Design thinking

Design thinking: What every MBA seeker should know about it and why

By Eileen Jacob

At its core, design thinking is all about creating unique solutions to complex problems — no matter how big or small. In fact, nearly every aspect of modern business applies design thinking. At Berkeley Haas, we argue it’s one of the most crucial innovation methodologies for professionals need to succeed in the current job market.

This article will introduce the concept of design thinking, how it is used in modern business, and the steps you can take to learn this critical framework.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is the concept of taking human desirability, technical feasibility, and economic viability to create business solutions that are meaningful, productive, and profitable.

Design thinking is human-centric. It's based on the idea that all solutions, when fully executed, should make the human experience more enjoyable in some capacity. However, design thinking requires you to think beyond ergonomics.

It’s broader than that.

Design thinking is also about understanding the context of the problem, and how technical innovation can meet both global needs and the needs of individual cultures to ensure the final solution is practical and advantageous.

The design thinking curriculum in Berkeley’s MBA program helps students understand the processes and strategies that creatively address complex business problems, using a non-traditional problem-solving approach.

How to use design thinking in modern business

Applying design thinking not only helps you create incredible products, solutions, and workplace efficiency; it also has a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. According to the Design Management Institute, companies that focus on design thinking see 10-year returns yielding 2.19 times (219%) that of the S&P 500.

And, design thinking has a place in every sector, every organization, and every job title, though the applications will vary greatly.

For example, did you know that each year, millions of people skip scheduled medical appointments? This problem equals billions of dollars of lost revenue for healthcare providers.

As a solution, healthcare providers are now turning to design thinking to help improve the patient experience and minimize missed appointments. Applying a series of qualitative research methods like surveys, focus groups, and patient observations, healthcare providers can better understand people’s experiences and the root cause of missed appointments. Then, by better understanding the human problem, they are able to seek out patterns that can solve the real problem at hand.

Or, consider one of Berkeley’s very own professors of design thinking, Mariana Somma, who is also a senior partner of Experience Design at Employera, a specialized management consulting firm. Somma, and the mission of Employera is to combine data and design thinking to help organizations save money and improve recruiting practices — from lead generation to onboarding.

Furthermore, effective design thinking strategies can improve workflows within organizations and influence a variety of areas, including:

  • Product design
  • Service and experience design
  • Business operations design
  • Leadership improvements
  • Organizational change

The design thinking process

Design thinking calls for a shared understanding that everyone plays a role in the project’s success before, during, and after its launch, from identifying a customer’s needs to an engineer executing the solution.

The pillars of design thinking are:

  • Empathy — Learn who you are designing for, and the cultural or global needs to consider, so you can deeply understand the human-centric problems you’re solving.
  • Ideation — Generate many ideas for testing, reviewing, scrapping, and pursuing.
  • Experimentation — Leverage rapid prototyping to explore more products, quickly.
  • Test and review — Learn from real-world examples which solutions work, and which don’t.
  • Try again — Always iterate. By continuing the loop of experimentation, testing, and reviewing, you’ll eventually land on the solution that best suits the needs of your problem.

Because Berkeley has fostered connections with a valuable network of companies in Silicon Valley, the MBA program can give students a hands-on look at the innovation process and human-centered design. The experience includes working to solve the problems companies like Adobe, PayPal, HP, or Cisco face today, with a team of executives. It can also mean taking advantage of internship opportunities geared toward deepening your design thinking skill set.

Design thinking at Berkeley Haas

During a Berkeley MBA, you’ll take the Fundamentals of Design Thinking course. You’ll also have the opportunity to deepen your understanding of design thinking by joining the “design thinking squad,” which involves more in-depth discussion and participation on topics such as:

  • Ethnographic and qualitative research needs
  • Design sprints
  • Foresight work

The design thinking squad also works with other Berkeley MBAs on problem-solving and developing new ideas and approaches for outside work. The collaboration can include blended workshops, ideathons, prototype building sessions, or other participatory engagements.

Want to learn more? Explore Berkeley’s MBA Design Thinking curriculum today.

Posted on July 11, 2019
Themes: MBA Benefits
Eileen Jacob
Eileen was Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2017-2019. She enjoyed meeting prospective students and helping them explore the benefits of an MBA, and hopes these blog posts provide valuable insight into the Berkeley MBA experience.