MIT & Altitude: Demo of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is everywhere, yet acceptance is slow at many companies. What it is specifically can still feel shrouded in mystery. This blog should help clarify some things to help speed adoption at your company.

At the core of the design thinking process is empathy—understanding what matters to users and stakeholders, and then capturing that understanding. That work is done by an integrated team of designers, engineers and strategists who collaborate to evaluate the desirability, feasibility, viability and sustainability of the product they’re developing. This is no easy task and there are many steps along the path to success. That path, from capturing consumer ideas with empathy in mind through product design and implementation, is the design thinking process.

To help demonstrate this integrated design process, experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Integrated Design and Management (MITidm) graduate program and Altitude, a world-class human-centered design and innovation firm (recently acquired by Accenture), teamed up to redesign a product to help the elderly walk.

You can see the video of the process here.  Now let’s walk through the key points of the video in this blog should you prefer the “scannable version”.

To start, it is important to connect deeply with your consumers to create the products they love. To attain this deeper understanding we researched what is out there already and we talked with users.


We met with people and talked with them, interviewed them, observed them and empathized with them.

“We try to get into their world and see things through their eyes,” as Dan Ostrower, Altitude CEO shared. And in the case of the walker, we observed how hard it is for them to put the walker into the trunk of their car.

We not only researched and observed from a distance – we went where they go. In this case, we went into the elderly people’s homes to observe how they use the walker and discussed how they feel about various alternatives.

It is important in this case to also speak with the stakeholders or industry experts to learn their perspective of what works and does not. We also went into retail outlets to speak to the people selling the walkers to truly understand the retail experience and understand how it is sold.


Once we had completed our in-depth research and observations, we came together to analyze what we had learned. Our goal was to identify patterns of behavior and allow opportunities to surface. We created personas for the people we spoke with to better understand both their emotional and functional needs. And we mapped their journeys over time.


In this case, our “needs identification” led us to agree “The Mobilizer” was what our user personas needed most. We then set out to articulate and define what “The Mobilizer” really is.

Which brings us to the BRAINSTORMING phase …


We engaged in a group brainstorming internally to come up with the best ideas. Focused exploration and deep thinking are critical to the development of meaningful concepts.

You can’t expect to get it right the first time. Iterating is important to success. Sketch modeling and crude prototypes are essential to any “fail early and often” methodology – and it’s the most effective way to get to the best solution faster.

When you have prototypes, you can and must go back to the field to get more real-time feedback. And you then incorporate the feedback into your product designs.


Showing the user concepts is the best way to truly capture the heart of a need. It’s critical to producing a successful end product.

Then we brought the feedback back to the group to review, discuss, analyze and adapt to another iteration. As a group we agreed on the key attributes we had heard in our research that we needed to address.

In this case for “The Mobilizer” we identified key attributes of a folding seat, swivel-lock caster, bag, folding portability, column, aesthetics.

Iterative cycles of build, test, learn will help make this product a success in the market. Desirability was captured during the observation/interview process. Designers evaluate desirability while engineers determine the feasibility.

Then the viability of producing the product from a business standpoint (including costs and market considerations) is evaluated.


Once these stages have been greenlighted, they’re moved to development, and an “alpha prototype” is created.

With the alpha prototype in hand, we bring observe the user’s reactions.

Based on the elderly user’s feedback, we hold a final review, make our final tweaks and prepare to bring the product to market.

At the core of the design thinking process, from beginning to end, is empathy—understanding what matters to users and stakeholders. The integrated team of product designers, engineers, and strategists collaborate throughout the process to ensure the desirability, feasibility, and viability of the product they develop. They accomplish this through the following steps: explore, express, create, test, implement—all in a culture of collaboration and innovation. In the end, the MITidm + Altitude team invented a product that adds meaningful value to the life of the user, while capturing a loyal and exceptionally pleased segment for the business!

Click here to watch the full video .

Gretchen Hoffman

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing