Welcome to module 3

Understanding Root Causes & solving the right problem.

Gain a clear grasp of important Design Thinking, Co-Design & Systems Thinking strategies to understand, redefine and respond to the right problems from the beginning, so you don't waste time later.












Understanding root causes.

Do you stop the bleeding or stop getting cut in the first place?


Are we part of the problem or the solution? Does what we offer provide genuine assistance to those you are trying to help?

The beauty of Human Centred Design is that we can gain a very strong grasp of the problems people experience and find appropriate ways to provide genuine assistance. How? Read on.


“At one end you’ve got businesses that are all about prevention and at the other you’ve got businesses that are all about the cure; putting bandaids on things, but not really shifting their focus to upstream, to look at how to prevent these things in the first place.” Rob Pekin & Emma-Kate Rose on the podcast.


What’s the real impact of a social enterprise that sells bottled water, but provides profits to safe drinking water projects in developing countries?

What about all the plastic waste?

What about the one-for-one model?

Tom’s Shoes provides a pair or shoes to someone in need for every pair they sell. How does this affect the local economy, the local shoe shops, the initiative of the local people etc?

Read this article on unintended consequences.

What is design thinking?

Listen to David Kelley talk about design thinking.

Design thinking has become a buzzword in the last few years, with an array of organisations latching onto it. Some would argue this has diluted its power (suddenly there are an array of questionable ‘experts’ in the field) and a poor understanding of what it really is.



When interviewing Ramsey Ford, Director of Design Impact on the podcast, Ramsey shared key areas we can commonly trip up on when tackling problems using design.

Take a listen to his interview.

“The core thing is really just running an inclusive process, so looking for every and all opportunities to involve your core user.”


“Thinking like a designer can transform the way organisations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, called design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges,” says Ideo.

Design Thinking is the name given to this process of creative problem solving. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, (a design firm leading in this field) describes Design Thinking as “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

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In an interview with Dr Ingrid Burkett, Ingrid dropped some truth bombs about design and social innovation. Listen to the interview!

“If we’re not curious, then we think we’ve already got all the answers. If we’re not doggedly curious about creating change, then we’re not going to be able to create that change.

Co-design has become the everything. Everyone is doing co-design and everything that involves any interaction with people is now called co-design. Well, there’s a very big difference between co-design and consultation, and so the fact that there’s much more interest in innovation means that we have to be really clear about what it is that we mean by some of these terms, concepts, practises, and tools, because otherwise we’ll just end up with mush.”


The Double Diamond.

When asking people what ‘design’ is, a common answer tends to focus on design as a finished product (people often imagine ‘designer’ products, which they sometimes describe as expensive and exclusive, typically with a celebrity name attached). Yet, in many instances design could much better be described as a process, rather than an end product.


The double diamond diagram was originally developed through in-house research at the Design Council in 2005 as a simple graphical way of describing the design process. The diagram above was adapted by Tom Allen and can be used to guide you on your own journey.

Remember - this is not a linear process and each contextual scenario requires tweaking with an array of other tools and methodologies to best design with your users and stakeholders.

Listen to Diana’s experience.



The diamonds represent both divergent and convergent thinking approaches. Begin by focussing on getting an in-depth understanding of the problem you’re tackling. Any problem can be addressed, whether that be waste, transport, homelessness, inefficiencies in hospitals, education challenges, obesity, indigenous disadvantage or unemployment; there is certainly no shortage of issues we can improve upon and create opportunities for. A variety of tools and research to begin to understand the problem. Both primary and secondary data is important in order to begin to see and understand the problem, with primary data being priority.

Get out from behind your desk and speak to your users and stakeholders!

In a nutshell, it’s in the problem phase that we want to build empathy with those we are designing for. Going out to visit those affected (and those who may provide support/services where the problem exists), making observations, experiencing the problem for ourselves through immersion, gathering research and obtaining insights is part of the first phase of divergent thinking.

At this stage, journey mapping can be a very useful tool and one which can be revisited as you progress with your solution/s.

Convergent thinking is then used as you begin to enter the problem definition phase. Make sense of the data you’ve collected, analysing and synthesising observations, looking for points of tension and continuing to build empathy with the users you are designing for. It’s here that you begin to re-define the problem at hand and create clear objectives.

The problem should be more specific now and by the end of this phase, you should be much more confident in understanding some of the key factors which form part of the problem.


Before entering the solution space, you should be encouraged to come up with ‘how might we....’ questions. These questions will help guide you during the solution space and if framed properly are very effective in creating innovative ideas.

Now that you have a strong problem definition (or in many cases re-definition), you can enter the solution space with confidence. This begins by using a range of divergent thinking tools to respond creatively to the problem. A creative process of conceptualisation, brainstorming, idea generation and co-design allows you to think broadly about how the problem could be tackled. A broad, diverse range of solutions should be ideated at the beginning of this process. Try to come up with many ideas rather than falling in love with one of your ideas from the beginning. Using the business model canvas and value proposition canvas can be highly effective tools in helping to conceptualise and develop ideas, especially towards the middle of this phase (we’ll cover these next week.)

With a large range of ideas on the table, you can use convergent thinking to iterate, prototype and test ideas. A variety of methods can be used during this process, from role play and storyboarding to getting real feedback from end users. In rapid learning loops, you can learn from successes and failures, test business models and work towards coming up with tried and tested solutions that create positive impact.

*In Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, Jon Kolko states that “solutions to wicked problems can be only good or bad, not true or false. There is no idealised end state to arrive at, and so approaches to wicked problems should be tractable ways to improve a situation rather than solve it.”

Common challenges.

There’s no doubt that learning Design Thinking encourages innovation, creativity and an ability to turn problems into opportunities. Yet becoming a skilled design thinker can take some experience. Let’s look at some of the common challenges people face when tackling problems.


A very common mistake!

One of the great parts of design is being able to go all out and think of fun, creative ways to tackle problems.

Caught up in the enthusiasm and excitement of wanting to arrive to a final solution ASAP, you may find yourself creating an ‘idea baby’ way too soon.

Upon reading the brief or listening to a user, it seems human nature for us to rapidly dream up some excellent* solutions and before we know it, an idea baby has been created. It’s all too common for us to latch onto these babies (after all, they are ours), and make sure they grow up into healthy children. The problem is, in many cases, the baby is born before a strong understanding of the problem has been gained; before any research has taken place. Rather than doing observations, speaking to the target users and defining the problem, we have found ourself in the ‘solution space’ of the double diamond. Some of us search for the right research in order to make our idea baby seem appropriate, but this is a very backwards approach.

If you find this happening, make sure the idea is sketched down into a journal and it can then be come back to at a later phase once conceptualisation begins!

*in many cases, these excellent solutions turn out to be far from that.


How often do you find yourself judging others?

How someone dresses or talks can lead to a stereotypes or assumptions being made.

How often have you found your assumption to be completely wrong?

In order to define or re-define a problem, it’s highly important that we do the right type of research, make observations and refrain from speculation and judgement.

All too often I see clients make this error. Whilst in the ‘problem space’ of the design process, we tend to observe the world with our special glasses on; glasses which make us see the world through the filters of our paradigms, life experiences and previous lessons.

Whilst researching, remove the lenses through which you see the world. If you feel like an assumption has been made, set out to challenge that by doing further research or speaking to/observing more people. One of the keys to tackling the problem well is through strong research!

In a related topic, check out this article Tom Dawkin’s wrote for Impact Boom which questions what lens you see the world through.



As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for many of us to spend hours gluing together model planes or cars to then proudly sit them on our bookshelf alongside our collection of trophies or favourite books.

A large portion of us would have played with Lego, sometimes spending a full day building a house or castle to then have to reluctantly pull it apart days or weeks later.

When it comes to rapid prototyping, many people find it challenging to build a ‘quick and dirty’ prototype (perhaps drawing on their previous experiences?) in order to prove a concept or particular element of their design.

Rather than taking a piece of cardboard and quickly sticking it together for testing, many of us can spend hours shaping a piece of foam, sanding it, painting it and admiring it.

These highly polished ‘trophy prototypes’ (many of them will end up on that trophy bookshelf) then end up in front of a user who is reluctant to have gotten the same feedback from a model which could have taken them 2 minutes to make.

Before modelling, ask yourself ‘what exactly am I trying to test or prove with this prototype?’

What is the quickest, cheapest method to get the feedback needed to prove an element of the concept? Does something even need to be built?

Could various interfaces on a piece of paper be drawn for testing or perhaps doing some roleplay would get the feedback needed? This leads us to the next topic...



Once you’ve made a quick prototype, set up a roleplay or find another way to get feedback on your concept, it’s time to test!

Frequently people get caught up whilst testing for a number of reasons.

It’s important to test concepts with the target users/stakeholders.

If, for example, a glove has been prototyped to help those suffering from arthritis, make sure that the concept is tested with actual sufferers of arthritis!

Testing concepts with a broad range of your target users (not just a couple of people) will help get clarification of ideas.

When seeking feedback from target users, open-ended questions which prompt the user to respond with detail instead of questions which prompt a yes/no answer are much more effective and in many cases can provide some of the strongest feedback/ideas during the process.



Creating personas of the key users and stakeholders of your service/product can be a highly valuable exercise, not only to understand their needs (remember, you are not inventing these personas - they are based on primary research) but also as a strong communication method between different team members to align and get on the same page. There’s no end to how you can create personas - a photograph, sketch etc. A quick google search will provide many examples. Some of the basics we’d include are shown on the template below.

Complete personas of your three key users/stakeholders.

Personas_Module 3.png



In The Field Guide To Human-Centered Design (free PDF!) by IDEO U, there is a wealth of resources, case studies and tools for you to use and experiment with that help you better understand your beneficiaries and target market.

Download the Field Guide. Take note of one method you could use and apply in order to gain clarity or further understand the problem you’re trying to solve and for who.


Storyboards (as their name suggests!), can be a useful tool for literally drawing out step by step scenarios that your personas typically encounter.

To do this well, we don’t make them up... they are based off our research.

Whether it be the problem and painpoints they are experiencing in trying to complete a job, all the way through to using your product/service and pinpointing how you are turning their ‘pains’ into ‘gains’ (or where you’re not!). When we visually sketch these out, they can be useful in empathising with our user, uncovering insights and also communicating key issues with other team members or simply during testing with stakeholders.

Give it a try. Choose a particular scenario, (for example, the current medical experience, the first week of a refugee arriving in their new country, or arriving home from hospital after giving birth), then draw out the scenario like a comic strip with captions and quotes.

Scenarios_Module 3.png

Journey Mapping.

Not at all dissimilar to storyboards, journey maps are a fantastic tool to really map out exactly what a target user or stakeholder is experiencing, whether that be whilst completing a specific task, or understanding ‘a day in the life of (insert persona).

You guessed it... we are not using our assumptions here! We base this off observation and research. If we don’t include and design with our users, there’s a very high chance we’ll fail in trying to fulfil their needs.

Using post it notes for each particular step and element of our journey map makes this whole process much easier - we can quickly iterate, adjust, add and subtract elements of the journey when necessary.


Be sure to include:

  • Key insights from your personas, including quotes etc.

  • Key ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ (positive and negative experiences throughout a journey)

  • Touchpoints (see the examply below)

  • Departments or resources dealing with particular elements of an experience

  • The context

  • Opportunities

  • What do you uncover?

  • Which key painpoints can you tackle in the way you deliver or provide a service?

  • Beyond the actual ‘use’ phase of your service, what’s happening before they come into contact with you, or after they experience what you provide?

Whilst many other tools could (and should!) be applied, getting an accurate map should position you well to understanding core areas where you can innovate, deliver value and provide a unique service.

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Recommended books

If you spend time commuting, audiobooks are a great way to continue learning and challenging your perspectives. Have you read any of these yet?

Good luck Elevators!

Three weeks in and you’re building momentum. You have the mindset to do this, so don’t give in to the lizard brain of fear.

Try to attend one of the group learning sessions - you’ll find some times on the Facebook group organised by the cohort!


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Thank you for the fantastic energy you bring to the Elevate+ cohort.