Design Thinking for Business Innovation

This course will provide an overview of the process and tools used for design thinking, and examine their application in organizational situations.

About The Course

Design thinking is a popular new idea in the business world - organizations as diverse as entrepreneurial start-ups, big established corporations, and government and social service organizations are experimenting with design thinking as an alternative approach to traditional problem-solving. Accelerated by the spectacular rise of Apple and IDEO, design thinking is seen as offering a new approach better suited for dealing with the accelerating pressures for growth and innovation faced by so many organizations today. But design thinking can remain mysterious for people interested in introducing this approach into their decision-making processes. Demystifying it is the focus of this course.

Though designing as a craft requires years of dedicated education and talent to master, design thinking, as a problem solving approach, does not. In this course, we work with the following model that contains four questions and ten tools:


The four sequential questions that take us on a journey through an assessment of current reality (What is?), the envisioning of a new future (What if?), the development of some concepts for new-business opportunities (What wows?), and the testing of some of those in the marketplace (What works?). The process of design thinking begins with data gathering: at the outset of the design process, designers gather a great deal of data on the users they want to create value for.  They mostly do this through ethnographic methods like experience mapping, rather than traditional methods like focus groups and surveys. Farther along in the process, designers make their new ideas concrete (in the form of prototypes) and go out and get better data from the real world in a process that is hypothesis-driven. That is, they treat their new ideas as hypotheses to be tested. They surface the assumptions underlying their hypotheses and test them – usually looking for the kind of behavioral metrics that will allow them to iterate their way to improved value propositions.

Accompanying the four questions is a set of new tools to help business people achieve the same kind of disciplined approach to innovation and growth that they bring to the rest of their business. In this course, we will look at the stories of a wide variety of organizations - major corporations like IBM, entrepreneurial start-ups like MeYouHealth, and even social service organizations like The Good Kitchen - all using the design thinking tools and approach to achieve better outcomes.

Recommended Background

Anyone interested in innovation in an organizational context would benefit from this class.