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What Is a Case Study?

When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.

Deep Dive into a Topic

At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.

As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.

Study a Pattern

One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.

Gather Evidence

During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.

Present Findings

As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.

Draw Conclusions

Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.


design thinking case studies in management decisions

Header Explore Section: Case Studies Page

50+ Design Thinking Case Study Examples

Design Thinking Case Studies demonstrate the value of the Design Thinking methodology. They show how this Design Thinking methodology helps creatively solve problems and improve the success rate of innovation and increase collaboration in corporations, education, social impact work and the public sector by focusing on the needs of humans.

There are many Design Thinking Case Study examples on the web, but few meet the criteria for a robust case study: a clear description of the methodology, steps undertaken, experimentation through rapid prototypes and testing with people and finally documented results from the process. In this section, we have been selective about the design thinking case study examples that we highlight. We look for Design Thinking Case Studies that demonstrate how a problem was tackled and wherever possible the results or effect that the project produced. Our goal in curating this section of Design Thinking Case Study examples is quality over quantity.

Browse this page to view all Design Thinking Case Study examples, or if you are looking for Design Thinking Case Studies in a specific industry or marketing vertical, then rather start with the Design Thinking Case Studies Index .

If you have an interesting application of Design Thinking that you have a case study for, we would be happy to publish it.

Submit your Design Thinking Case Study for publication here.

Design Thinking Case Study Index

Design Thinking Case Study Index

Welcome to the Design Thinking Case Study Index. There are many Design Thinking Case Studies on the internet. Many are retrofitted descriptions of what occurred, rather than evidence of the Design Thinking process in action. In order to bring a higher standard to the practice of Design Thinking, we require stronger evidence and rigor. Only members can post and must provide strong evidence in the Design Thinking Case Study that the Design Thinking process was used to create the original idea for the product or service solution. The criteria that needs to be proved to make your project a Design Thinking Case Study are:

The Guardian: Benefits of Design Thinking

The Guardian: Benefits of Design Thinking

Design thinking helped The Guardian newspaper and publishing group change their funding model, boost revenue and adapt their culture and engage on an emotional level with their readers. In this case study, Alex Breuer, Executive Creative Director and Tara Herman, Executive Editor, Design explain how design thinking was able to achieve these goals for The Guardian.


Tackling the Opioid Crisis at the Human and Systems Levels

Tackling the Opioid Crisis at the Human and Systems Levels

How the Lummi Tribal clinic used design to address opioid overdoses

Applying Design Thinking Internally

Applying Design Thinking Internally

Applying Design Thinking internally, within a group, community or to ourselves. This is a new application of the Design Thinking Methodology.

An internal application in this sense can have two meanings. First, the internal application of design thinking tactics within a group, organization or community, and second, the internal application of design thinking to one’s own self and life.

Can Design Thinking help you solve your own problems?

The Use of Design Thinking in MNCH Programs, Ghana

The Use of Design Thinking in MNCH Programs, Ghana

Responding to growing interest among designers, global health practitioners, and funders in understanding the potential benefits of applying design thinking methods and tools to solving complex social problems, the Innovations for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) Initiative (Innovations) developed and piloted innovative interventions to address common barriers to improving the effectiveness of basic MNCH health services in low-resource settings.

Société Générale's Time Tracking Nightmare Solved

Société Générale's Time Tracking Nightmare Solved

In 2017, employees, managers, and partners of Société Générale Global Solution Centre agreed that invoices based on time tracking and project allocation were a chronic and painful challenge.

At SG-GSC, customers were billed for the time each assigned employee worked. The process of collecting the time worked by those employees (HCC) was a complicated and difficult ordeal. It consumed 21 days per month for senior employees. These employees had to navigate different systems, many types of contracts, high staff mobility, and a variety of processes between business lines.

How to Stimulate Innovation in Your Organization With Design Thinking

How to Stimulate Innovation in Your Organization With Design Thinking

In this use case the cities of Aalborg and Rotterdam share their findings obtained from design thinking initiatives. This is based on empirical research as part of an evaluation. The use case is written for other professionals in the field of design in public organizations.

One of the main targets of the Interreg NSR project Like! is to create a digital innovative culture in which citizens are engaged, and more inclusive services are build. To reach this the municipalities started several initiatives with design thinking. In these initiatives one of the objectives was to find out how design thinking can help us to develop innovative and inclusive services. To research what design thinking contributed, we evaluated the pilots with participants.

The Impact of Design Thinking on Innovation: A Case Study at Scania IT

The Impact of Design Thinking on Innovation: A Case Study at Scania IT

Organizational culture represents a crucial factor for the introduction of innovation throughout the organization via Design Thinking and agile way of working. Thus, the organization must establish a culture that encompasses a shared vision with values that create a commitment to learn, experiment and accept failure.

Oral B - Putting the User At the Center of Innovation

Oral B - Putting the User At the Center of Innovation

Oral B wanted to integrate digital technology into their electric toothbrush. The Brands first thoughts were to help users to track how well they were brushing their teeth. Future Facility, a product design firm in the UK suggested a different approach. Focus on the pain points of electric toothbrush users.

This case study discusses the importance of placing the user at the center of your innovation activities.

eCarSharing: Design Thinking At Innogy

Design Thinking at Innogy

eCarSharing:   Energy Solutions for the New Generation

In 2015, Itai Ben-Jacob pitched his own ideas for a viable business model and developed the idea for innogy’s eCarSharing project in a design thinking workshop. His goal was to explore one of innogy’s innovation focus areas, ‘urban mobility.’

Together with fellow innovation hub members he organized a series of design thinking workshops to wade through the expansive topic of urban concepts – one of them focusing on mobility: “ We wanted to understand urban mobility – what does it actually entail? What type of business should we start? “

Building Cape Town’s Resilience Qualities Through Design Thinking.

Building Cape Town’s Resilience Qualities Through Design Thinking.

This case study focuses on a Design Thinking Workshop for primary school learners. The aim of the workshops was to provide learners with a new set of skills which they can employ when problem solving for real world challenges.

Building resilience is essential for cities that face increasing uncertainty and new challenges that threaten the well-being of its citizens. This is especially important when looking at the diversity and complexity of potential shocks and stresses. 

Cape Town’s efforts to build skills in design thinking supports the creation of locally-relevant and innovative solutions that contribute to building resilient individuals and communities in Cape Town.

A Design Thinking Case Study byIDEO: Designing Waste Out of the Food System

Designing Waste Out of the Food System

The average American  wastes  enough food each month to feed another person for 19 days. Through a number of projects with The Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations, IDEO designers from across the U.S. devised novel ways to tackle food waste.

B2B Design Thinking: Product Innovation when the User is a Network

B2B Design Thinking: Product Innovation when the User is a Network

When B2B companies talk about user experience, they are really considering the aggregated needs of multiple people and roles in a large ecosystem. But what happens when those objectives are vastly different for every individual?

“Humans don’t stop being humans just because they entered an office building.”

Self-Checkout: Improving Scan Accuracy Through Design

Self-Checkout: Improving Scan Accuracy Through Design

In this unique applied research study, academics and designers partnered with four of ECR’s Retailer members to immerse themselves in the self-checkout experience, understanding from the perspectives of the shopper and self-checkout supervisors, their journey from entry to exit, and their design challenges and frustrations.

Co-designing OTP Bank’s Strategic Plan for Growth, The Design Thinking Society

Co-designing OTP Bank’s Strategic Plan for Growth

This is an example of accelerating a transformation through co-design. Eighty-two professionals gathered, representing OTP’s whole organization. Together, they were able to achieve months of work in just three days.

OTP Bank Romania (OTP) was at a key turning point in late 2018. The organization was undergoing changes in its leadership team. This new team helped them develop an ambitious goal:

OTP Bank will double its market share in 5 years.

They gathered for two Discovery sessions in December 2018. In these sessions, a carefully selected senior team chose three market segments to focus on. Then they built these segments into Personas.

IDEO: Journey to Mastery

IDEO: Journey to Mastery

While this is not a case study as such, it sits in our case study section as it is an important piece of information from a consultancy that played a large part in popularizing Design Thinking. In their Journey to Mastery section, IDEO discuss and shine a light on the shortcomings of the design thinking term and how it has been applied. I.e that it is not designing and that just knowing and using the practice does not in itself produce amazing solutions to problems.

It is worth a read to understand some of the nuance that is important to successful design thinking work.

Singapore Government: Building Service Platforms Around Moments in Life

Singapore Government: Building Service Platforms Around Moments in Life

In 2017, the product development team at Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) was tasked to develop a tool to consolidate citizen-facing services previously delivered by different government agencies onto a single platform. The initiative, Moments of Life, sought to make it easier for citizens to discover and access relevant services during important changes in their lives by reducing fragmentation and being more anticipatory in the delivery of those services.

Organizing the delivery of services around a citizen’s journey, rather than fitting their delivery to existing processes, required extensive interagency collaboration beyond functional silos.

Mayo Clinic: Design Thinking in Health Care – Case Study

Mayo Clinic: Design Thinking in Health Care – Case Study

In the early 2000s, Mayo Clinic physician Nicholas LaRusso asked himself a question: if we can test new drugs in clinical trials, can we in a similarly rigorous way test new kinds of doctor-patient interactions?  

Consequently, the Mayo Clinic set up a skunkworks outpatient lab called SPARC. Within 6 years it had grown to an enterprise wide department called the Center for Innovation a dedicated research and design-oriented institute that studies the processes of health care provision, from the initial phone call, to the clinic visit, to the diagnosis and treatment of the problem, to follow-up and preventive care.

Design Thinking and Participation in Switzerland: Lessons Learned from Three Government Case Studies

Design Thinking and Participation in Switzerland: Lessons Learned from Three Government Case Studies

Olivier Glassey, Jean-Henry Morin, Patrick Genoud, Giorgio Pauletto

This paper examines how design thinking and serious game approaches can be used to support participation.

In these case studies the authors discovered the following results.

Perceived usefulness. Based on informal discussions and debriefing sessions following all workshops, it is clear that the vast majority of workshop participants explicitly stated that both the actual outcome of the workshop and the methods used would significantly contribute to enhancing their performance in their work. Some workshops have actually led to follow up workshops or concrete actions based on the outcome.

Asili: Addressing an Entire Ecosystem of Need in a Rural Community

Asili: Addressing an Entire Ecosystem of Need in a Rural Community

Design Thinking in HR at Deutche Telekom, presented by Reza Moussavian

Design Thinking in HR at Deutche Telekom

Reza Moussavian, a senior HR and IT executive at Deutsch Telekom explains the company's journey and how important Design Thinking is as a business strategy for HR. Reza Moussavian's presentation provides great examples of issues tackled in HR and the results achieved. The presenter claims that there is not a singe issue that Deutche Telekom tackles in HR now that does not start with a Design Thinking methodology.

"Design Thinking solves 5% of our problems." says Reza Moussavian, "What we found out was that the magic was really in the implementation phase. We had to learn how to keep the momentum, the spirit and the fire from the co-creation workshops alive through the long implementation phase. Success is really about technology, transformation and leadership skills."

Design Thinking in Education: Perspectives, Opportunities and Challenges

Design Thinking in Education: Perspectives, Opportunities and Challenges

This very informative article discusses design thinking as a process and mindset for collaboratively finding solutions for wicked problems in a variety of educational settings. Through a systematic literature review the article organizes case studies, reports, theoretical reflections, and other scholarly work to enhance our understanding of the purposes, contexts, benefits, limitations, affordances, constraints, effects and outcomes of design thinking in education.

Specifically, the review pursues four questions:

Design Thinking in the Classroom: What can we do about Bullying? By Dr. Maureen Carroll.

Design Thinking in the Classroom: What can we do about Bullying?

As children move from kindergarten, through middle school, and to high school, instruction shifts from stories to facts, from speculation to specifics, and imagination fades from focus. Design Thinking provides an alternative model to traditional ways of learning academic content by challenging students to find answers to complex, nuanced problems with multiple solutions and by fostering students’ ability to act as change agents.

Design Thinking is all about building creative confidence — a sense that “I can change the world.” In the Bullies & Bystanders Design Challenge, the students discovered that changing themselves might be even more important.

A Design Thinking Case Study in Education: Following One School District's Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century

Following One School District's Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century

In her doctoral paper Loraine Rossi de Campos explores the use of Design Thinking in a school district for a 4-5 grade school.

India: Using ‘Design Thinking’ to Enhance Urban Redevelopment.

India: Using ‘Design Thinking’ to Enhance Urban Redevelopment.

The discourse on urban planning and development has evolved over the last century with top-down methods of planning urban spaces giving way to bottom-up approaches that involve residents and other stakeholders in the design process. While the notion of participation and user involvement is considered critical to the design of appropriate and acceptable urban forms, there is no clear consensus in the literature on the methodology to be used to involve users and stakeholders in the design process. In this paper, we propose that the use of ‘Design-Thinking’ – a methodology for Human-Centred Design that is often used in product design and related industries – may be an effective methodology for engaging stakeholders in the urban design domain.

E*Trade: From Idea to Investment in 5 Minutes

E*Trade: From Idea to Investment in 5 Minutes

Why the Financial Services Sector Should Embrace Design Thinking. Financial institutions need to evolve rapidly or risk disruption at the hands of nimble Fintech start-up companies.

In this article Kunal Vaed, The Street, describes how E*Trade used design thinking to enable the company to help investors get smarter by going from the idea of investing to an investment in 5 minutes.

E*Trade's Adaptive Portfolio service offering provides a good example of the work and results that E*Trade achieved with Design Thinking.

Fidelity Labs: Optimizing near-term savings goals

Fidelity Labs: Optimizing near-term savings goals

Thanks to providers like Fidelity, people can rely on easy, convenient systems to stay on track with their retirement savings. But when it comes to saving for important near-term goals (think: vacation, house, or wedding), people tend to be less organized. 

Fidelity Labs tackled this problem and defined the challenge as: "How might we improve the experience of saving for near-term goals? How might we make it easier, faster, and better?"

Design for Action: MassMutual and Intercorp Group by Tim Brown and Roger L. Martin

Design for Action: MassMutual and Intercorp Group

How to use design thinking to make great things actually happen by Tim Brown and Roger L. Martin. In this great HBR article, the authors look at design thinking in Finance with two case studies, one from MassMutual and the other from Intercorp. Group of Peru.

In this article highlighting the development of the acceptance of Design Thinking, they discuss how Design Thinking helps to create the artifact that creates the new solution as well as the intervention/s that brings the artifact to life.

How to Use Design Thinking to Make Great Things Actually Happen by Tim Brown and Roger Martin

How to Use Design Thinking to Make Great Things Actually Happen

Ever since it became clear that smart design led to the success of many products, companies have been employing it in other areas, from customer experiences, to strategy, to business ecosystems. But as design is used in increasingly complex contexts, a new hurdle has emerged: gaining acceptance (for the new solutions).

4 Design Thinking Case Studies in Healthcare: Nursing by Penn Nursing

4 Design Thinking Case Studies in Healthcare: Nursing

The 4 case studies by Penn Nursing illustrate how nurses can be really powerful collaborators and generators of solutions within Healthcare. The videos describe the main attributes that nurses bring to the problem solving table

Philips Improving the Patient Experience

Philips: Improving the Patient Experience

Philips Ambient Experience service offers hospitals a way to radically improve the patient experience and results that they can achieve from their CT scanning suites. The best way to understand what it is is to watch this video  and this video  discussing the latest addition to the service. The white paper from Philips is also a good source of information on the Ambient Experience Service.

IBM: Design Thinking Adaptation and Adoption at Scale by Jan Schmiedgen and Ingo Rauth

IBM: Design Thinking Adaptation and Adoption at Scale

How IBM made sense of ‘generic design thinking’ for tens of thousands of people. 

Generic design thinking often faces heavy resistance from influential skeptics, gets misunderstood or not understood at all, or less dire, it gets picked up with an unreflected euphoria and is applied as a “silver bullet” to all kinds of problems and projects (the famous “methodology misfit” we also see with Scrum for example). The big hangover often comes after the first experimentation budgets are expended and at worst a blame game starts.

Design Thinking in Public Engagement: Two Case Studies

Design Thinking in Public Engagement: Two Case Studies

Dave Robertson presents two case studies with the British Columbia Government (Canada). One with the Ministry of Transportation discussing their (public servant centered website), the other solving the problem of finding a solution to where to place a power substation.

Dave shows how he was stuck working in the public sector as a consultant and how creativity expressed through the Design Thinking methodology helped him to see a different, more effective way of creating solutions.

Bank of America Helps Customers Keep the Change with IDEO

Bank of America Helps Customers Keep the Change

How do you encourage new customers to open bank accounts? In 2004, Bank of America used the Design Thinking methodology to look at the problem from a human centered perspective when they assigned design agency IDEO to boost their enrollment numbers: a problem that at the time, lacked any user perspective on why it was so hard for customers to save.

IDEO: Redesigning The Employment Pass Application in Singapore

Redesigning The Employment Pass Application in Singapore

The Ministry of Manpower’s Work Pass Division (WPD) used design thinking as a tool to develop better ways to support foreigners who choose Singapore as a destination to live, work and set up businesses. The case reveals: Design thinking can potentially transform the perception and meaning of public service.

The team found out that the service redesign process required a better understanding of the decision points of both users and non-users. This involved taking a closer look at the opportunities and difficulties facing users, including those who had succeeded and failed within it, or had encountered problems or avoided it.

The US Tax Forms Simplification Project

The US Tax Forms Simplification Project

This case concerns one of the earliest attempts by design thinkers at designing a large, complex system. It shows that design approaches in the public sector can look back at a long history. And it reveals how design thinking within the organization must include members of the whole organization in the design process.

Design has a long tradition and a rich history in the public sector. Nearly 40 years ago, when the US Congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act into law, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) turned to designers in an effort to implement the new policy and to improve its relationship with taxpayers. 

A Tough Crowd: Using Design Thinking to Help Traditional German Butchers

A Tough Crowd: Using Design Thinking to Help Traditional German Butchers

Between 2004 and 2014, more than 4000 butcher shops were forced to shut down in Germany. When last was the butcher shop redesigned? The process started in the 1990s, as supermarkets became the favored spot for meat-shopping. As if a dramatic loss of market share was not enough, the industry as a whole started suffering from a serious image crisis. It was time to apply design Thinking to the traditional German Butcher Shop.

The initial problem statement read “Create the meat shop 2.0, an up-to-date version of the classic butcher business”. 

IDEO: Using Design Thinking to Create a Better Car

IDEO: Using Design Thinking to Create a Better Car

The challenge.

Remove roadblocks that can compromise the in-car experience for the Lincoln car company.

The final product, the Lincoln MKC luxury crossover, is credited with helping the Lincoln brand outpace growth in the luxury segment by more than two-to-one over competitors.


A pop-up studio where IDEO designers helped departments communicate and collaborate more effectively.

Transforming Constructivist Learning into Action: Design Thinking in Education, by

Transforming Constructivist Learning into Action: Design Thinking in Education

In an ever changing society of the 21st century, there is a demand to equip students with meta competences going beyond cognitive knowledge. Education, therefore, needs a transition from transferring knowledge to developing individual potentials with the help of constructivist learning. A Scheer, C Noweski,  C Meinel , University of Potsdam, Germany.

Design Thinking is the most effective method of teaching constructivist learning.

Scaling Design Thinking in the Enterprise, a 5 Year Study

Scaling Design Thinking in the Enterprise, a 5 Year Study

During Julie Baher's five years at  Citrix  between 2010 to 2015, she was fortunate to gain first-hand experience leading a transformation in product strategy to a customer-centered approach. It began when several senior executives attended the  design thinking boot camp  at Stanford’s d-school, returning with a new vision for the product development processes. Julie goes into detail about how they scaled up the customer centric methodology across the organizations 8,000 employees.

Developing Environmental Sustainability Strategies

Developing Environmental Sustainability Strategies

Developing environmental sustainability strategies, the Double Diamond method of LCA and design thinking: a case study from aged care. Journal of Cleaner Production, 85, 67-82. Stephen J. Clune*, Simon Lockrey.

Developing an App for Type II Diabetes using Design Thinking to ensure that the App is developed around the needs of the users

Developing an App for Type II Diabetes

Development and testing of a mobile application to support diabetes self-management for people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: a design thinking case study. Numerous mobile applications have been developed to support diabetes-self-management. However, the majority of these applications lack a theoretical foundation and the involvement of people with diabetes during development. The aim of this study was to develop and test a mobile application (app) supporting diabetes self-management among people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes using design thinking. The article was written by Mira Petersen and Nana F. Hempler.

Design Thinking to Improve UX in Public Transportation

Improving UX in Public Transportation

In this case study the project leaders goal was to  improve the experience of bus users  on Madrid's EMT system by offering a technological solution to  increase the users’ satisfaction with regard to accessibility  during the bus trip as well as when waiting for the bus to arrive.

Transforming Life Insurance through design thinking - a McKinsey Case Study

Transforming Life Insurance through Design Thinking

To some fintechs, non-insurance incumbents, and venture capitalists, the industry’s challenges suggest opportunity. The life insurance value chain is increasingly losing share to these players, who are chipping away at the profit pool. 

How might incumbent life insurers keep pace in today’s fast-moving competitive environment and meet customers’ changing needs?

Deploying the Design Thinking methodology in the insurance sector could be the key to helping save insurance from itself. Here's what McKinsey has to say about design thinking in insurance in their article "Transforming Life Insurance through Design Thinking".

"Better addressing the evolving needs of consumers can help incumbents win their loyalty—and protect against new competitors. 

Bringing Design Thinking to the Insurance World by Pancentric

Bringing Design Thinking to the Insurance World

Pancentric helped  Jelf kick-off a several-year digital transformation journey by getting to know not just their customers better, but their own staff, too. Jelf has dozens of offices around the UK, all with specialties in insuring different kinds of commercial businesses. For our project team trying to determine a roadmap of new developments, there was no easy overview of how each office operated or what the entire customer experience looked like.

The Features of Design Thinking in Fast Moving Consumer Goods Brand Development

The Features of Design Thinking in Fast Moving Consumer Goods Brand Development

This paper investigates what features of design thinking are employed in FMCG brand development via stakeholder interviews in three domains: agencies, companies, and retailers. This paper concludes with suggestions of how design thinking can be embraced in FMCG brand development.

Swiffer Case Study by Harry West, Continuum

A Chain of Innovation The Creation of Swiffer

This is a great case study that underlines the complexity of bringing game changing products to market. It helps to provide an understanding of just how much more is needed that a simple five step process of idea generation.

Read more from Continuum , the Design Firm responsible for the Swiffer

The Guardian: Using Design to Reaffirm Values, a case study by the Design Council

The Guardian: Using Design to Reaffirm Values

The Guardian's redesign, which launched in January 2018, illustrated the business impact when design is valued. The Guardian has a strong culture of design and increasingly, how design thinking can contribute to organizational change and development.

Saving Product X: A Design Thinking Case Study

Have you ever wondered if you can apply design thinking principles with a limited time and budget? If so, check out this in-depth Design Thinking use case, which details how Design Thinking helped a company to save its product.

Saving Product X: A Design Thinking Case Study

By Luciano Castro

Luciano is a business-driven manager with over 15 years of experience as a CTO and CEO in multinational companies and startups.

What is Design Thinking?

Imagine that you have an idea. You come up with an ingenious application which you think will solve your business problems. There are currently no identical solutions on the market and the one which is most similar is not really working in the way that customers expect it to.

While your vision is still fresh, you start thinking about the first fundamental question that comes to mind: “How long will it take to get it done?”

And since we rarely find ourselves with unlimited budget and time, the second consequent question comes quickly: “How much will it cost me to do it?”

Both of these are fundamental and crucial questions in the making of a product, but often they are precisely the wrong questions to start with.

Instead, the most important question to ask first is: “What value can I create for my users?”

To better understand the scope of a project, requirements, and timing we can use a methodology called “ Design Thinking ,” which helps us during the “Discovery Phase” of a product. This is exactly the time when we need to understand not only what will make a great product, but also how and if we should do it. This creative and experimental approach helps us to better understand how to create things that are not only usable but above all, useful.

The Design Thinking process is particularly useful because it generates a unique and specific outcome: knowledge.

This methodology has a wider scope of use , but for the purpose of this case study on Design Thinking, we will focus only on one specific field - Software Product Development.

The Theory of Design Thinking

Before we delve into the practical applications of this Design Thinking example and my experience applying it, let’s take a deeper look at the Design Thinking process.

Design Thinking is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solve problems. It focuses on understanding the user perspective, with a human-centered point of view. The power of this methodology is the possibility to test quickly if an idea, solution or enhancement can bring real results to our customers. Integrating different methodologies, tools, and techniques coming from different fields (marketing, psychology, design, business), the purpose of Design Thinking is to put the user on the very center of the problem we have to solve.

The goal of the methodology is to “find the user itself and define its needs” and by finding those needs, create a solution or a product that can be really useful. To achieve this goal, the whole concept is split into six design thinking phases.

Diagram of Design Thinking phases.

If after reading this you may be thinking: “This is great but how is this going to help to quickly make my app a reality.” In order to make this more tangible, I will go over a case study for design thinking from my personal experience.

Design Thinking Project: A Real-life Case Study

Intro: project x.

Some time ago, I found myself at a meeting with an entrepreneur, a few managers , and many ideas flying around the room. Their direct competitor had recently released a new application and the tension was palpable. The company wanted to go out with something new on the market, to avoid losing ground to their competitor.

They prepared a document with some requirements, a vague idea of what the product should look like, and how much should it cost.

“We have to follow what others have done, with a lower price,” the Marketing Director said. “We have to create a more usable system, which simplifies the user journey,” added another manager. “We have to change the way we collect information, simplify it and integrate our processes with third parties,” said another. “It will take us months,” the technical manager shook his head, who mentally translated all those requests into hundreds of hours of code to be implemented.

While I can’t disclose all of the project details, I can disclose that the product was hub communication software. This piece of software managed different channels (email to SMS, fax to VoIP) and it was created for the web and mobile platforms. The product was originally created a few years before, but its usability was poor. At the time of the launch, the competitor was far ahead in terms of user experience. Moreover, they had an excellent mobile app, which was gaining ground in the mobile app store.

Company X was a traditional process driven company, familiar with traditional projects. It had run a few Agile projects in the past, but it was new to the idea of creating an MVP and testing it on the market. More notably, they feared the unknown. What if the new MVP would have an undesirable or unpredictable effect on their customer user base? This lack of control didn’t inspire confidence.

The meeting described above and the following ones did not lead to a clear definition of what the product to be achieved actually was. We only knew that we had to hit the target as soon as possible.

However as the project progressed and a competitor was beginning to gain traction, consent from the company was solidifying. Most agreed with the idea that: “We cannot afford to launch a half-finished product, we need a product that is working from the start.”

Despite some initial perplexity and fear, this was an opportunity to learn what would bring real value to their user base and potentially attract more users by making a streamlined lightweight product.

This prompted the company to look for approaches that they haven’t tried before, in order to have a complete product built on time even if it’s going to have only essential features at its launch. We decided to use the Design Thinking process and focus on the things that would really bring value to the end user and thus, beat the competition by bringing only what’s necessary to the customer.

Stage 1 - Empathize

Empathizing Phase: The goal of this phase is to understand your customer, by searching and gathering information about their business. During this phase, we can use several different tools, such as interviews, focus groups, observations, and surveys.

Image of sample graphs utilized during the Empathizing Phase.

In the most literal sense, empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions of others. In design thinking, empathy is a “ deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for.”

Our first step was to ensure that the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (otherwise known as HiPPO) was not ruling over everyone else’s. Therefore, together with managers and the founder, we have compiled a list of possible stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making process.

In a day-long meeting, we compiled the first list of 30 names (between employees, functional managers, and customers) that could be contacted directly and then we also picked a target audience of 4000 customers (about 10% of their recurring customer user base).

We tried to “normalize” our target customer base as much as possible, by including diversity in terms of gender distribution, industry, and other data points. To add an additional level of complexity, the physical location of the sample to be interviewed were all divided into different cities and in some cases countries. We now had points of contacts to carry out interviews and questionnaires.

The group was organized to carry out the interviews remotely, following a scripted set of questions and some basic rules:

We prepared our interview questions with the intention of understanding which main features should be enhanced or eliminated, such that we could quickly build a new version that responded to the needs of our users.

For the second group of users, we prepared a series of questions in a Google form. We opted for multiple-choice questions, with some formulated open-ended questions to facilitate more interaction from the users, including a question requiring the user to try the new version of the product just available in closed beta.

To organize the entire information gathering process, we used remote tools that allowed the team to collect information more easily, including Skype, Zoom, Google Forms, and a digital Kanban Board where we put all of our activities and tracked their status.

Sample diagram of information gathering.

The first results of the interviews were encouraging, as the interviewees were open to providing feedback on the weaknesses and the strengths of the system.

However, the first batch of questionnaire answers was much less exciting: out of all 300 emails sent, only 5 people completed their questionnaires.

Disappointed by this result, we were ready to try new ways to involve the user base, when one of the sales managers came to us with an idea:

“I do not think they will answer any emails, they are not used to interacting with us. But, if we communicate with all those who have an expiring renewal and give them a small incentive, I am sure they will give us a hand.”

The idea was simple but exceptional. In a few hours, we had a new list of users (3800), which maintained the same division between the mainstream and extremes. However, these users would be “forced” to interact with the system, due to the proximity of their renewal.

This time around, they were asked to answer a series of questions, participate in the beta and in return, get a discount on renewal. The adhesion was complete and at the first delivery of this new model, over 70% of users replied and completed the questionnaire.

After iterating and changing some of the questions, and thanks to some users willing to interview more than once, we were ready to define our user base more clearly.

Stage 2 - Define

Defining Stage: In this phase, we collect and categorize information from the Empathize phase. It’s here where we define User Personas and User Journeys.

Sample user persona.

The dictionary meaning of define is to determine the identity and the essential qualities of a notion . In our case we wanted to define the following:

In the design thinking terms, the define phase is where you analyze your observations and synthesize them into core problems that you have identified.

We had a sufficient database to understand what the real problems were. In addition to the feedback received in the Empathize phase, it contained points that were highlighted by Company X employees but had never been pointed out to management, as well as strengths, weaknesses, and other problems that have never been taken into account.

The next action was to create our User Personas. During this brainstorming phase, we involved the entire extended team. The brainstorming phase was always performed remotely, using video-conferencing systems and tools to track the personas and their creation in real time.

For each Persona, we identified their biography, their approach to technology, their use of social media, preferred brands, their needs, and ideas and speculated on what would have been their Customer Journey.

After this, we had selected the common client User Personas and had a finished set of data coming from interviews and surveys. This was the right time to get our hands dirty.

During the definition phase, we tried to transform a generic definition of a problem like, “We need a product that will increase our sales by 10%,” into a more specific solution like: “Men and adult women, between 35 and 45 years that are working in an office need to receive communications that have a legal validity to be sure that the sender is actually who they say they are.”

At this point in the project process, we had completed brainstorming sessions around our users, hypothesized solutions, and kept an open mind to every possible innovation. “The only stupid idea is the one never expressed” was the mantra.

In a short time, bearing in mind who our subjects were, we had a clear view of what was useful to our users, along with what needs and fears we should address along the customer journey.

We then engaged in building a “User Story Map,” which allowed us to categorize the process of users, mapping up to themes. For each of the personas, we defined the set of activities, stories, and tasks that we assumed they must complete during the journey. In doing so, we could quickly test our idea and understand if it met the core needs. If it did, we could bring it into the market faster than everyone else which was essential as our competitor was becoming more successful every day.

Stage 3 - Ideate

Ideation Phase: Using the above information, here the team ideates solutions. There are no silly or wrong ideas! Everything must be expressed and documented.

One step further from the definition is the Ideation phase, where the key is forming real concepts and solution, not just abstract definitions.

In design thinking terms, ideation is “the process where you generate ideas and solutions through sessions such as Sketching, Prototyping, Brainstorming, Brainwriting, Worst Possible Idea, and a wealth of other ideation techniques.”

Our team was completely remote so we decided to proceed to work in a Lean way when producing materials and reviewing them. For example, designers and other members of the team have agreed that to be as fast as possible, the best solution would be to start with drawings on paper and to share photos of them in the group. Only then we would produce the most interesting designs in Balsamiq or Axure.

Sample wireframe.

For each sketch that was produced, we gathered information from users, we defined a set of solutions and we came back to those users (whenever it was possible and as often as it was possible) to test with them the process and the result.

Stage 4 - Prototype

Prototyping Phase: _ During this phase, something tangible is created, that will allow you to verify your idea in real life. Don’t overcomplicate and create this MVP as quickly as possible. _

Sample wireframe.

During the prototype phase, it was finally time to make our definitions and ideas come to life. A prototype is the first, original model of a proposed product, and this is exactly what we set out to build. By design thinking standards, the prototype stage is where you create an inexpensive, scaled down versions of the real product to investigate solutions from the previous stages.

After almost 10 days from the beginning of our journey, we arrived at the crucial moment, a meeting with a developer team where we had a chance to check our assumptions and estimations. After a session of consultation and definition with the team of developers, we weighed the stories and understood that the major effort of the development work will be in the development of the back-end system and interfacing with the legacy systems currently in place. Alongside this, we also realized that creating the front-end systems will be a much shorter exercise. Thus, we decided to create a front-end prototype using the components which already existed in the system to save time.

We had a time limit of 3 days to have a first version of the prototype ready. This prototype had to reflect the product as much as possible and maintain the necessary functionality.

After 3 days we had our first version of the prototype ready. It had “fake” data which reflected the behavior of the software we were aiming to create. Some accessory elements were missing, but the software in that state visually represented a good percentage of total content planned.

At the end of two weeks of work, we had software that we could try and test with actual users. We used user experience monitoring software to analyze heat maps and user attention, while they were navigating our prototype.

Stage 5 - Test

Testing Phase - Verify your idea in real life with actual users. Get feedback. Ask questions on how to improve it.

After a definition, ideation and a prototype phases it was finally time to see if our product actually worked in real life. In design thinking terms, testing means putting the complete product to trial using the best solutions created in the prototyping phase.

In our case, the testing phase did not only take place at the end, but it was a constant loop of feedback and iteration whenever it was possible. At the end of each accomplished step, we tried to get feedback from users or customers, before convincing ourselves to move on to the next phase.

Once the prototype was completed, it was time to test it with the widest possible audience and check with them how effectively it met their needs, understand their perception, and understand if it accomplished their goals.

The testing phase specifically included a walkthrough prototype where users were able to see the new workflow and perform actions, along with a few sessions where the team directly observed users, while tracking their responses. A simple questionnaire was used to collect conversion rates across specific features in the platform, where users were asked to score the process from 1-10.

The testing phase was later extended to the whole team and even to some individuals outside the organization (customers and users) who during the earlier sessions, had willingly consented to give their feedback on the implementation of the system.

The results of this testing were encouraging. The stakeholders of the Company X were able not only to see the mockups but to try out and “touch” the product for the very first time. The extended team had the opportunity to test and verify their assumptions and correct them over time within the period of two weeks.

Now the final test was waiting: opening it to users and understanding what would happen next.

Stage 6 - Implement

Implementation Phase: This is the phase where all the collected knowledge gets translated into a final product.

We had data, ideas, personas, and our first tangible prototype. It was time to roll up our sleeves and start developing. We had a month and a half to implement our new system.

We defined a set of rules to get our MVP implemented in a short period of time:

To complete the project in time we have brought on a few new team members who had not been involved in the project since the very early stages of the discovery phase.

We added frontend developers, backend developers, and designers. The new members of the team were working remotely and it was not possible to bring them all in the same room for the period of the project, so we made sure that we have the right tools for keeping the communication going.

The process put in place to manage the work was an Agile one. We divided the remaining time into several short sprints, with remote meetings every day and updates via Slack during the day to exchange the ideas and to help each other to solve problems.

We didn’t have a full documentation stored somewhere, but mentally we all had a comprehensive set of actions, a common shared vision, and goals amongst the team. We all started to perceive the User Personas to be a real user, with his own needs and problems. Once our team started to have an aligned vision, we moved onto defining what needed to be done and when in order to finish the project on time.

The activities were outlined within a User Story Map, to maintain the original evidence of the personas and the flow we want to give to the product.

The User Story maps were created via three clear steps: identifying the activities, identifying the steps required to complete the activity, and the list of stories/tasks associated with each. We sorted the stories according to priority (Must, Should, Could), which dictated what components made it into the product.

The team was able to proceed in a fast pace since the very beginning of the implementation, thanks to a clear vision shared by the team, and by the method we employed which enabled the team to stay on track without direct steering from the management above. Everyone working in the project had questions from the Design Thinking stages in mind:

This allowed our team to make their own micro-decisions, and steer the product towards its final goal.

We made two reviews of the work in progress at the end of each sprint and one final release review at the end of the path, before the product was finally put into production. We used the last sprint to prepare the infrastructure needed to run and launch the product.

Finally, the users who have used our old product were invited again to try out the new version. Our product was released into production two months after the meeting in which the idea to make it was expressed. The product worked, users started using it, and we progressively sent more new users to this tool instead of the old one. A/B testing showed us that they preferred the new product, and the project was accepted in the company as a great success.

More importantly, a Design Thinking methodology was finally accepted. We believe this will have a good and long-lasting impact and will allow them to build better products in the future.

Design Thinking Graph

Throughout this case study, we have shown how Design Thinking methodology can be applied to a real-life problem with a limited time and budget.

Instead of using more traditional approaches and producing things in sequential steps, we have chosen to iterate through the six design thinking stages. Empathize. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test. Implement. This became our mantra and allowed us to produce a very well received product.

Using Design Thinking has lead so to save time, and in turn, save costs spend on the project. We were not working on millions of different features, but only on few, well thought through actions that were clear to everybody in the team. Most importantly, we were able to deliver the product and value that users needed.

Using Design Thinking process helped us in many different areas:

When we started Design Thinking process was met with skepticism by the client, but when we finished and got the feedback from our customers, it was immediately clear that the steps we have laid out have helped us to achieve something that would have been very hard or impossible otherwise. This was valued by the client and became their internal a flagship project for the future challenges ahead.

Understanding the basics

Design Thinking is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solve problems, focusing on understanding the user perspective, with a human-centered point of view.

Why is Design Thinking useful?

Design Thinking is particularly useful because it generates a unique and specific outcome: knowledge.

What phases does the Design Thinking process have?

1. Empathize. 2. Define. 3. Ideate. 4. Prototype. 5. Test. 6. Implement.

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8 Great Design Thinking Examples

Wondering if design thinking works here’s a collection of design thinking case studies that show how organizations have applied design thinking..

Design thinking is imperative for companies to unleash their team’s full potential. Let us take a deep dive into 8 great Design Thinking Examples!

In the Harvard Business Review article “ Why Design Thinking Works ,” Jeanne Liedtka reveals the results of a seven-year study she did looking at 50 business projects in a range of sectors. What she found was this: “I have seen that…design thinking…has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM [total quality management] did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes .”

Design thinking is an undeniably powerful tool for companies, but what does it look like in practice?

Design thinking is an undeniably powerful tool for companies , but what does it look like in practice? How have organizations applied it and how does it work? Is design thinking training something your company needs? Read the following design thinking examples and case studies to discover how design thinking has been successfully applied by many companies. Bonus: learn the key foundations in design thinking to better solve problems and seize opportunities in our Design Thinking Foundations e-course –an excellent tool for the entire team.

How has design thinking been applied to different industries, challenges, and business sectors? Here are eight examples of how it has impacted real companies and teams.

Published in First Round Review, this article —  “How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business ” —outlines how the famed start-up went from $200 a week profit to the “ unicorn ” it is today.

Design thinking is a part of Airbnb’s success; in particular, they built a culture of experimentation: “It was only when they gave themselves permission to experiment with non-scalable changes to the business that they climbed out of what they called the ‘trough of sorrow.’”

Airbnb listing

2. PillPack

This case study describes how PillPack started as a startup-in-residence at IDEO Cambridge. Working with designers and using a human-centered approach, PillPack refined their brand vision, strategy, and identity across channels.

PillPack was called one of the best inventions of 2014 by Time Magazine and Amazon bought PillPack for $1 Billion in 2018. I think you could safely say that their design thinking approach was successful.

PillPack delivery

3. Clean Team

There are many great examples of how design thinking has been applied to the social sector . This case study describes Clean Team, which applied design thinking to provide in-home toilets for Ghana’s urban poor.

The case study describes the project and its success: “For the millions of Ghanaians without in-home toilets, there are few good options when it comes to our bodies’ most basic functions. Working with Unilever and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), and developed Clean Team , a comprehensive sanitation system that delivers and maintains toilets in the homes of subscribers. Clean Team now serves 5,000 people in Kumasi, Ghana, making lives cleaner, healthier, and more dignified.”

The Clean Team

IBM is an example of a corporate giant who has deeply invested in design thinking and building a large internal design team . And, they’ve seen the work pay off — this article talks about how IBM has seen a 301% (!) ROI by banking on design thinking. Another impressive thing about IBM is that they’ve made their enterprise design thinking assets available to everyone through this open toolkit .

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IBM’s design thinking model.

5. Stanford Hospital

Design thinking has even found its way into the world of medicine and is seen by many as fundamental to the future of wellness . This case study describes how design thinking was used in a two-day course by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford to explore ways to improve the patient experience in the emergency room.

Additionally, the article describes how Stanford administrators have been using design thinking to envision other new experiences for the hospital: “SHC staff used design thinking to complete a plan to redesign two nursing units in the current hospital to serve only patients with cancer.”

Stanford Hospital reception desk

6. Uber Eats

This article by a former designer on the UberEATS team describes how they approach their food delivery service with a design thinking mindset. One of the top takeaways from the article is how empathy is essential to their practice: “To understand all our different markets and how our products fit into the physical conditions of each city, we constantly immerse ourselves in the places where our customers live, work, and eat. Sitting in our offices in San Francisco or New York, we can’t truly understand the experiences of a person on the streets of Bangkok or London.”

Uber Eats delivery person

7. Golden Gate Regional Center

The Harvard Business Review article “Better Service, Faster: A Design Thinking Case Study ” describes how design thinking was used by the Golden Gate Regional Center (GGRC) , an organization that provides services and financial support to people with developmental disabilities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

GGRC worked with design students from Stanford to rethink their lengthy assessment process, which often took months. One outcome of the project was a culture change inside GGRC toward design thinking: “GGRC is now brainstorming improvement ideas and figuring out ways to prototype them on a regular basis.”

Golden Gate Bridge

8. Bank of America

We’ll end with one of the classic design thinking examples, which comes from Bank of America. Invision’s case study shares how the bank partnered with design consultancy IDEO in 2004 to understand how to get more people to open bank accounts. They ultimately came up with the Keep the Change program. This highly successful banking initiative came out of the design thinking research the IDEO team did where they found savers were intentionally rounding up when writing checks.

Money on a counter

To learn more about how to apply the design thinking process to business, go here . If you want to build your own toolkit of design thinking tools, check out our resources.If you’re ready to start using design thinking, sign up for our online course.

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Business Insights

Harvard Business School Online's Business Insights Blog provides the career insights you need to achieve your goals and gain confidence in your business skills.

5 Examples of Design Thinking in Business

Business team engaging in design thinking

Design thinking has become a business buzzword that’s changed how companies approach problem-solving . Countless brands, including GE Healthcare, Netflix, and UberEats, have utilized design thinking to develop effective solutions to challenges.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a user-centric, solutions-based approach to problem-solving that can be described in four stages :

The four stages of the design thinking process: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

Examples of Design Thinking

What does a properly executed design thinking process look like? Examining real-world examples is an effective way to answer that question. Here are five examples of well-known brands that have leveraged design thinking to solve business problems.

1. GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare is an example of a company that focused on user-centricity to improve a product that seemingly had no problems.

Diagnostic imaging has revolutionized healthcare, yet GE Healthcare saw a problem in how pediatric patients reacted to procedures. Many children were observed crying during long procedures in cold, dark rooms with flickering fluorescent lights. Considering this, GE Healthcare’s team observed children in various environments, spoke to experts, and interviewed hospital staff to gain more insight into their experiences.

After extensive user research, hospital pilots, and reiteration, GE Healthcare launched the “Adventure Series.” This redesign initiative focused on making magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines more child-friendly.

For example, the “Pirate Adventure” transforms MRI machines from dark, black holes to pirate ships with scenery of beaches, sandcastles, and the ocean. By empathizing with children’s pain points, GE Healthcare was able to craft a creative solution that was not only fun but increased patient satisfaction scores by 90 percent. This also yielded unexpected successes, including improved scan quality of pediatric patients, and ultimately saved customers time and resources.

Design thinking not only succeeds at finding effective solutions for companies but also at putting initiatives to the test before implementation.

When Oral B wanted to upgrade its electric toothbrush, it enlisted designers Kim Colin and Sam Hecht to help. The company’s request was to add more functions for electric toothbrush users, such as tracking brushing frequency, observing gum sensitivity, and playing music.

While clarifying the problem, however, Colin and Hecht pointed out that brushing teeth was a neurotic act for many people. Users didn’t want additional functionality and, in many cases, thought it could potentially cause more stress. Instead, they recommended two solutions that could improve user experience without adding gimmicks.

Their first recommendation was to make the toothbrush easier to charge, especially while users were on the road. Another was making it more convenient for users to order replacement heads by allowing toothbrushes to connect to phones and send reminder notifications. Both proposals were successful because they focused on what users wanted rather than what the company wanted to roll out.

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Although many companies have successfully used design thinking, Netflix has repeatedly leveraged it to become an industry giant. During the company’s inception, its main competitor, Blockbuster, required customers to drive to brick-and-mortar stores to rent DVDs. The process was the same for returns, which was a major pain point for many. Netflix eliminated that inconvenience by delivering DVDs directly to customers’ homes with a subscription model.

While this revolutionized the movie industry, Netflix’s real success has been in its innovation over the years. For example, when the company realized DVDs were becoming outdated, it created an on-demand streaming service to stay ahead of the curve. This also inadvertently eliminated the inconvenience of having to wait for DVDs.

Subsequently, in 2011, Netflix took its design thinking one step further and responded to customers’ need for original, provocative content that wasn’t airing on traditional networks. Later, in 2016, it improved its user experience by adding short trailers to its interface. Each of Netflix’s major updates was in response to customers’ needs and driven by an effective design thinking process.

Another household name, Airbnb , started by only making around $200 a week. After some observation, its founders recognized that the advertising pictures hosts were posting online weren’t of a high enough quality, which often deterred customers from renting rooms.

To empathize with customers, the founders spent time traveling to each location, imagining what users look for in a temporary place to stay. Their solution? Invest in a high-quality camera and take pictures of what customers want to see, based on their travel observations. For example, showing every room rather than a select few, listing special features like a hot tub or pool in the description, and highlighting the neighborhood or areas in close proximity to the residence. The result? A week later, Airbnb’s revenue doubled.

Instead of focusing on reaching a bigger audience, Airbnb’s founders used design thinking to determine why their existing audience wasn’t utilizing their services. They realized that rather than focusing on traditional business values, like scalability, they needed to simply put themselves in users’ shoes to solve business problems.

5. UberEats

The go-to food delivery service app UberEats attributes its success to its ability to reiterate quickly and empathize with customers.

A prime example of this is UberEats’s Walkabout Program , where designers observe cities in which the company operates. Some elements they inspect are food culture, cuisine, infrastructure, delivery processes, and transportation. One of the innovations that came from their immersive research is the driver app, which focuses on delivery partners’ pain points around parking in highly populated urban areas. To address this, the driver app provides step-by-step directions from restaurant to customer to ensure smoother delivery processes.

Understanding that pain points vary between geographic locations helps UberEats implement effective upgrades to its service that solve problems in specific locations.

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Practice Design Thinking

While these examples illustrate the kind of success design thinking can yield, you need to learn how to practice and use it before implementing it into your business model. Here are several ways to do so:

In the examples above, it’s easy to say the solutions are obvious. Yet, try taking a step back to reflect on how each company thought about its customer base’s perspective and recognized where to employ empathy.

This is a useful exercise you can do with the examples above. Consider the problem each company faced and think through alternative solutions each could have tried. This can enable you to practice both empathy and ideation.

Another helpful exercise is to look at each company’s competitors. Did those competitors have similar problems? Did they find similar solutions? How would you compete? Remember to walk through the four design thinking phases.

Design thinking is a powerful tool you can use to solve difficult business problems. To use it successfully, however, you need to apply it to problems both big and small.

If you want to learn more about design thinking, explore our online course Design Thinking and Innovation for more real-world case studies and opportunities to practice innovative problem-solving in your career.

design thinking case studies in management decisions

About the Author

The Accidental Design Thinker

Bringing Design Thinking to All

40 Design Thinking Success Stories

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I’m incredibly optimistic of the power of DT but also always on the lookout for design thinking success stories and examples. As I’ve shared my knowledge of design thinking with others, I’ve frequently been asked how often it delivers demonstrable results and how broadly it can be applied. Below is my collection of design thinking success stories that have helped reinforce my conviction that design thinking can deliver incredibly powerful results and be applicable to everyone.

Consumer Packaged Goods

Financial Services




If you’re at the beach and would rather read an actual book full of design thinking case studies, I’d recommend ‘Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works’ by Jeanne Lietdka.

In summary, there are plenty of available and powerful design thinking success stories, that will hopefully increase your conviction in the strength of DT. I’m always on the lookout for new examples and will continue to add to this list. Please don’t hesitate to share any great examples that I’m missing and continue to check back in as this list grows in size!

Interested in expanding your design thinking mindset and skills?  Click here for my collection of design thinking tools and resources!

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accidentalDT- thank you for sharing so much amazing resources on your site.

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[…] Be an Advocate for Design Thinking – Know, believe, share, and celebrate the success stories of design thinking. Here are 40 design thinking stories that will help make anyone a believer […]

[…] Check out my collection in the Self-Improvement section of 40 Design Thinking Success Stories! […]

[…] It was wonderful hearing case studies to supplement the research I’ve conducted on design thinking success stories. […]

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Thank you for your valuable contribution to Design Thinkers!

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My pleasure Denise! Thank you for your kind words and for visiting my site; it means a ton to me!

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design thinking case studies in management decisions

Design Thinking Case Studies

Find examples of how design thinking is used to solve problems, prototype, and innovate..

As more organizations and companies across the world adopt design thinking into their operations, it becomes even more obvious just how essential innovation is for continued success and growth. These other companies have discovered what works for them to generate some amazing results. By reviewing their successes (and failures), you can learn how to incorporate innovation and design thinking methodology into your own processes, practices, and people. Here are a few powerful design thinking case studies to review for yourself:

Golden Gate Regional Center

This case study by HBR focuses on the Golden Gate Regional Center (GGRC), an organization that provides services and financial support to people with developmental disabilities in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2013, GGRC began working with the Stanford to learn the basics of design thinking. They then took this methodology to better understand issues with the assessment and application procedures, leading to several prototypes to be launched and tested to improve processes and procedures for everyone.

The go-to food delivery service app attributes its success to being able to emphasize with customers and reiterate quickly. UberEat’s Walkabout Program is a great case study of design thinking and involves designers observing the cities in which the company operates. They inspect food culture, infrastructure, transportation, and delivery processes. This immersive research helped them build features to improve delivery processes and ensure a smoother ordering and delivery experience.

Netflix’s Innovative Updates

Netflix is a great example of a company that has repeatedly used design thinking methodology to adapt to a changing landscape. At its inception, its main competitor (Blockbuster) required customers to drive to brick-and-mortar stores to rent DVDs. Netflix eliminated that inconvenience by delivering DVDs directly to their homes with a subscription model.

As society moved away from DVDs, Netflix pivoted and created the on-demand streaming service they are mainly known as today. In 2011, the streaming service also realized that customers were looking for original, provocative content that wasn’t airing on traditional networks, and launched their own TV and film production for content only available on the Netflix service.

This story is more wildly known now, but Airbnb relied heavily on design thinking methodology and experimentation to transform themselves into the successful business they are today. Instead of focusing on scaling up the business, they realized through research and exploration that the correct focus at that early stage should be on understanding pain points and delivering a solution to give customers what they need. This led to an immediate doubling of initial revenue, and that philosophy continued to prove successful for them in the journey to come.

Afraid of being forgotten in this digital era, Burberry leadership decided to change tactics. They knew that the path forward was appealing to the younger generations’ sentiments and behavior, so the company invested heavily in social media. It invited users to collaborate on its design processes. In the end, the company was able to increase its appeal and connection with the right audience, leading to record revenue growth.

Design Thinking & Human-Centered Design in Healthcare & Pharma

Through the use of design thinking, hospitals and other medical organizations have been able to better serve their patients and address specific problems or needs. In two previous posts on our blog, we shared some examples of this methodology being used in the healthcare, medical devices and pharma fields, including GE Healthcare and Mayo Clinic. Find those case studies here and here .

The Good Kitchen

In 2007, Denmark had over 125,000 elderly citizens relying on government-sponsored meals. Danish design agency Hatch and Bloom were asked to design a new and improved meal delivery service for these cities. Enter The Good Kitchen , a service with greater quality, more freedom of meal choice, and more flexibility for both the elderly citizens and the employees involved in meal preparation and delivery. One of the most notable actions they took to help this dream become a reality was interviewing and prototyping with both customers and chefs. They uncovered feedback in this process that led to the successful system used today.

These design thinking case studies are a great jumping-off point for learning more about successful implementation of design thinking. For more resources and advice, be sure to  check out our blog . If you are interested in learning more or getting help developing a custom  innovation workshop  or  design thinking training session , Innovation Training can help.  Contact us online  today to learn how to get started.

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Design Thinking Case Studies

Jack O'Donoghue Avatar

Jack O’Donoghue

These practical examples of Design Thinking in the real world show how human centered design has helped to solve complex problems in healthcare to corporate.

With the help of this article, readers will be able to understand how design thinking works in practice and apply these creative processes to their own projects.

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The 5 steps of the Design Thinking Process

6 Practical Examples of Design Thinking in Action:

1. designing waste out of the food system, 2. supporting newly diagnosed diabetes patients, 3. solving a water quality issue in a rural community, 4. designing a healthcare information system, 5. using renewable energy to create a sense of community, 6. designing a new value prop and business model.

The case studies in this article can be used to encourage leaders to support the design thinking approach and understand it’s applications and outcomes.

Design thinking needs commitment and trust in the process, so it’s important that leadership sets a tone of openness.

Design Thinking starts with a group of committed people discussing how to work together to solve problems . Once a problem area is defined, an investigation begins.

Speaking with people affected helps to define the problem and empathize with the end user. It also inspires commitment and enthusiasm from the project team as they connect with the cause.

Once a problem is defined, ideation and the development of prototypes begin. In design thinking, prototyping is favored over documentation and artifacts. It helps to get up and running quickly so that customers can provide feedback to help the project move forward.

Experimentation, curiosity, and the freedom to collaborate and be creative are key to successful innovation using the design thinking method.

Which course would you find the most valuable?

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Better Service, Faster: A Design Thinking Case Study

design thinking case studies in management decisions

It involves a Winnebago.

On February 14, 2014, Stanford students Elizabeth Woodson and Saul Gurdus drove a rented Winnebago to the San Mateo office of the Golden Gate Regional Center (GGRC), where they greeted eight curious GGRC staff members.

GGRC provides services and financial support to people with developmental disabilities in the San Francisco Bay Area. But for parents of children with disabilities, navigating the long and sometimes bewildering bureaucratic process required to get such services often challenges their patience and persistence. Before GGRC can determine which services, if any, are best for a child, staffers conduct a thorough assessment that entails meetings with parents, home visits by social workers, and evaluations by medical professionals including speech pathologists, psychologists, and nurses.

Elizabeth and Saul learned that these assessments usually take three months or more and that parents have to drag their children to a daunting series of meetings and examinations in unfamiliar new places, which distresses the children and leads many parents to abandon the process. Although GGRC’s staff often develop great empathy for individual clients, going to heroic lengths to help clients navigate the administrative maze, the system was not designed to make life easy for clients or staff members.

Elizabeth and Saul pulled up in that Winnebago to invite those eight staffers to participate in an experiment. The plan was to meet with potential clients in the neighborhoods where they live. The GGRC team would assess each family’s needs and decide if they qualified for assistance right then and there.

That day, they did nine assessments in less than two hours.

The Winnebago experiment wasn’t something that GGRC was ready to sustain and scale up. It was too expensive, for one thing. But the exercise wasn’t really about the Winnebago; it was about pushing beyond what was comfortable, taking a different point of view, trying something new, experimenting, and discovering what to try next. It was part of a larger effort by GGRC staffers to rethink what was possible for their clients and themselves.

In 2013, GGRC began working with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (which everyone calls the “Stanford”) to learn the basics of design thinking, a hands-on approach that focuses on developing empathy for others, generating ideas quickly, and testing rough “prototypes” that, although always incomplete or often impractical, fuel rapid learning for teams and organizations.

Working with Elizabeth, Saul, and a former GGRC staffer who understood both the client and staff perspective because he had an autistic child, GGRC created a detailed map of the assessment process. The group used color-coded Post-its to identify each step and the emotions that clients usually felt, starting with parents’ initial contact with GGRC and ending with the day they (finally) began to receive services. Constructing this “process map” helped GGRC staffers realize that they were not attuned to numerous, unpredictable, frustrating waiting periods.

GGRC staff members also discovered that while they each knew their own responsibilities, they didn’t know much about what other colleagues did or how their work meshed with the overall process.

No single stage felt broken from the vantage point of individual staffers. But when the complete journey was framed from intertwined perspectives of the client and all GGRC staffers, it was painfully obvious that there were big opportunities for improvement.


Elizabeth and Saul facilitated GGRC brainstorming sessions about how to improve the process. At one point, Elizabeth and Saul encouraged staffers to generate a list of absurd ideas; one GGRC leader joked that it would be nice if they could all go into the community in a Winnebago to bring GGRC services to where clients live.

Design thinking entails a bias toward action. In that spirit, Elizabeth and Saul pushed forward with the Winnebago rental.

After interviewing clients in the Winnebago that day, it took staffers another week of concentrated work at the GGRC office to finish processing the assessments and begin serving these families. But that was 10 weeks faster than usual, and they had learned valuable lessons about how they could improve the process for all clients.


Bringing everyone into the same “room” led to a drastic reduction in waiting times. Families could see everyone in one session, without going to a strange environment, which eased their frustration and stress and helped disabled family members receive services much sooner. GGRC staffers learned a great deal about the work that their colleagues did, how to better support each other’s work, and how to work better as a team. The members of a complex and vital human chain could now look one another in the eye, discuss each case from different angles, and make better decisions. That opportunity had never existed before.

GGRC is now brainstorming improvement ideas and figuring out ways to prototype them on a regular basis. They’ve learned that it’s not about one idea (the Winnebago); it’s about the process of continuous improvement.

Several prototypes inspired by that day on the Winnebago have been launched or will be soon. The first created a dedicated assessment team, which focuses on redesigning numerous steps in the assessment process. The team’s goal is to process each application in no more than 45 days — a 50% reduction. A second is called “Hybrid Social Worker 2.0.” This prototype untethers social workers from their desks so they can spend more time with the families they serve. The GGRC is experimenting with tablets, new software, and new procedures that will allow social workers to complete their assessments in the field, which will make the process feel better and move faster for families.

A third prototype, tested this year, focused on families that need GGRC services but have not applied for them. The idea was sparked by interviews that GGRC staff had with families who didn’t know they were eligible or were concerned the application process would be difficult and distressing. The staff realized that, as GGRC head Lisa Rosene explained, “We must meet families where they are, both physically and emotionally.” The resulting prototypes were “open houses,” held right in the communities where eligible families live.

We are taken with the GGRC story because beyond the improvements for clients and the pride that staff members feel about the changes they’ve made, it offers three key lessons for other leaders and teams who are determined to make their organizations “Better by Design.”

First, your organization probably looks a lot different through your clients’ and customers’ eyes than it does through employees’ and leaders’. Anything you can do to gain empathy for what it feels like to deal with your practices and people can help you design a more humane, respectful, efficient organization.

Second, focus on ways that people in specialized roles and silos are blinded to how their work meshes with the larger system. Look for broken practices and bad habits that unwittingly create bottlenecks and bad handoffs between well-meaning people. And keep asking them, their colleagues, and clients whether they have key information they aren’t passing along that would speed the process and ease clients’ frustrations. Once people better understand how their learning and role fits into the big picture, it is a lot easier for them shift from being part of the problem to part of the solution.

Third, at the, our goal is to teach people to “get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.” We’ve learned that enticing leaders and teams to try impractical things that make them squirm a bit, such as the day spent in the Winnebago, can help them see what they do from another vantage point. And when you can find ways to see the same old thing in a different way, you can find solutions to obstacles that once seemed insurmountable.

The fourth and final lesson is that change takes courage, and if you can give people just a bit of encouragement, it is remarkable how brave they can be.

Elizabeth and Saul’s GGRC project was completed for a class called d.leadership: Design Leadership In Context , where a dozen or so pairs of Stanford students each year work with an external “client” to help them apply design thinking to solve thorny problems. The class is taught by Perry Klebahn, Kathryn Segovia, Bob Sutton, and Jeremy Utley.

design thinking case studies in management decisions

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 Case Studies

Using Human Centric Design to Create a State’s Enterprise Architecture

The Chief Information Officer of one of the most populated states in the US was facing a challenge. He was entrusted with creating transformational change, but he felt that the organization had lost its way. Prior to his tenure, the state’s technology agency had become very bureaucratic and almost restrictive in nature.

Expediting a Statewide COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout with Design Thinking

The beginning of 2021 was a strange time for everyone across the world. The entire planet was on its ninth month of lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lives had been lost and the economy was in turmoil. In January it was announced that multiple vaccines would be approved in the next few weeks and that they would be supplied to individual states for mass deployment. There was no playbook for vaccinating millions of people within a few months.

How Design Helped a 25-year-old Technology Company Become an Acquisition Target

A 25 year old hospitality software firm was experiencing a period of flat sales and revenue growth. The CEO of the organization had made the decision that market conditions were right for growth, but that the firm needed a partner to assist with strategy design and execution. After meeting with Stonehill they were excited about the possibilities of using design thinking and design sprints to execute on this vision.

Leveraging Diversity and Experience to Accelerate Education

A leading historically black public university was working on their enrollment forecast for the next 10 years. This projection was based on simple demographic information as millennials were having less children than generation x. The provost of the university needed ideas for how to diversify the schools revenue and wanted to investigate using design thinking to engage her staff and continue on their mission of empowering a diverse population of students to reach their potential by providing innovative academic programs and transformational experience.

How Employee Experience Drove a Fortune 1000 Reorg

A leading industrial products organization had grown dramatically over the last several years and was starting to forecast a slowing growth curve with decreasing margins. Having been founded in 1955 traded on the NYSE, and being a constituent of the S&P 500 index they had an established culture with well known processes. Their leadership was curious if design thinking could help an organization with over 25,000 continue their growth by becoming more aligned, engages, and accountable.

Using Experience Design to Turn Around a Leading Non-Profit

A leading agricultural products company was experiencing a decrease in employee and customer satisfaction. The executive management of the organization forecasted that if they did not reverse these trends, their revenue would soon be in decline. They approached Stonehill with the hope of utilizing Design Thinking to engineer a revised organizational experience that would drive increased revenue.

Using Design Thinking to Influence Healthcare Outcomes

The largest Clinically Integrated Healthcare Network (CIN) in Florida was growing rapidly and trying to ensure it was delivering on its mission of providing cost effective care. As the organization grew, its operating procedures had become ineffective and it was faced with potential deficits within their value based care contracts. The Chief Medical Officer was interested to see if design thinking could solve their issue.

Transforming Global HR via Consumer Grade Experience and Automated Processes

The traditional human resources (HR) function has undergone one of the most transformative periods seen in decades. As the world now operates as a “global” economy, organizations must adapt their approach to meet changing demands such as: global people management, cultural uniqueness, systemization and the financial investments made in human capital and the return yielded on a per position basis.

Using Story to Transform a Local Bank into a National Institution

A multi-regional bank was looking to increase its commercial banking opportunities across several designated markets. They needed to differentiate their brand away from being just another community bank. The CMO wanted to ensure they included the perspective of the bank’s customer in developing the strategy and looked to find a leader in design thinking that had deep change management experience.

Transforming Experience and Driving Increased NPS for a Nationwide Moving and Storage Business

A nationwide moving and storage company requested the assistance of Stonehill to increase their customer satisfaction scores.  The scores from their proprietary surveys were good averaging 4.5 out of 5.0, but the client desired scores of 4.75 or greater.


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