “Abundance has […] over-satisfied, the material needs of millions—boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning”. In response, truly customer-centric firms need to deliver not only products but experiences wrapped with both tangible and intangible value propositions (Brown, 2008). More, contemporary customers demand more and more complex experiences.
Building more complex experiences and delivering intangible value requires a deep understanding of users’ emotions, desires, aspirations, wants, needs, expectations, and experience (Kolko, 2015). What’s more, it requires interpreting the complexity of the context in which the users exist and interact. This is where Design Thinking comes to the rescue by providing the approach and the tools for “sense making” through “empathy” (Tschimmel, 2022; Kolko, 2015; Mootee, 2013; Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009).
In the real world, user problems don’t exist as problems but present themselves through problematic situations (Mootee, 2013). The task for the organization is then interpreting these problematic situations. Empathy provides us a way to relate to the user, understand the situation, and understand why certain experiences are meaningful to people (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009). It enables us to capture information that can’t be transcribed in quantitative means but in the form of stories—or as Koupre and Sleeswijk put it (ibid.): “[an] understanding that goes beyond knowledge”. It provides us the perspective to “frame” the users’ reality to define the problems in a way that users face them instead of what it “seems to be” for the firm (Dorst, 2011).
Only by such deep understanding of the user, the firms can exercise “thoughtful restraint” (Kolko, 2015) providing a simpler, streamlined, and authentic experience that goes beyond mere functionality, appealing also to emotions such as pleasure and satisfaction; eventually capturing a sustainable competitive edge in today’s market and business landscape.
Sense making through framing goes also beyond experience design. It enables organizations to make sense of complexity of any sort. It can be, for example, used to learn about a sudden shift in markets, value migration between industries, emerging behaviors associated with disruptive technologies, or the reason why a previously successful business model expired and needs a redesign (Mootee, 2013).
While Design Thinking provides the means to compete in a brand-new age, it requires a change in attitudes, world views, ways of working, and interacting. Being more than just mere tools and prescribed frameworks, the question for the future-looking organizations is whether or not they can achieve the cultural transformation that is required to become a Design Thinking organization (Mootee, 2013). But perhaps, the key to success probably lies in Design Thinking itself to achieve this cultural transformation.
Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review.
Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application. Design Studies.
Drucker, P. (2006). The Practice of Management. Harper Business.
Kaario, P., Vaajakallio, K., Lehtinen, V., Kantola, V., & Kuikkaniemi, K. (2009). Someone Else’s Shoes – Using Role Playing Games in User-Centered Service Design. DeThinkingService ReThinking Design. Oslo.
Kolko, J. (2015). Design Thinking Comes of Age. Harvard Business Review.
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.
Mootee, I. (2013). Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Most of us can probably recall products or services where it is clear that usability has been so far off from the priority list that the product/service is unreasonably difficult or even impossible to use.
What is needed that these above-mentioned mishaps can be avoided and services and products designed are actually usable and desirable for their users? We believe the answer lies greatly in empathy.
Empathy helps designers to understand users better
With the spread of design thinking and service design over the past years, the role of a user and user experience has gained central prominence. For instance, Katja Tchimmel (2022) names design thinking as “the design of an alive and dynamic system of user experiences” and elaborates further by stating human-centered approach to be one of the five main principles of it.
The role of empathy is further addressed by Iris Motee (2013), who states that design thinking promotes empathy as it locates users at the core of everything and it encourages using tools that help better understand behaviours, expectations, values, motivations and needs. Brown (2008) describes the designer mindset with empathy as a personal characteristic to be able to observe the world from multiple perspectives.
But what is empathy in design and how can a designer use it in the design process?
Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) draw that despite the somewhat hazy common concept of empathy, it nevertheless is “related to deep understanding of the user’s circumstances and experiences, which involves relating to, more than just knowing about the user”. Kouprie and Sleeswijk have further presented their own framework for applying empathy in design, consisting of four phases: Discovery (designer enters the user’s world), Immersion (designer wanders around in the user’s world), Connection (designer resonates with the user to understand the feelings and the meanings) and Detachment (designer reflects to deploy new insights for ideation). They claim that in addition to that the fundamentals of empathy helps designers better to choose the techniques and tools and their order, this framework can help designers to plan their time accordingly as a process of empathy in design practice requires time and not spending unreasonably long time in only one or two phase and actually going though all the phases explicitly can enhance designer’s empathy. (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser 2009.)
Tools and methods to gain empathy
In the SID Design Thinking Masterclass we were introduced to Mindshake’s Design Thinking Model Evolution 6², developed by Katja Tschimmel (2021), one of the several models in Design Thinking. The “E.62” model offers tools and methods to support divergent and convergent thinking during the design process. Empathy (E2)is the second step in the model and aims to better understand the context, users and their latent needs. The exploration phase introduces methods such as stakeholder map, field observation and interview. Personas, user journey map and insight map are used for visualizing users and their needs for all in the design process in the evaluation phase.
It is nice to realize that despite not using all the tools of the model we went through all of the four stages of the Kouprie and Sleeswijk Visser’s framework on the process of empathy. In the Discovery phase we approached the design challenge and the users’ problems with How might we? questions on Opportunity map and formulated Intent statement for selected opportunity, followed by User Interviews on selected design opportunity in the Immersion phase. We seeked to achieve emotional understanding of their feelings and meanings while collecting the findings on the Insight map and formulating the Intent statement in the Connection phase, and finally, ideated and Prototyped the solutions in the Detachment phase.
Empathy in the design process is not only a set of different tools and methods but also a designer state of mind and characteristics. Understanding the users’ latent needs is essential for developing products and services.
Written by Peegi Kaibald & Tiina Auer SID MBA Students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences.
Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June 2008: 84-95.
Mootee, I. (2013). Design thinking for strategic innovation: What they can’t teach you at business or design school. Wiley.
Tschimmel, K. (2021). Design Thinking Master Class 3.-4.9.2021 material. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.
Tschimmel, Katja (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.
Tschimmel, K. (2022). Design vs. Design Thinking. In Creativity and Innovation Affairs. (in process) Available only for SID students at Laurea University.
Our assignment was to write a blog article in pairs reflecting on the topics discussed in the course Design Thinking. The two-day intensive course during September 4-5th 2020 was held by Katja Tschimmel, the founder of design agency Mindshake and the model Evolution 6² or E6² (2018), and our tutoring teacher Päivi Pöyry-Lassila.
In our group we used the model E6² to identify opportunities for the topic Social Distancing in Educational Institutions. We started from the Emergence phase and gradually made our way to Exposition which we finished with an elevator pitch. Our group chose to focus on the topic of promoting more outdoor activities in educational institute grounds.
Personal learnings about the Design Thinking Masterclass in a dialogue:
Laura: This was the first time I participated in this kind of workshop and I was amazed what a creative environment I had boarded into. I felt enormously inspired to be surrounded by students who have such a variety of professional backgrounds and knowledge, they are bringing to the classroom. During the process I discovered two crucial themes: interacting and communication with the users cannot be emphasized too much, their ideas and viewpoints should be heard closely. Another theme is that presenting your concept orally in front of the audience truly helps you crystallize the ideas you have.
Joni: I agree with Laura. There was much to learn just from this introduction course. For me there were two revelations during this course. According to Tschimmel all people can be creative when enough experts in a domain (e.g. company) accept the idea as innovative. Previously I had only considered artistic people as creative, not myself. During the course Tschimmel also highlighted not to “fall in love with your first idea”. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this realization was and how many ideas would have been left undiscovered if we settled for our first one.
Importance of empathy and creativeness in Design Thinking
In conclusion, we highlighted several personal key learning’s from the course. Looking at the related materials there are several recurring themes. First Tschimmel (2020), Brown (2009), Kolko (2015) and Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) all highlight the importance of empathy in Design Thinking. Secondly, already in 2009 Brown argued that interdisciplinary teams can “tackle more complex problems” than multidisciplinary teams. This also supports empathetic processes as according to Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) individuals have an “empathic horizon” that limits the ability to empathize beyond certain characteristics such as nationality, race etc. The empathetic horizon can be improved with time and experience. This information encourages us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
These themes were also present during our group work. Using the E6² model’s Design Thinking methods we were able to work in an interdisciplinary team and innovate a new concept, prototype it and pitch it to our class just within two days. Through group and individual interviews, we could start to understand the importance of empathizing. This success made us realize that Design Thinking is truly a universal concept that enables all individuals to be creative within their own domain.
Written by Laura Parviainen-Vilo and Joni Prokkola
References and links:
Brown, Tim (2009). Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Disclaimer: These thoughts, opinions, and observations are mine, and mine alone. They are not the thoughts of my fellow Dash team members, only myself.
had the immense pleasure of participating in the 2019 Dash Hackathon in
Helsinki (organized by the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society – “Aaltoes”) which is
the largest design hackathon in Europe.
In this hackathon there were over 220 participants from 40+ different nationalities that came
together specifically for this event.
I knew that this hackathon was going to be a gigantic time commitment to squeeze into my full-time work and full-time student schedule. I imagined that I would meet countless new people and possibly make a new friend or two. As time crept closer to the event, I ruminated over the design process and wondered how the actual act of designing would unfold over the course of the event.
the event is over, I can reflect that the element of this hackathon which took me
completely utterly by surprise was the profoundly visceral and emotional
rollercoaster of a ride this journey took me on.
For this post I do not want to focus on the specifics of the design process or what my team ultimately created. What I am taking away from this experience is far different than what I had initially imagined. What I am left with is a list of existential questions for myself about who I am as a person, and what kind of service designer I want to be.
As we all know, the cornerstone of service design is empathy: the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, see the world through their eyes and then walk a mile in those shoes. I also realized this weekend this crucial element could be what drew me to service design in the first place. All while keeping this perspective in mind as you create whatever amazing user-centered design solutions we service designers will ultimately come up with.
that empathizing with the user is an integral part of service design and it is
very important to lay this as the foundation of everything we as service
designers will do, however after this weekend I have come to realize that everything
has a limit; empathy included.
It is not possible to design a solution that suits everyone. This is a fact of service design every designer must accept, and it is also how I am approaching this post. This post is not for everyone. This post is written for those of you who may have a propensity to over empathize. For those of you who can relate, please read on. For those of you who can’t relate, if you read on anyway, maybe you will notice this trait in a fellow designer and send them this post.
I decided when I signed up for Dash that I really wanted to be part of the challenge for Startup Refugees. This is a Finnish NGO that has made it their mission to match refugees and immigrants with jobs here in Finland. They were only founded three years ago, but they are already having a significantly positive impact on the employment situation of refugees and immigrants in Finland. They currently have two offices; one in Helsinki and one in Oulu.
wanted to be a part of this challenge more than any of the other challenges
because this issue really speaks to me on a personal level. I am a black American immigrant who has lived
in Finland for the past six years. I am
very happy with where I am now in life both personally and professionally, but
it was not an easy journey. I know how
hard I had to work to be where I am now, and that I did not get to where I am
now on my own. Sure, I have a good work
ethic, but I also had a great network, a bit of luck, and people who were
willing to take a chance on me. I was
really excited to see if I could somehow find a way to help other immigrants
and refugees (whose situations coming to Finland were/are infinitely harder and
more complicated than mine) find a way to become employed in Finland.
that through gainful employment an immigrant or refugee can have dignity,
community, and a purpose for life in their new country of residence. This feeling of comfort and belonging is
something I genuinely wish I could give to anyone and everyone who wants it.
mentioned at the top of this blog, I do not want to go into specific details of
the design challenge because I want to focus on my emotional journey and
findings related to that. For the sake
of brevity let’s just say the challenge was related to Startup Refugees’ larger
focus of helping to find refugees and immigrants employment in Finland. This is what we in the realm of service
design call a wicked problem.
In Richard Buchanan’s report “Wicked Problems in
Design Thinking”, he refers to a report by Rittel (1967) that defines a wicked
“A class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” (1992, 15)
Wicked problems are manifested in the major issues and
systemic failures of our society today.
Issues such as climate change, poverty, multicultural integration,
healthcare, and so forth are problems so prolific in nature that there are no
single solutions or tangible ends to their plight.
That being said, with this challenge being quintessentially wicked, there was no way we would possibly be able to fix this challenge in a 48-hour hackathon session. To be fair and very clear, this is not what the challenge was asking of us. It was asking for ways to help improve a small part of the issue so that they could more successfully match their clients with work or help immigrants and refugees better understand the foreign job market in which they are attempting to enter.
However, with an issue this complex where do you even begin?
As a team,
on that first day (Friday) we began the hackathon creative, upbeat, and ready
to tackle the world. On the second day
(Saturday) that emotional rollercoaster shot full speed out of the launch
bay. The day started well, but by the
middle of the day that upbeat and playful attitude was all but dead. Our mentor repeatedly asked us where our
playful attitude had gone and eventually encouraged us to go get some air
together outside the venue to try to regain the spirit from the day
before. We got a bit more playful after
that, but something personally inside me had shifted that I never could quite
reset. By later that night we had a
working solution concept, and after starting again early Sunday morning we were
able to finalize our idea and proudly present it later that afternoon as a possible
solution to their challenge.
I was very
proud of the solution we came up with as a team and although some people may have
thought that my closing lines of the pitch were sappy and maybe just for show,
I honestly meant every word I wrote, rehearsed, and delivered as a
closing. The event ended later that
night and I went home feeling happy, physically tired (this I understood- the
hackathon was long), but also incredibly emotionally exhausted. I felt like my inner child had just run an
ultra-marathon through a mine field. I
felt acutely emotional and I wanted to figure out why. I had been emotional since the second day of
the challenge and those feelings just kept compounding until the challenge was
over and I could finally go home. Would
I have felt this way if I worked on any of the other non-wicked problem
challenges? Was I too close to the subject? Probably.
I began a search where all great internet searches begin (google) and stumbled across a blog that pretty much summed up the personal issue I faced during this challenge. It is post is titled “The Dilemma of Designers’ Empathy Delusions” by Jason Mesut (2018). In it he states:
“I have three challenges to the importance of empathy. To strengthen designer performance by battling what I feel is an ideal that is often delusional and misguided.
Two of my challenges are likely to be unpopular, and the third will probably be appreciated by many:
1.Most designers are not actually that empathic to end users
2.Empathy isn’t that valuable and unique a quality for designers
3.We should care more about people beyond users”
I will link
the entire article because I think it is a really good read. However, I would
like to focus on the 2nd and 3rd points he makes in this
article. In his second point that
questions the value of empathy, and he gives a good example of the dangers of
over empathizing with the following example:
“Imagine a doctor. Imagine if she had high empathy. She would struggle to make decisions for the population she helps. If one of her patient(s) suffered, she would suffer. The pain would impede the process of resolution. It’s why many healthcare professionals build up barriers to the emotions and the pain of the patients they serve. It helps them make better judgement calls.
I’m not saying a designer shouldn’t care. Often, they should. But I’m not sure that empathizing over every user they meet can really be that productive or helpful.”
Now I know
this for some people may sound a little over the top, but I think that this is
a real danger for some designers that work specifically with wicked problems,
or any other issues that are highly emotional, in which putting yourself into
the shoes of others may elicit extremely deep feelings of empathy and
compassion that are much deeper than what is productively necessary for the
purposes of service design.
goes on to talk about what happens when your over empathizing can cause you to
lose sight of the larger picture. In
your compassion driven quest to create real change for the end user you run the
risk of losing empathy and sight of the other players in the game; the other clients
and stakeholders in the relevant network who are all a part of the challenge
you are hoping to solve.
proposes a framework for an empathy map where you consciously adjust your
feelings up or down as necessary while also keeping in mind other players
besides the end user:
I wholeheartedly believe that empathy must exist for
great service design. However, I now
believe there is a spectrum. A spectrum
of levels of conscious empathy every designer must have, and this
spectrum should be personally re-evaluated during all phases of the design
process to ensure it is evenly distributed across all people the new design
will affect; users, clients, and stakeholders alike.
I could not
imagine being as deeply emotionally connected to an issue that I would be working
with for a prolonged period of time without emotionally burning myself out. Though I did not appear to be overly emotional
or stressed during the event (and I did have a lot of fun too), I took mental
note of how exhausting this challenge was, and wondered how I would deal with
this kind of problem if it was my everyday job.
That is what lead me on this introspective journey and critical
evaluation of the weight of empathy in service design.
I am fully
aware that had I done a different challenge, I would not have had the emotional
response I did. However, I am glad I experienced everything exactly as I
did. It gave me time to reflect on my
emotions and myself.
I had an amazing time at Dash and would like to thank
the organizers for the opportunity to be a part of this great event. I would also like to give my deepest thanks
to Startup Refugees for all of the great work they do and wish them nothing but
the best in the future. Most of all, I
would like to thank my amazing team members for all of their hard work, and I
am very happy for the new friendships I have made.
By: Johanna Johnson
Richard 1996. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In Margolin, V. &
Buchanan, R. The Idea of Design. A Design Issues Reader. Cambridge: The MIT
I realized some time ago that service design is the key issue to improve and develop processes and customer satisfaction. After I found this definition and concept, it felt that different pieces found their places – I love developing customer experience and always try my best in understanding and identifying customer needs. I was thinking that SID program might help me to develop more.
The first course “Design thinking” was much more than I expected. After the lectures I have a huge passion to figure out more of the design thinking methods and I have now gathered a good set of tools for that.
Idris Mootee (2013, 33.) defines the design thinking as following:
Design thinking can help people from diverse backgrounds to find connections between people, places, objects, events and ideas. According to Mootee (2013, 69.) the empathy helps to approach the innovations with a human-centered perspective. Empathy enables us to communicate and understand:
Current and future needs
Design thinking itself is a powerful driver for future opportunities and innovation management. I also really like that in design-thinking processes, ideas are usually evaluated democratically, and persons can freely express their viewpoints in order to practically develop the concepts.
During the lecture we learnt different cases of Service innovation by the lecturer Katja Tschimmel, who was really inspiring and also introduced the group the Mindshake’s Evolution 6^2 tools, which we also implemented during two intensive study days. I can warmly recommend you these tools!
I think this work was useful, as the group has professionals from diverse backgrounds and only it gave me many new ideas! My favorite tool was the insight map, which also supports the human-centered approach and empathy with the end users. For me, that seems to be essential tool to develop new or existing services.
I also liked the opportunity mind-map and storyboard. We also, got to try the Lego and Post-its. My classmates have written in this blog about other interesting tools, so I better not to repeat their words – as I agree with them about the usability of those tools.
According to Tim Brown (2008, 90-92.) the basis is deep understanding of the consumers’ lifestyle and value building. I think this check list will be useful for integrating the design thinking as part of the work flow.
1. Think outside the box; Involve design
thinking in the very beginning – it can help exploring new idea!
2. Human-centricity; observe and consider
human behavior, needs and preferences – what do your customers need and want? Reflect
the results with the innovation models – do not forget the empathy!
3. Trial and error; have the courage
to create and test prototypes
4. Co-creation; you can also expand
the ecosystem and develop together with other stakeholders and customers to
create new added value for all parties
5. Blend different projects; this
might be revolutionary – projects can be of different size, disciplinary, units
6. New funding approaches and opportunities;
Well, money still runs the project world.
7. Hunt for talents!
8. Give the process some time; enable
the design of the whole cycle, which might take a while.
So – let’s start the work and hope to have a learning journey full of inspiration, innovations and meaningful encounters. Right?
I had a chance to attend a two-day intensive course called `Unlocking the Secrets of Service Design´ offered by CityDrivers. The trainers were Dr. Niels Billou and Adil Mansouri who are experts on Design Thinking and innovation. Both trainers created very energetic and enthusiastic environment that helped us, participants, to get excited about the two-day intensive course.
Trainers: Dr. Niels Billou and Adil Mansouri
During these two days Niels and Adil introduced the principles, practices and the process of Design Thinking and methodology of Service Design. I have some experience about Service Design and Design Thinking from my Service Innovation and Design studies in Laurea. By taking the two-day course, my goal was to learn new tools and methods that I haven’t used before and to know how I can apply these to my future projects. Here are my key take-aways from the days.
Day 1 – Introduction and understanding the customer
The first day gave an overview of Service Design and Design Thinking. After an interactive lecture all the participants rolled their sleeves and started working with the case assignment and exploring the first parts of the Design Thinking process – understanding the customer, collecting and analysing the interview data.
What is Design Thinking?
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
— Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
Billou introduced few different definitions for Design Thinking. In my opinion the most descriptive definition for Design Thinking is from Tim Brown. According to Brown´s quotation Design Thinking helps to make decisions based on what customers want. And when using tools from designer´s toolkit, like applying experimentation and empathy that helps to create innovative solutions to problems.
Trainers introduced a Stanford D. School Design Thinking model that consists of five stages: Understand, Observe, Define Point of View, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Stanford D. School Design Thinking model
During my studies I have noticed the stages of different Design Thinking process models are actually quite the same – only the titles and amount of stages vary. Earlier I have been using only the Double Diamond Design Thinking process, since I know the stages and it is familiar to me. So now I was excited to get to know a new process I haven´t used before.
Power of Empathy
Empathy is all about understanding the people. First phase of the Design Thinking process is to understand the customer. Adil talked about the power of empathy and how important it is to step into customer´s shoes. In this part of the process the data reveals underlying needs of the customer. The trainers introduced few effective tools for this data gathering part:
In-depth interviews – help researchers to learn more about a person’s experiences, processes, attitude, problems, needs, pains and ideas.
Empathy map – represents a customer’s actions and a mind-set. Interview guide can be adjusted into an empathy map and cover what the customer “Think”, “Feel”, “Say” and “Do”.
After an interactive lecture the participants were divided in multidisciplinary teams. Trainers pointed out the importance of cross functional teams – it is vital to have people from different backgrounds who co-create innovative solutions together. My group got a design challenge to redesign the workday lunch experience and encourage people into sustainable eating habits.
Our first step was to go out and interview people regarding their lunch experience. We made an interview guide for the interview – one was interviewing and the other took notes. I have been interviewing people before but I haven´t been using empathy map template. I noticed it helped to sum up the findings and catch a deeper insights from the interviewees such as what the user was saying, doing, thinking and feeling. In my opinion this tool works especially well in mini-interviews when having only 30-60 minutes to do the interviews.
Data visualization leads to insights
Our next step was to analyse and interpret our data to find insights from interviews. Niels introduced us a storytelling tool. Each of us had a chance to be a storyteller and describe what we heard and observed from the interviews. The listeners draw visual images about important details on post-its – finally we had a wall full of post-its. The empathy map template used in interviews was very helpful in this exercise.
Storytelling: Capturing data & clustering insights
The last step of the first day was to cluster the post-its and find common patterns between the notes. This storytelling and the visual data capturing were new tools for me. I was surprised how easy it was to see the overall findings when the post-its were full of pictures, and not just text. I could use this in workshops at work when we have limited time to capture customer data.
Day 2 – From Insights and Ideas to Innovation
The last day started with a summary what we had done so far and what was ahead of us: ideating, developing a prototype and testing it with customers.
Finding a focus
We started the day by creating a persona. Adil explained personas are fictional customers created to represent different user types. The persona helped us to step into the customer´s shoes and it guided us to make useful design decisions later during the day.
Creating a persona
At this point of the Design Thinking process we were on the “Define a point of view”-stage. According to Niels the Point of view sentence help us to build a line between the initial problem and future solution – it narrows the focus and makes the problem specific. It was surprisingly hard to summarize our thoughts into one sentence.
Next the trainers encouraged us to generate plenty of wild ideas by using how might we… –method. How might we questions launched many crazy ideas and we put those on the post-its. After that it was time to vote for the best idea. Adil introduced a Prioritization Matrix that helped us to identify the most important and valuable ideas, prioritize them and vote for the best idea.
Presenting a Prioritization Matrix on the lecture was a great reminder for me. Once I have been using that during my studies but since there are so many tools it is easy to forget. Since the time was limited during these two days the impact / effort axis on the Prioritization Matrix helped us to point out the best ideas fast. I put this tool into my toolbox and definitely will use this in the future projects.
Fail early, to succeed sooner
In the afternoon we started to build a prototype that eventually helped to solve the problem. According to Niels the prototype is a draft version of a product or a service. It should present our idea and when showing it to the users the aim is to get feedback for iteration.
This was the best part of the day and we were really excited about this step. The team made a prototype out of Legos. This was a first time for me to do this part with Legos. Lego characters were the actors on the stage and the bricks worked very well when presenting the idea and the experience around it. We were very pleased to our prototype.
Building a Lego prototype
The last step of the Design Thinking process was testing the prototype with users. The team went out and we presented the prototype for few users.
“If prototypes aren´t failing you are not pushing far enough. Failure is part of understanding and improving”
– Dr. Niels Billou
Niels’ quote went straight to the point. We got plenty of feedback and enhancement ideas for the prototype and some users crushed the prototype by saying “That won´t work in real life”. We presented the prototype and the feedback for the whole lecture group. Our team proved Niels´ quote true – the failure is truly part of understanding and improving.
To sum up these two days, this intensive course taught me new tools and methods of Design Thinking and reminded me of tools I already knew. Since there are so many tools to use, the hardest part is to choose the most relevant ones for every project. I´m excited to learn more – practice makes perfect, doesn´t it?
If you want to discover more different Design Thinking tools and methods, I recommend This is Service Design Doing Method Library. Library consists of 54 hands-on Service Design methods. This is a useful site when choosing the right methods. https://www.thisisservicedesigndoing.com/methods
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