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September 3, 2018

Who Is Design Thinking For?


We often think about who who is design thinking for? Is design thinking for me? Imagine life at a Fortune 500 software giant… a group of technologists building cutting-edge solutions for the who’s who in business… one of them Siddharth, during the ice-breaker round at the workshop, … says after 20 years of serving customer needs successfully, what can Design Thinking teach me that’s “fresh” … I took a deep breath and smiled, it was only a matter of time…



And so, here I was, at a Design Thinking workshop designed for senior technology managers at a large software company.

The participants, from different business verticals and had not come together for any such exercise in a while (read, years). And now that they had, the workshop was meant to be the kick-off of a 6-month long engagement centered on learning and applying some key skills to support their business needs, Design Thinking being one of them.

The Power of a Chair

The first hour and first exercise were crucial to build a mutual ground and purpose. We shared very little in common and they were used to doing things a certain way, I sensed apprehension and resistance to change as well.

So, we started with a discussion on “A Chair”, where I asked the group to go about designing a chair. They were offered very little direction, so the more they asked, the more they discovered.

 It took the group a while to figure that they had got down to imagining and sketching something without really understanding the needs (or special needs, if any) of their end customer. This warmed up some to the need for empathy, but some were still skeptical.

The Design Thinkers

In the next stage, we focused on identifying 15-20 stakeholders (yes, that’s a large number!)  for a design challenge, they identified for the workshop activity, and laid out the stakeholders depending on their proximity to the challenge.

They used empathy research and unpacking techniques to achieve these outcomes.

It was interesting to see how the group engaged, engrossed in experimenting with concepts of appreciating the challenge from the eyes of the stakeholders, questioning and interviewing them and by this point, any doubts they had about the utility of empathy as a powerful discovery exercise had dissipated.

It took a few hours, but I had eventually galvanized the group by weaving the concepts of Design Thinking into their everyday workspace and everyday examples (like the chair).

Design Thinking to Design Doing

A few weeks later, I returned wearing the hat of a Design Thinking Coach.  They had moved from Design thinking to Design Doing, working on solving a business challenge in their domains by applying what they had learnt.

But gathering and building empathy was not coming through easily – they were comfortable in technology, but a human-centered approach required them to step out of their comfort zones. To my pleasant surprise, each of the teams overcame the mind block and put their best foot forward to gather empathy data from their now, larger arena of stakeholders.

I could see exasperation in some, as they presented they findings before their Business coaches and myself, their Design coach.

But eventually, with a lot of gritty determination and hard work, they scaled that hurdle too!


Siddharth was extremely excited and his eyes lit up as he walked up to me at the end of the day.

 He admitted that people love to talk, when one was willing to listen. It’s amazing how much buy-in could be achieved by building empathy.

 In one such instance, one of his stakeholders was so glad that he came forward to engage with her, that she proactively connected him to the Product team in Australia, which gave him access to an entirely new realm of stakeholders.


He definitely went back enriched, so did I.

Monishita Bathija

Monishita Bathija

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