Think Outside the Box with Design Thinking

When we attempt to solve problems, most of us are constrained by our experience. In fact, often we define problems looking for the solutions we already have in mind.  Design Thinking is an empathic approach that enables us to think and solve problems differently – really and truly from the customer perspective. Long used in industrial design, Design Thinking is now applied across industries for business model review, new product and services development, communication and distribution channels, pricing, business process improvement, and more.

Design Thinking Process

Design Thinking uses an iterative 6 step framework or process:

  • Empathizing involves observing, engaging, watching and listening especially focused on emotions.
  • Defining transitions from understanding a problem and its emotional triggers or implications and translating it including the customer, his emotions, relevant relationships, goals, challenges, into a visual representation such as customer journey maps, etc.
  • Ideating focuses on idea generation to create solutions. The goal is to create many solutions from which we can select the not just one best solution. Different ideation techniques like brainstorming, mind mapping, and sketching are all useful in coming up with multiple solutions.
  • Prototyping involves building or actualizing initial solutions that a user can interact with. This can be a storyboard, wall of post-it notes. It allows you to communicate, create a conversation, and test possibilities in a “fail fast and quick” way.
  • Testing gains feedback about prototype solutions you’ve designed and gain user reactions. It captures why users like or dislike solutions proposed so you can refine prototypes and solutions or go back to the drawing board for alternatives.

Healthcare Case Study

  • The Challenge: An insurer was unsatisfied with its patient health and wellness management program for diabetes. It had a wellness program in place supported by nurse case managers who followed up with patients to ensure they were taking their medication, exercising and eating right but the insurer wasn’t happy with  the program results. To help  understand why long term patient engagement was low, we ran a design thinking workshop to better understand two key roles or personas, the patient and the primary care physician.
  • Rethinking It: We defined a patient persona (typical patient and his characteristics – age, marital status, job, hobbies, constraints, emotions, etc.) and explored why he wasn’t adopting better behaviors and what his obstacles were. We projected how we could help him, not just with a nurse visit or phone call, but with other options such as using pharmacy walk-in clinics supported by other incentives such as discounts for and home delivery of healthier meals, games that engaged, incented and tracked diet, medication and, exercise, etc.  Some solutions we defined were already in place; some were new. We conducted a similar exercise for the primary care physicians to explore their role and how they could better engage the patient as well. We initially conducted the workshop as an internal exercise with just the insurer. Next we took it externally to actual patients, nurse case managers and physicians in a focus group to get their feedback and ideas.
  • The Outcome:  The result was an improved, more effective health and wellness program that addressed a broader range of patient needs and behaviors. We increased patient participation and reduced the average medical loss ratio for dias

Learn more about Design Thinking:

Design Thinking Come of Age, Harvard Business Review. Nov. 2015.

A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking. d.School at Stanford University.

Design Thinking for Innovation. Darden School of Business, University of Virginia. Coursera


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