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Demystifying Design Thinking

Some of the world’s leading brands such as Google and Samsung have incorporated the design thinking approach and design thinking is being taught at some of the top universities in the world. It has found a place in most of the economic sectors and many firms have found new revenue streams through this very concept. But, at its core, what is Design Thinking? And why is it so popular? Join us as we demystify Design Thinking with Mana Taheri from the HPI School of Design Thinking.

This full interview was originally published as a Podcast and is available across seven of the world’s leading podcasting platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and more! Catch the podcast below!

“Mana Taheri: Design thinking opened up my mind to different possibilities, opportunities, and different methods of problem-solving. The whole journey was quite life-changing.”

Melton Fellow Sangeetha Sundaram’s conversational interview with Mana Taheri, a member of the teaching team at the HPI School of Design Thinking and a research fellow at HPI-Stanford Design Thinking Program, explores the inherent concepts, methodologies, and practices at the heart of the world-renowned science that is Design Thinking. The HPI School of Design Thinking (HPI D-School) was founded by Hasso Plattner in Potsdam in 2007 based on the model of the Stanford d.school. Since then it has become the European center for Design Thinking education. Every year, the HPI D-School offers 400 places for a supplementary study course in the Design Thinking innovation approach.

Mana shares with us,

Design Thinking is a set of methods and tools that one can apply to tackle complex challenges. It is also seen as a set of mindsets. We learn to tackle problems differently , not going to the solution right away . Team work, creative visualization, ground work, empathy and connections — these skills form the heart of the design thinking paradigm.

The very idea of a human-centered approach inspired Mana to pursue design thinking as a career. She adds that the methodology finds its application in most of the sectors. Schools and universities organize workshops and seminars around this concept. “Irrespective of what one studies, this is the skill that would help find a common language and facilitate a working culture in a multi-disciplinary arena”, Mana adds. Startups began using these tools at a smaller scale and then realized that there is a bigger market around design thinking. Companies not just use design thinking as a tool for innovation of products and services but have also adopted this methodology to change their work culture and meeting styles. However, the scenario is different in bigger organizations using traditional methods.

Melton Fellows at a Design Thinking Workshop at the HPI D-School, Potsdam, Germany

Mana reflects that design thinking is most valuable in social impact organizations like the Melton Foundation that are centered around social innovation and change. The decisions made by experts are what we often know but there are a lot of unheard voices. Design thinking can be empowering in a way when we interact with people who have faced the world’s most pressing problems first hand. She adds that the beauty of this concept is empathy and togetherness — essentials for any social change to be possible.

Moreover, Hasso Plattner, the founder of our institute envisioned the potential in IT to do wonders when instilled with Design Thinking knowledge. Students come to our school, learn these skills, and try to apply them for the human good rather than bringing up solutions with just technology”, she quotes.

Mana states that the design approach is a combination of both intuitive and analytical thinking. While analytics is used to gather data, intuitive thinking finds its application in synthesis.

She observes, “Our education system trains us to rely on analytical skills so much that it often becomes difficult to listen to intuition.”

Design thinking is something that could be a part of everyday life. It is a great way to communicate and express one’s ideas to a group of people. When we decide on online courses, we use storyboards and test our templates. Rather than thinking of it as a process, we must look at it as a mindset, a mindset that can self-tune itself according to problems posed.

Mana perceives a future where this concept of Design thinking would be omnipresent.

As an educator, coach, and consultant, Mana feels that Design thinking as a career option is extremely promising. She stresses the aspect that the interested must get trained adequately to familiarize themselves with all the tools that they could then effectively use in their workplaces.

While marketing has played a pivotal role in popularizing Design thinking, Mana attributes its multidisciplinary approach as the most important factor for its expanding use. Design thinking also draws a lot of aspects from anthropology that is much needed in research.

From a secretive process that was employed by a few organizations, Design thinking is now taking shape as a global movement. Mana perceives a future where this concept of Design thinking would be omnipresent. She also highlights that there is a huge gap between different countries in terms of its usage, that is being bridged gradually.

“At HPI, we as an organization would like to give out all possible resources and inspire new ways of thinking. Our MOOC courses envision this very objective and it would be great to see blossoming careers in this market.”

Design thinking helps us in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, the assumptions, and its implications. We must universally welcome the recognition of this concept so that eventually every person knows how to use design and Design Thinking.


HPI D-School has been a partner organization of the Melton Foundation since 2015. We couldn’t be more excited to team up with such an amazing organization!