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Virtual Design Thinking: What Is It? Does It Work? Why Should We Do It?

Over the years, several clever businesspeople developed quite a few strategies, tactics, methodologies, models etc… on how to do business successfully. Having said that, have you heard of Virtual Design Thinking? Although it is undoubtedly a strong strategic tool to use within your business, many executives still wonder if it is worth the effort? We believe it is and the research proves it.

What is Virtual Design Thinking?

It is a remote/virtual process that teams use, on various online platforms, to understand their users, argue theories, creatively solve problems, all by creating innovative solutions for their target market by using 5 phases.

The Five Phases of Design Thinking

By following the 5 phases of Design Thinking teams will go through a process to develop creative-out-of-the-box-thinking solutions to complex problems faced by the company’s users or customers. In brief, here are the 5 phases:

  • Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users’ Needs.
  • Stage 2: Define—State Your Users’ Needs and Problems.
  • Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas.
  • Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions.
  • Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out.

What does Design Thinking look like in practice?

Jeanne Liedtka conducted a seven-year study which was also published in a Harvard Business Review Article. After evaluating 50 business projects her findings proved that Design Thinking “unleashes people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes.”

Here are a few examples, of how Design Thinking has impacted companies and teams:


This article explores how Design Thinking helped Apple to take over the world of technology. Steve Jobs explains the way they think as “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think the design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”


This huge corporate firm built a large internal design team that uses Design Thinking and saw 301% Return on Investment.

Uber Eats

Their design mindset revealed that empathy, now essential to their practice, impacted their approach to their food delivery service, a designer from the UberEats team explains in this article.

Bank of America

This corporate partnered with IDEO (a design consultancy) and used design thinking to determine how to get more people to open bank accounts. Again, this case study revealed empathy played a big role but also found that people who are ‘savers’, intentionally round-up when they wrote checks. After this, they developed the “Keep the Change” programme.


An article called, “How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business” explains how they went from $200 profit a week to where they are today because they used Design Thinking.

Most successful companies use Design Thinking as a success tool and This article mentions success stories from Oral B, Nike, Starbucks, Nordstrom etc… who have managed to apply Design Thinking successfully.

What are the benefits of Virtual Design Thinking?

Covid left companies little choice and forced them, where possible, to allow their employees to work remotely. Design Thinking can easily be done on virtual platforms, you just need to learn how. With the right method, tools and attitude the benefits to online Design Thinking can produce more effective and quicker results. Benefits include:

  • It is more cost and time effective to host virtual design thinking meetings because there are no logistical arrangements or traveling costs to get the team around one table. Team leaders can call a meeting instantly and have follow-ups more frequently.
  • You involve all the right people right from the start and they can work from anywhere across the country.
  • It is Covid-friendly. Team members and management are more relaxed as this obviously poses no risk of exposure to the virus.
  • Virtual thinktanks leave room for ideas to marinate. A lot of people can’t think creatively on the spot in face-to-face meetings but in virtual design thinking workshops, there is a bit more time to think about it, and then they come up with more creative solutions which also promotes the team in the end.
  • Digital meetings can easily be recorded and used as “minutes of the meeting”. This means that individual accountability is increased.

What are some of the common tools to use to host Virtual Design Thinking?

Below are some tools to help your team collaborate and brainstorm remotely. Although not listing every single platform, these are some of the easier platforms which have free usage to some extent.

  • Zoom
  • Slack
  • Google Hangouts
  • Office365
  • Axis-workshops.com
  • Stormz.me/en

Don’t know how to conduct a Virtual Design Thinking workshop?

The Mindpsa Institute assists with training team leaders how to conduct Virtual Design Thinking workshops.

Virtual Design Thinking

The need for fast-paced human-centered innovation is greater than ever. As a framework for solving complex problems, Design Thinking takes on a whole new meaning, in times of Corona, when practically everyone needs to adapt to uncertain, rapidly changing external conditions within a matter of moments. With the drastic COVID-19 pandemic countermeasures taken around the globe, businesses are faced with a series of major challenges: Production and sales facilities have been closed down. Workflows need to be managed remotely, wherever possible. Products and services that were of high value just yesterday, suddenly have to be re-designed entirely to meet the many new demands.

As bringing people together in a physical space has so far been a main characteristic of Design Thinking, the question is now, whether it is fit to deliver its proven impact in a virtual setting as well. With face-to-face workshops having been cancelled nearly everywhere, innovation experts around the world are translating their workshops, sprints and consulting offers into digitally accessible formats. And these new formats have already shown to be quite beneficial for the stakeholders involved.

Workshop Outline

  • Understanding Virtual Design Thinking
  • The Benefits of Virtual Design Thinking Workshops
  • How to Run a Virtual Design Thinking Project with Remote Teams
  • 5 Phases of Virtual Design Thinking
  • 10 Remote-Friendly Resources for Design Thinking