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Design Strategy

In the article we published last week we talked about how and why Zeitgeist incorporates the Design Thinking framework while designing solutions.

But everything is always better explained and understood with an example and when it comes to Design Thinking, there is, of course, no better place to go for examples than IDEO.

To understand how IDEO develops truly ‘user-centric’ solutions, today we’ll highlight three examples of how the firm used insight, observation and empathy, which, according to Tim Brown are the “three mutually reinforcing elements of any successful design program”, to uncover latent needs of the end users they were developing solutions for.

According to Brown, the real challenge of design thinkers is “helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have.”

Insight – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention case study

When The Center for Disease Control and Prevention approached IDEO to develop a solution to tackle the alarming obesity trend amongst the youth of America, IDEO went in search of context and insight into the user’s mind – to Jennifer Portnick.

By taking legal action against an aerobic and dance fitness company that had refused to let her become a franchisee instructor, Portnick had made headlines when the firm was forced to change a discriminatory policy of theirs that prevented plus sized individuals from becoming instructors.

Portnick was plus sized, and had argued that ‘fit’ and ‘large’ were not incompatible, claiming she worked out 6 times a week and was in fact, fit.

Jennifer Portnick’s story gave the team at IDEO invaluable insight that helped them reconsider several assumptions about overweight people.

‘To begin with the assumption that all fat people want to be thin, that weight is inversely proportional to happiness, or that large size implies lack of discipline is to prejudge the problem.’

Observation – The Acumen Fund case study

When IDEO worked with the Acumen Fund to find a way to provide clean water to the underprivileged in developing countries like India and Africa, observation helped them to understand problems that were not immediately obvious.

For example, they realised that obtaining safe, clean water wasn’t always the problem; rather the problem was often transporting it hygienically across harsh terrain and long distances to its final destination. Observation, via local NGOs, also brought about the need to develop solutions that were culturally appropriate, using systems and methods the end user would be comfortable with.

Empathy – The U.S. Department of Energy case study

One of the important parts of designing a user centric solution is to understand how the user views the problem. When IDEO worked with the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to promote energy efficiency, it was discovered, through extensive research conducted amongst consumers across cities in the US, that the consumers did not in fact care about energy efficiency and this was one of the assumptions the DoE’s prior programmes had been based upon.

By empathising with the end user’s perspective, IDEO was able to suggest solutions that were energy efficient no doubt, such as ‘stylish but thermally efficient window coverings and retail displays of energy-efficient lighting’, but more impactfully, that also tied in to what really mattered to the target market – comfort, style and community.

These examples bring out the fact that Design Thinking prevents solving ‘problems’ that are based on the wrong assumptions; for then one isn’t actually solving a meaningful problem!

These are also real life examples of the potential Design Thinking has to bring about solutions for positive social impact – solutions that can solve the pressing problems our world faces today.

If you are intrigued by the Design Thinking framework and would like to apply it to your business, get in touch with Zeitgeist today.

Note: All examples and quotes from ‘Change by Design’ by Tim Brown, Harper Collins, 2009


Design Strategy

In the first of our series on co-creation, we explored in theory why co-creation is the most effective way to foster innovative thinking and design.

In this post we focus on the practical application of co-creation. We examine some of the forms it has taken in companies that have realised its synergetic potential:


Apple and Microsoft

Approach: Co-creation for improved efficacy and utility.

Method: Despite the differences and tumultuous past that exist between these two giants of the computer industry, Apple and Microsoft have been able to put the customer first in many instances and join forces to create products like Office for Mac users and iTunes for Windows users.

Value added: Users get the best of both worlds, without having to give up their favourite software on whichever platform they prefer. Choice and decision are thus left in the hands of the consumer, making this a great example of co-creation, even in the midst of intense rivalry.


Nike ID

Approach: Co-creation for personalisation.

Method: Nike ID is a feature that allows online shoppers to completely customise their pair of Nikes, from the style of the strap, right down to the colour of the lining inside the shoe. It even allows for personalised lettering (a name or word, for example) to be added on the shoe. Before making the final decision to purchase, the customer has the option to share the creation on social media for further inputs.

Value added: In an age where self-expression, customised products and the desire to stand out in a crowd are highly valued commodities, Nike has developed a platform to address those needs by putting a part of the product design process in the hands of the customer.


Ola Auto

Approach: Co-creation to organise markets.

Method: Ola has partnered with auto rickshaw drivers in some Indian cities to allow customers to book autos using the same Ola app that they use to book cabs.

Value added: The convenience of booking an auto ride without having to physically scour the area or haggle is a huge benefit to commuters. Once a driver has indicated his willingness to take up the journey via the app, the customer is intimated and picked up from his doorstep. Rides can also be tracked on the app and location details shared with others, improving the safety of the user.



Approach: Co-creation to empower individuals.

Method: In the case of AirBnB, multiple partners work together to co-create a unique product for the end user:
– AirBnB provides a platform for hosts to display their properties and prospective guests to view the same.
– AirBnB pays freelance photographers around the world to provide high quality photos of the properties, to aid in the guests’ decision making.
– Payment processors enable the financial transactions involved.

Value added: The unique experience of staying at a local home and enjoying the local culture at prices that are, more often than not, lower than those of hotels.


Apsara Drone

Approach: Co-creation for social impact.

Method: Start-up firm Otherlab, in collaboration with and funded by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is working on designing an entirely biodegradable lightweight drone, using transient electronics and material made out of a mushroom based substance.

Value added: The drone has the potential to effect large-scale social impact. It could be used to deliver food and medicine to disaster hit and war torn areas and then self-destruct, with minimal damage to the environment.

These are just a few examples to illustrate that co-creation can take many forms and isn’t restrictive in nature. It requires that the needs of the end user always be the focus and it requires an open mind, perhaps best summed up by Tim Cook…

“Apple and Microsoft still compete, but we can partner on more things than we compete on.
And that’s what customers want.”

– Tim Cook, at the BoxWorks Conference, 2015.

Have you come across any great examples of co-creation? Share them with us in the comments section below.