At the Heart of Design Thinking

  • Source: Event
  • Article Date: 8/5/2018


Design thinking, a problem-solving methodology that prizes rapid prototyping and feedback-collection has become the framework of choice for Fortune 500 companies such as IBM and Apple to facilitate innovation. Originally developed by IDEO, an international design and consulting firm founded in Palo Alto, California, the term refers to a set of principles, from mindset to process, that can be applied to solve complex problems.

On 5 April 2018, some 42 employees had the privilege of listening to Human, Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer, Christoffer Erichsen, speak on applying design thinking for a better future at the PETRONAS ICT’s second Brown Bag session. Human, Inc., is an innovation agency with operations in Singapore, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur has worked with multinational organisations across the region to apply the concept and methodology of design thinking.

They have helped banks develop better online customer experiences; insurance companies to develop new partnership and apps; airlines to innovate passenger experience; logistics companies to build digital HR solutions and IT companies to strategi​se on how to innovate.


We caught up with Christoffer, a highly sought-after international keynote speaker with over 20 years of experience in the fields of innovation, learning and facilitation of change to find out more about this innovative methodology:

Q: How would you describe design thinking to our readers?

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation. It draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for overcoming business pain-points and sculpting success.

Design thinking adds value by bridging companies’ existing ability to produce and deliver products and services at a low cost (efficiency) with an enhanced ability to discover new insights about what is of value to users (validity) and new ways to serve those needs. This approach helps us to work creatively to develop relevant solutions, experience that relate and make sense to the users.

Q: What are the drivers of the increasing demand for design thinking in companies?

As professionals and leaders, we need to ask ourselves if we and our organisation are equipped to lead for a better future today. Let's take a step back; we are working in a time that is undergoing what Klaus Schwab, author, chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, calls the “4th Industrial Revolution”, i.e. transformational change at an unprecedented pace, scale and impact. Most organisations’ response to this shift can best be described as insufficient compared with the speed and size of the challenges coming at them. Most organisations are transforming, rethinking and re-skilling.

Q: How does design thinking help companies and their people to apply technology?

One of the key questions is ‘what role does technology play in creating a better future for customers and employees?’ Many companies have spent decades streamlining and implementing best practices that support yesterday’s business models. However, with the speed and power of innovation in the tech industry, these business models are rapidly being challenged. At the same time, the shelf-life of employee skills is reduced leading to an increased need for many to un-learn and re-learn new skills to stay relevant as market and technology shifts demands for human capital.

As automation and technology will play an increasing role in how organisations serve their customers and support internal customers (employee experience), the design of how the value from technology is delivered becomes mission critical to business. Design thinking gives us a safe, repeatable and predictable process that helps normal people do exceptional work.

Q: Sounds great but does design thinking actually work?

Companies and leaders look for a way to work with innovation to provides:

  • Better options and decisions to the leadership and organisations
  • Lower investment risks and better returns
  • Higher adoption rate of ideas
  • Greater adaptability of organisations in fast changing market environments
A recent research by Jeanne Liedtka from Darden School of Business studied the impact of the design thinking methodology applied in 50 organisations across a range of industries. The study found that design thinking achieved exactly such results.

Q: What problems should we solve using design thinking?

Design thinking is ideal when you have complex "wicked problems” where impact of unknown factors might be high and best practices are hard to rely on...when new game changing "wicked solutions" are in high demand.

Design thinking practices has been around for almost 20 years and has gained widespread traction across a wide set of industries and solving challenges from product design, service design, business design, organisational design, public innovation, HR innovation, strategic communication.

Q: What are the typical mistakes that leaders and companies make when it comes to innovation and technology projects?

Far too many corporate initiatives are still centred on business or technology. When we forget the people part of the equation, it leads to failed implementation, loss of profit or missed opportunities to innovate where nimbler competitors might succeed.

Q: How can our readers and employees in PETRONAS get started applying design thinking?

I would recommend investing a bit of time to acquire design thinking skills. There are practical short courses teaching the basics of design thinking or you can ask HR to offer such trainings. The design thinking process can be implemented and practiced through these steps at an individual or team level: 

  1. Understanding the issue: Use empathy to understand employees and customers better. Gather insights on pain points and challenges by interviewing customers, creating persona or journey maps to unlock and define surprising insights about users.

  2. Getting ideas: Anchor on the key unmet user needs, generate a multitude of ideas by leveraging the skills and diverse knowledge of your employees and partners. Brainstorm and select the best ideas for a viable, feasible and desirable solution.

  3. Taking action and iterating: Take action by building prototypes for solutions using minimal resources. Test these ideas quickly to gather feedback and iterate on solutions to develop the best possible solution.