Design Thinking in a socially distanced world

How can design thinking be used to generate better ideas and solutions, when the team are no longer in a room but collaborating and working remotely online?

A growing number of organisations use design thinking techniques as a key part of their innovation toolkit to generate empathy for their customers and employees, understand challenges and opportunities and create better ideas and solutions. Traditionally, design thinking activities have been carried out in a physical workspace, with participants effectively collaborating whilst they’re co-located together.

Times have changed though. Whether due to lockdown, social distancing or a general move to more remote working, members of the team are often no longer in the same room. For wider collaborations, team members are often not even in the same country. Can design thinking still work in this new world?

Tony Morgan joined Leeds University Business School as an Associate Professor of Innovation Management Practice in 2019, following a career in innovation and technology roles in industry, including 20 years at IBM. Ian Smith was previously the Head of Innovation at a software testing company and now runs his own consultancy business, craftscale Ltd. Both have wide experience of planning and facilitating design thinking activities, Ian with companies and Tony with both companies and students across the University of Leeds. Ian commented:

Many organisations already use the social technology of design thinking as a tool for exploring human centred innovation. The next step is to make design thinking fully functional in a world where we’re increasingly working physically apart from each other.

From Tony’s perspective:

There are challenges but real opportunities too. If we can generate empathy and collaborate more effectively online, we can engage people, teams and organisations right across the world, increasing diversity and improving outcomes.

Tony and Ian recently explored this challenge during a University of Leeds Digital Education Live Session. Topics included an introduction to design thinking, the remote working challenge and a wide-ranging discussion on the people, process and technology aspects needed for successful online collaboration. The general consensus was a very positive one. With suitable planning, strong facilitation and the right technology, design thinking activities can be run very successfully online. 

Watch the full recording of ‘Design Thinking in a socially distanced world’ on Youtube.

If you would like to follow up and continue the discussion, contact Tony and Ian via LinkedIn.