Understanding How Design Thinkers Think

GE, Bose, and Eastman held a lively chat about the role Design Thinking plays in successful companies and tips to level up the Design Thinking capabilities at any organization. Their exceptional insights can be heard in our recent hangout, “Understanding How Design Thinkers Think,which is part of our “Innovation by Design” webinar series

As Harvard Business Review recently observed, Design Thinking is coming of age. But to effectively adopt Design Thinking for innovation, you need to understand it as a mindset, not just a process. Our panelists of Design Thinkers discussed just that–

GE Healthcare – Mark Ciekso, Americas Regional Manager and Global Design Director of Design Thinking

Eastman – Farrell Calabrese, Creative Manager

Bose – Debra Reich, User Experience Advanced Development Lead

Design Thinking – What is it Exactly?

Debra from Bose defined it as having four basic components: “Research where you focus on user empathy; ideation where you allow the brain to process divergent thinking; collaboration where the focus is on partnering and sharing ideas that then build on other ideas; and, iteration that is a continuous process, with iterations happening along the way.” It’s most definitely not something “one and done.”

Mark of GE then shared a few design principles to keep in mind:

  • Focus on human values – start with the user and have empathy for what the user is trying to accomplish.
  • Show, don’t tell – showing is always more powerful than telling. Mark added, “At GE we like to say, if you don’t write it down, it did not happen.”

Why Empathy Matters

“Sympathizing and having compassion is not the same as empathy,” shared Debra. “There are, in fact, very rigorous processes and technology we employ in the field to understand the user motivation, their emotional state, and the jobs-to-be-done.” Empathy is integral to the Design Thinking process. It views users at the hub of the wheel, never a spoke.

Mark shared a very memorable story that exemplified how Design Thinking can vary from the more traditional innovation approaches: the “Pediatric Adventure Series”. This was a TED Talk where Doug Dietz of GE shared how they redesigned the MRI experience after seeing a little girl’s fear of having an MRI. They moved from the traditional approach of designing a new scanner to using design thinking to design for the conversation about the scanner in the car ride there and home (with that little girl).” This led to “The Adventure Series” which was essentially putting stickers on the machine to immerse the child, for example, into a space adventure into hyper space as they go into the machine.

Characteristics of a Great Design Thinker

What makes a great Design Thinker?  The panel agreed on these basic characteristics:

Passionate to communicate and understand internal needs and capturing/communicating the voice of the user

– A great storyteller, with a brain wired to receive stories that create emotion, as these stories will be more impactful and memorable

– An avid reader in a variety of areas to be better equipped to connect the dots for new ideas

Open-minded and willing to discuss and push to make things better, and allergic to accepting the status quo

– A person who has “creative confidence” to operate a little differently, share ideas openly and draw people in to make “we” activities to work together.

– A bold personality, comfortable taking risks to get to the reward and outcomes. Someone able to throw our weird ideas and put themselves out there in the pursuit of something powerful.

Debra added that to be a better Design Thinker “take an improv class to learn to listen, collaborate, be a great storyteller. You will fail spectacularly.” But this will help you become great at what you do.

Tips for Gaining Acceptance for “Design Thinking”

The phrase “Design Thinking” can be a hinderance to acceptance, so don’t use that phrase if it’s not working at your company. Call it brainstorming instead, if need be. Design Thinking will also be more accepted when expectations are set upfront and offer (and deliver on) positive outcomes. It is important to clarify upfront and remember that “the user experience starts way before they touch the product and lasts beyond when they use the product. You need to observe the entire journey and can’t just look at how the user interacts in that moment with your product.” Drive this point home with visuals. It matters.

Is Design Thinking Better Sourced Internally or Externally

Mark let us know that “great Design Thinking can come from anywhere because great people bring their own ‘superpowers’ to the process. If people don’t understand the Design Thinking process, then you may need to go outside for help, but you do want some subject matter experts included who know your strategy and business.” So creating a blended team is a solid first step to consider –and then transition as needs dictate from there.

To learn more about how to adopt a Design Thinking mentality and walk in the user’s shoes, please listen to the recorded hangout “Understanding How Design Thinkers Think”. And feel free to reach out with any questions!


Gretchen Hoffman

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing