Design Thinking Overview (Government and NGOs)

Lead facilitator: Kristina Skov Aagaard

Service Design and Learning Lead at MAKE Studios

Putting Design Thinking into Action

Design thinking can be used to solve complex problems in any business sector, as participants of Hong Kong Design Centre’s Unleash! Summer School Design Thinking 101 E-Workshop were told. Facilitator Kristina Skov Aagaard, Service Design and Learning Lead at MAKE Studios, said regardless of whether an organisation is a bank or a not-for-profit entity, the design thinking process can be harnessed to improve its products and services.

This process is human-centric, she explained, seeking to understand challenges from a customer perspective. It is also collaborative: when several people are engaged in a problem, a greater range of perspectives is brought to the table. The process is also iterative, with solutions evolving as more is learnt about the challenge; and holistic, with a problem considered from many different angles. She stressed the importance of an optimistic approach to maximise problem solving opportunities, adding that design teams need to be experimental to find different ways of engaging customers and prototyping ideas.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

To help participants get into the design thinking mindset, they were divided into pairs and asked to complete two exercises. In the first, they were asked to plan a trip and had to respond to every suggestion with ‘yes but…’; in the second exercise, they imagined ordering food and responding to every suggestion with ‘yes and…’. Kristina then explained that before going into solution mode, it is important to explore a problem through a process of divergent (‘yes and’) and convergent (‘yes but’) thinking. “Divergent and convergent thinking are two different training methods in design thinking that we use to open up a realm of possibility, and close down when we converge to start making sense of it,” she said.

The UK Design Council has created a ‘double diamond’ framework to illustrate the different stages of design thinking. One diamond represents exploring an issue, while the other represents taking action, adding that there are four stages in the design thinking process: research, define, ideate and prototype. The first and third stages involve divergent thinking, while the second and fourth involve convergent thinking.

Assumption Storming

To put the stages into practice, participants were asked to select one of four different challenges to work on, using the Miro online collaboration tool. The group challenges ranged from helping NGOs with recruiting problems to assisting governments wishing to use digital tools to engage citizens. Assumption storming formed the first stage of solving the challenge. “When we are met with a challenge, we want to explore the knowledge that already sits within an organisation,” said Kristina. “Assumption storming is a way to get a starting point for you to further explore a challenge and bring different perspectives into the room.” For example, an assumption in the case of the NGO challenge might be that people find it hard to empathise with social issues.

Anchoring Ideas

Assumption storming is a type of divergent thinking, while the next stage in the process is to use the assumptions to find an anchoring point to come up with ideas to put before customers – this second stage is an example of convergent thinking. This anchoring point can be discovered through a design thinking tool called ‘how might we?’ questions, where people explore ways of solving a problem. For example, in the case of the NGO challenge, how might we raise awareness of social issues to achieve more empathy? A good ‘how might we?’ question is one that is targeted, narrow and has a specific focus that is actionable. “This is a very simple but powerful tool,” Kristina said, going on to say that it is important not to fall into the pitfall of putting a solution in the question, as this stage is still part of the discovery phase of the double diamond.


With a ‘how might we?’ question, the groups found themselves at the centre of the double diamond, signalling the need for another round of divergent thinking – this time in the mindset of ideation and coming up with ideas that can be further tested on users. Kristina suggested using a framework called a T idea, with the idea written as the top bar of the T with a description below it, using a collage of images and words. She said it is crucial to bring a ‘yes and’ mindset to this process and not be afraid of coming up with unusual – even wild – ideas. “We don’t want to develop one concept in detail. We want to have many different ideas. Have fun with it,” she said.


The final phase in the design thinking process is prototyping, which Kristina described as giving form to ideas to stimulate conversation, adding that ideas can be brought to life using paper or even Lego. “We can learn so much about an app by drawing out the features and putting it in front of a customer and saying, ‘Would you interact with this?’”. Prototyping helps minimise risk, enabling ideas to be tested on customers before time and money is spent on development. The process of prototyping and incorporating customer feedback should continue until the product or service can no longer be improved. The next stage is implementation.

Closing the workshop, Kristina said there are five key design thinking principles that participants should incorporate into the process, adding that they should unleash their creative potential, work collaboratively and adopt an eco-centric mindset in which they approached a challenge in a holistic way. They should also apply design thinking to complex problem solving and be solution-focused.

“It is about how we can create something that is better than what is currently there.”