You may not realize it, but every day you likely encounter an innovation inspired by design thinking. From dining, to transportation, to entertainment, human-centered design has reshaped our experiences, improved our lives, and delighted us in ways most people aren’t even aware of. While some are obvious, like the iPhone, many others may surprise you. They are often products conceived to solve a specific problem or user need, but go on to become popular with all kinds of consumers.
Here are a few of our favorites.
The Entrance to The Victoria And Albert Museum
Design thinking has long been celebrated as the cornerstone of inclusive design. A classic example is the ramped curb, which originated in Berkeley, California as a way to make sidewalks easier to navigate for the disabled. This innovation didn’t just change the way we exit sidewalks. It led to a transformation in urban planning that has influenced architects and city planners for decades. The latest iteration of this design thinking solution showed up recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the front steps taper to ramps on either side. It allows those with disabilities to enter the museum easily and elegantly along with everyone else (i.e. strollers), creating a truly inclusive experience.
OXO founder Sam Farber created the company’s Good Grips line of kitchen items in response to his own wife’s arthritis, and the realization that everyone would probably appreciate easier to hold kitchenware. Before creating any products, the company spent months observing senior citizens using utensils to identify their challenges, and then worked with chefs to design prototypes to test them with all types of users. The result is a line of can openers, spatulas, measuring cups and many other items that customers of every ability have come to love.
Battery powered toothbrushes
In an effort to stand out in a crowded marketplace, Colgate partnered with design firm Altitude to redesign its low-cost battery powered Acti-Brush toothbrush. After studying the core customer group (20-somethings who care about oral hygiene) the designers discovered that these millennials wanted a brush that was more ergonomic, lasted longer, and was easy to keep clean. In response, they created Motion, a slim, high-powered dual brush unit with a rubber grip handle, arched neck, and a long lasting battery.
That product redesign restored Colgate-Palmolive to its leadership position in the category, and changed the way we think about how we brush our teeth.
If you’ve ever had a fresh prep meal delivered to your door, you have design thinking to thank. In 2011, a group of innovators launched HelloFresh after observing that the average working adult doesn’t have the time to meal plan and grocery shop, making it difficult for them to create the healthy, affordable meals they craved. That led to HelloFresh, and the launch of a new kind of food delivery service. It’s a great example of how a team that starts by observing a need, has a better chance of innovating to solve it.
One-handed Medical Device
You may not have heard of this innovation, but you should feel happy that it exists. The design firm IDEO was invited to design a device that nurses could use to enter data during a medical procedure. The client, a device manufacturer, wanted a sleek, futuristic gadget similar to an iPad. However, when the IDEO designers actually watched nurses in action, they saw that most of them spent much of the procedure holding the patient’s hand to comfort them during the experience. This human element made the idea of a two-handed mobile device impractical. Instead they created a much smaller mobile phone-sized device with a thumb scroll that let nurses enter data with one hand while comforting patients with the other.
This is just a small sampling of the many examples of design thinking we engage with every day. It’s proof that when a team takes a customer-centric, curiosity-driven design-and-iterate approach to problem solving it results in solutions that make the world easier, more inclusive, and less of a hassle for us all.
So the next time your team is sure it has a brilliant idea for a new product, take a cue from these designers and test your ideas with actual users. That decision could lead to an innovation that just might change the world.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.