Category Archives: Design

Design Thinking in Times of Subcontracting, Outsourcing and Offshoring

Design Thinking in Times of Subcontracting, Outsourcing and Offshoring

A few days ago, we were discussing Design Thinking principles at a large software development organization based in Bangalore, India. The office was the hub of a 250 person banking project nearing delivery of their first phase to a US bank.

After around ten minutes of discussions, one of the project managers said, “We cannot implement Design Thinking in our project. It won’t work in most projects that our company executes.”

She went on the explain how they had no possibility of any contact with the retail customers of the bank, who are the main end-users of the software that was being developed. She explained the various layers of intermediaries that had been set-up through subcontracting, outsourcing and offshoring. A simplified version of the situation is depicted below.

Design Thinking in Times Of...

Here is more information on the complex situation:

  1. The bank had hired a local US based consulting company to prepare the Business and Customer Requirements. The consulting company, which was a reputed ‘expert’ in banking did not observe or talk to the retail customers. They had a few meetings with managers at the bank and submitted the requirements document.
  2. The bank then floated an RFP (Request For Proposal)  for outsourcing the software development work.  A US based IT Services company won the contract as they had a low-cost off-shore delivery center in India. Their US presence was also treated as a plus point (‘can be sued more easily in case of any breach!’).
  3. The team in Bangalore consists mainly of hardcore tech people, though some of them have been involved in banking applications in the past. The main reason they were chosen for offshoring was their tech capability, lower cost, and ability to scale up fast.
  4. The Onshore IT Services team consists of Project Managers and Accountants whose job involves making sure that all legal terms are satisfied, that billing is complete, and any extra work is compensated for. Meeting the needs of end-users is not part of their job scope or priorities.

Given this situation, it is likely that many years will pass before the software becomes useful and usable, and the process will probably include several Change Requests, a lot of blame allocation, and contractual wrangling.

The situation described is not unique. It is typical of any large software development effort, and many engineering design projects (automobile, aerospace). The fact is, outsourcing and offshoring have significant advantages of lower costs, access to specialized skills, and ability to scale. Such modalities are here to stay.

So, how does one solve this “wicked” problem of the distance between the developers and the end-users in such situations?

Please feel feel to share your views, experiences or queries, using the “comments” feature available.

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the authors :-).

Fridge Inside a Cabinet: Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer?

Fridge Inside a Cabinet

Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer: The Curious Case of the Fridge in a Cabinet

For anyone who stays in hotel rooms, the three pictures above would be familiar. They are the pictures of a mini-fridge inside a wooden cabinet. The cabinet is usually closed from all sides, except for a small hole/ slit for the wiring. This seems to be the case in all types of hotels, regardless of their “star” rating.

Anyone who has some knowledge of refrigeration or thermodynamics or basic physics knows that the closed cabinet will get hot, because:

  1. Electricity is being burnt inside the cabinet to operate the fridge compressor. Consumption of electricity generates heat.
  2. There is no escape for the heat. Wood is not a good conductor of heat.

This generated hot air will remain between the fridge and the walls of the wooden cabinet till someone opens the cabinet door (see discussions on quora here). Because of the hot air just outside the fridge, the fridge will take longer to reach a suitably low temperature. The electricity consumption will be higher, and the compressor will have to operate for a longer time.

It is like having the hot exhaust of an air-conditioner emptying in the room that is being cooled.

So, does placing a running fridge inside a wooden cabinet meet the needs of any of the stakeholders? Let us look at each category of stakeholders, in a hotel context.

  1. Guests: The fridge does not cool properly. The drinks are not cold (lukecool? :-)). Cooked food kept in the fridge spoils quickly, and can lead to sickness. Also, one has to open 2 doors to reach the items in the fridge.
  2. Hotel Housekeeping: Guests keep complaining, and requesting for ice. The fridges break down more often, requiring repair. The insides of the fridge are also more difficult to clean. And dust gathers in the cabinet, outside the fridge.
  3. Hotel Management: Electricity bill is higher. Repair costs are higher. Risk of fire is higher. Guests can fall ill after eating stale food, and have a poor experience at the hotel. Consumption of excess electricity and generation of heat is environmentally unfriendly (contrary to the hotel’s claims of being environment conscious).

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did this fridge-in-cabinet trend start? What were the considerations and constraints? How did this trend get adopted so widely?
  • Why is it continuing? What should be the triggers for designers to reconsider and question old designs?

Looking forward to your views. Would love to read the perspective of people who design interiors of hotel rooms!


Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the authors :-).

Why Design Thinking Is Here to Stay

Design Thinking Wordle

Why Design Thinking Is Here to Stay

by Swapna Kishore and Rajesh Naik

The Design Thinking framework is being increasingly adopted by organizations of all kinds. Individuals and organizations are investing their time and money to learn and apply it to solve complex problems. But is Design Thinking something really useful, and is it here to stay, or is it just a new label and a passing fad?

As such, the principles behind Design Thinking have been evolving for years. Design Thinking combines these into a usable set, complete with principles, methods, tools and processes which make Design Thinking effective for solving complex problems and for creating useful products and services .

When we look at the world around us, it is clear that we need better approaches to handle real-life problems. The situations we face are complex, and systems are more interconnected and entangled. Our traditional design-and-development approaches created tightly-bounded solutions in isolation; these are not effective in today’s situation. It is also wrong to assume that only expert designers can know what is most suitable for everyone.

Let’s see how the key elements of Design Thinking make it suitable for solving complex problems.

Design Thinking is Human Centered

Design Thinking looks at problems impacting real people and then evolves solutions to create a better future for people. Design Thinking places heavy emphasis on understanding user behaviors in their real contexts, user-driven evaluation of design alternatives, and creating enhanced user experiences.

Design Thinking uses systems thinking

In Design Thinking, problems and solutions are understood and evaluated in terms of the interrelationships between components of the system and also their relation with other systems. This systems thinking approach also looks at short-term and long-term sustainability of the solutions (e.g., environmental impacts).

Design Thinking requires collaboration

According to Design Thinking, ‘all of us are smarter than any of us.’ The collaboration involves the core design team, the users, developers, engineers, experts, and other stakeholders. Even the work environment — workplace, meeting rooms and infrastructure and tools — are all set up to enable and encourage more team-work.

Design Thinking is also Design Doing

Lego Build
The framework encourages the design team to make solutions ‘tangible’ as quickly as possible. For this, they create prototypes, paper / cardboard models, videos, stories, and scaled-down working solutions, so that the solutions can be evaluated using as many senses as possible – visual, auditory, tactile (touch), etc. Design Thinking encourages the team to run “loose and lean”, in order to “fail fast to succeed sooner”.

Tolerance for ambiguity is embedded in Design Thinking

Evolution of Cars
In Design Thinking , the team does not start with fixed ideas on the exact nature of the problem, or how the solution will work. The approach is to start with a vision and a direction, but without an exact destination or the path, with the confidence that one will end up somewhere great!

The Design Thinking framework is open and evolving. It is not proprietary to any organization. Academia, consultants and practitioners all over the world are constantly adding to its body of knowledge. They share success stories. Design Thinking  continues to evolve and improve and there is no “entry barrier” involved.

The openness of Design Thinking is supplemented with a growing base of experienced Design Thinking users (individuals and organizations). Lots of well-known and well-respected organizations have whole-heartedly embraced the concepts of Design Thinking. These include Apple, GE, Google, SAP Labs, Nike, HP, IBM, P&G, and Infosys. This, in turn, means that more and more individuals and organizations will be open to trying it out, and it will spread and evolve even faster.

Design Thinking has absorbed and assimilated suitable practices from various disciplines and methodologies that have overlapping elements. Examples are Agile methodology, Ethnography, User Experience, Human-Computer Interaction, and Systems Thinking.

Most importantly, Design Thinking is particularly effective for tackling what are called “wicked problems” (see Wikipedia). It has moved beyond initial days when it was used to design products like cars, phones, and cameras.

“Wicked problems”  are problems that are hard to understand and defy solutions. Such problems are increasing as the world becomes more complex and connected, and has multiple stakeholders who may have conflicting and unrecognized needs. Examples of wicked problems are found across many domains like health-care, urban infrastructure management, water resource management, pollution, and global warming. For example, ‘how do we get kids to improve their physical activity?’, ‘how do we handle solid waste in a city?’, ‘how do we make sure that the government subsidies reach the deserving?’ Design Thinking is able to provide creative, effective, out-of-box solutions because of its emphasis on  human-centric and holistic approach, and early availability of usable systems to gather feedback and refine solutions.

We believe that Design Thinking is here to stay for the long run. What do you say?

Please feel feel to share your views, experiences or queries, using the “comments” feature available.

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the authors :-).