How design thinking helps innovation

At Strategic Facilitators we are passionate about helping our clients build a culture of innovation within their organisations, and design thinking is one of the tools we use to help approach strategic problems and innovation from a different perspective.

Design thinking is human centred on two levels: 1. we begin with understanding the end user’s needs and centre those needs throughout; and 2. the process itself is a social one – it necessitates collaboration and effective team work.

Over time we have tested and refined our approach to design thinking. It takes advantage of both divergent and convergent thinking, and requires creative and analytical thinking. It is a process that can be used across businesses – for products and services – and we know it’s a process that works!

This iterative, human-centric approach can be broken down into five phases – each phase keeping the end user front and foremost in our minds. Here’s an overview of our approach:


The start

This is where the process begins! Perhaps someone in your business has said ‘I’ve heard about design thinking – I wonder if it could help us get to where we want to be?’ But you’re not exactly sure what it is or how to begin. We can help you get started and work out if this process is right for you. We will work with you to identify an opportunity, scope the project, and make a plan.

Once we have decided that design thinking is the right tool for you, you can expect the process to continue somewhat along the following lines – depending of course on your timing and expectations.

What is?

This stage is where research takes place, insights are identified and the design criteria established. The goal is to immerse ourselves in current reality and understand end users unmet needs. Clues to a new future lie in dissatisfactions with the present.

What if?

Ideas are brainstormed, concepts developed and some napkin pitches created. This stage is creative and generative but needs to go beyond simple expressions of new possibilities and arrive at robust concepts that can be evaluated.

What wows?

By now some key assumptions will have surfaced. This stage is focused on unearthing those key assumptions and then creating experiments or prototypes to be used in testing. Prototypes allow us to capture the critical assumptions to be tested in a way that feels real to those we want to solicit feedback from.

What works?

Now we get feedback from the stakeholder/s, run your learning launches, make tweaks to your design based on stakeholder feedback, or go back through the process again if you’ve discovered you are off track. Remember … design thinking is a fast iterative process – it is about coming up with ideas, testing them quickly to work out which ideas have legs, and then getting the best ideas on the on-ramp!

And finally … what can you expect at the end?

At the end of the session we can help you identify how and where this process could be applied more broadly throughout your organisation. So as well as finishing the day with a truck load of great ideas, your staff will have developed new skills and competencies that can be used across all facets of your business!

Becoming a design-led organisation requires leadership commitment and involves everyone. Over the last 18 months we have been working with clients on their innovation challenges and applying the principles of design in different ways. The results have been twofold – creating real change within organisations and generating professional development opportunities for the staff involved. A win-win!

Contact us today if you would like to discuss how design thinking can work for you.


Strategic Facilitators 2018

Brown, T 2009, Change by Design, Harper Collins, New York

Liedtka J and Ogilvie T (2011) Designing for Growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers, Colombia Business School Press, New York

A real life example

Gallagher Basset is a workers’ compensation insurer specialising in emergency services and government clients. Strategic Facilitators was engaged to provide and facilitate an intensive, fast-paced, collaborative innovation sprint for ~60 representatives, addressing some of the major challenges facing the emergency services industry today, and using our design thinking approach.

The half-day innovation sprint (hack day) commenced with an overview of our adapted design thinking methodology, showing the participants how they would engage with each step.

Participants were divided into groups, and allocated a specific problem to address. Background as to why it was a significant issue in emergency services, and a brief on the current research surrounding the topic was also supplied and the groups were given time to share their insights on the topic and define how they would measure the success of any potential solution.

Through a series of individual and group ideation prompts, each group identified a wide range of possible solutions before agreeing on their preferred solution. A specialist panel of mentors was on call throughout the day to share their expertise on the various topics, and to challenge participants to think beyond their comfort zones. The groups’ favourite solutions were creatively prototyped to enable the mentors to ‘experience’ their ideas. The groups walked the mentors through the solutions, whilst the mentors challenged some of their underlying assumptions and provided feedback on the effectiveness of their ideas.

Following the feedback from the mentors, groups were given time to refine their prototypes and prepare their final pitch. Each group presented to the room, interactively demonstrating their prototype and sharing the intended impact of their idea. The day culminated in a People’s Choice Award where all participants voted for their favourite concept.

Workshop outcomes

All pitch documents were assessed and considered for pilot funding by the client’s ‘innovation team’ following the workshop. There was considerable enthusiasm for these next steps from all participants, with several volunteering to help drive implementation of the solutions over the coming months.

Our client – who had not participated in any kind of innovation workshop previously – was buoyed by the experience and impressed by the enthusiastic response from the groups. This innovation sprint is now likely to be included in their conferences on an annual basis.

Watch this short video to see an overview of the day.

Thanks to Gallagher Basset for allowing us to share this video. Videography by Live Vision Productions.

The information contained in this website is indicative and for general information purposes only. For full advice on running a process that will suit your individual requirements please contact Strategic Facilitators on 03 9428 8817.