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What is Design Thinking

Suppose you are part of a thriving business and need to branch out and find that next big thing. Or say you want to change a behavior, like getting people…a lot of people…to use less energy in their homes. How would you go about it?


Design thinking is a powerful tool to tackle the unknown.


It’s a means of going on an expedition, without a map, without even knowing the destination, but with the confidence that you’ll end up somewhere great.


Let’s make it tangible with an example that captures the five key elements of design thinking. Daylight was given the challenge of getting kids in America to move more to help fight childhood obesity. The project started with an idea–provide kids with a digital music player that has a motion sensor, then give them rewards based on their activity.


But the big question was, would kids really use it? What could make the experience so compelling that they would use it long enough to see the health benefits.


Learn from people
We began by talking with kids. We spent time in their homes and schools, across the country. We listened to them share their motivations, habits, delights and frustrations.
The research included kids in the mainstream, but also incredibly active kids and the very sedentary. It turns out that those at the extremes are really good at giving a voice to problems that those in the middle might feel, but have a harder time putting their finger on.


Find patterns
We captured our observations on hundreds of post-it notes and laid them all out to make sense of what we learned.
Using informed intuition, we looked for patterns that pointed to opportunities.
Daniel said, “I get bored with solo video games, it’s the multiplayer ones that keep me coming back.” Meg said, “I don’t wear my ipod when I’m running because I want to talk to people.”


Define design principles
These quotes along with others, revealed one of the design principles that would help us get to a successful concept.
“Facilitate social interaction at all times”
Many such design principles emerged. Together, they formed the guideposts of an experience that we felt confident would resonate with kids.


Make Tangible
We asked ourselves “How Might We” questions to bridge the gap from design principles to specific ideas and then quickly turned the best of them into rough prototypes.
Building physical devices out of simple cardboard and mocking up digital experiences with paper and pen allowed us to learn quickly.


Iterate Relentlessly.
With each prototype we tweaked and evolved the concept.
We brought digital and physical models to kids to listen and learn.
The concept evolved until we got to a compelling solution.
Where we ended up was not the original idea of a digital music player. It was instead a small activity monitor that kids could clip onto their clothes or slip into a pocket. It was a portal to an online world that allowed kids to share and celebrate their real-world accomplishments with each other and their families.


In a three month clinical trial, the impact was a 59% increase in physical activity.
Learn from people
Look for patterns
Define design principles
Make tangible
Iterate relentlessly


Whatever the challenge, design thinking is a powerful tool to reveal new ways of thinking and doing.
What in your world could benefit from design thinking?


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