What first comes to mind when you hear the word design? Is it that of a New York fashion show? A beautiful painting? A modern architectural marvel? What about a hospital waiting room, an Amazon warehouse, or a homemade barbeque pit?

Design is about more than just making things look “pretty”, it is about solving problems. All the above, and more, were designed with a purpose in mind. A painting may have been ‘designed’ to inspire awe for the people who view it. A barbeque pit may have been designed to cook delicious food with minimal user interaction. A hospital is designed to facilitate the healing of patients. Design thinking is a methodology of looking at problems and creating solutions for them; ‘Designing’ a way to overcome obstacles.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a key methodology for relevant and customer-focused problem solving. First popularized by Stanford’s d.school, design thinking is a process of rapidly prototyping with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Here at Cast & Hue, we use design thinking on a regular basis to gain a deep understanding and empathy towards the needs of multiple customer groups. These brainstorming sessions start by segmenting participants, primarily customers who are actively involved in using the product, into groups based on one’s role in interacting with a product. We then encourage them to play, brainstorm, and ideate. Because we are incorporating multiple viewpoints and working to solve a problem from multiple directions, we often discover holes in the experience that may have otherwise gone undiscovered with traditional market research.

Design thinking can be boiled down into five phases:

  • Empathize - The first phase of the design process revolves around establishing empathy with the participants. By understanding one’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes, we have a jumping off point for finding solutions that work for the participant.
  • Define - Creating a problem statement that establishes context to develop solutions in. A strong problem statement will address the needs of the participant, as well as why they are struggling to achieve that need.
  • Ideate - The ideate phase is the “anything goes” stage of development. Working together with the participants, we come up with possible solutions to the problem statement.
  • Prototype - Prototyping is the aspect of actually building out a tangible model. Whether it be a model made of legos, or an interactive software program, this is where we create a beta based upon participant input.
  • Test - The process of iterating and receiving feedback on the beta.It is important to not just find out if something works, but also why something may or may not work.

On-site Design

One of the reasons for the recent rise in design thinking is the access to new technologies which democratize innovation. Technologies such as 3D printing and CAD design have made it easy for anyone to conceptualize and build prototypes.

The beauty of design thinking is that it goes beyond just using technology and actually encourages play in the design process. Some of our favorite tools to use during design thinking sessions are legos, markers, and construction paper. These are all tools which anyone can use and can go anywhere.

Co-Creation with Patients

In the health sector, design thinking is becoming a popular way to involve multiple parties in the ideation process. By embracing co-creation with patients, design thinking allows for a freer exchange of ideas and more personalization in solving problems than may be available through more traditional methods of problem solving.


This open exchange of ideas is exactly what inspired Anna Young, co-founder of MakerNurse, to encourage co-creation and design within hospitals. A nurse herself, she noticed a trend within hospitals: nurses were already adapting the tools they had to be more useful, safer, and effective. In collaboration from MIT, Young started a campaign to empower nurses with more tools to create. They now had access to mobile workstations filled with tools, velcro, and other fast prototyping ideas. She also was able to implement a full makerspace, complete with 3D printers and laser cutters, at UT Galveston.

The benefits of such makerspaces went beyond just coming up with new ideas. By placing the point of ideation directly in the hospital, nurses were able to communicate directly with patients, doctors, and other stakeholders while designing new ideas. By busting down silos, MakerNurse was able to create an ideation culture, breaking down silos in the process.

The idea of empowering physicians to ideate is not limited to the efforts of organizations like MakerNurse. Another excellent example of encouraging a design-thinking methodology is that of the Gates Vascular Center. In this facility, a joint initiative between University of Buffalo and Kaleida Care System, the bottom floors are designated for hospital patients, and the top, a branch of the university. In the middle is a two-story “innovation hub”, where researchers and physicians can work side-by-side, coming up with new ideas and improving the quality of care for patients.

In Summary

Whether using advanced CAD designs or a lego set, design thinking is one of the best techniques available for breaking down silos and empowering stakeholders to have their voice heard in the design process. By embracing a culture of design as a catalyst for ideation and creativity, the next innovative idea in healthcare can come from anywhere or anyone.

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