12 February, 2020

Design Thinking is a systematic, human-centered approach to solving complex problems within all aspects of life. The approach goes far beyond traditional concerns such as shape and layout. And unlike traditional scientific and engineering approaches, which address a task from the view of technical solvability, user needs and requirements as well as user-oriented invention are central to the process.

This approach calls for continuous feedback between the developer of a solution and the target users. Design thinkers step into the end users’ shoes – not only interviewing them, but also carefully observing their behaviors. Solutions and ideas are concretized and communicated in the form of prototypes as early as possible, so that potential users can test them and provide feedback – long before the completion or launch. In this way, Design thinking generates practical results. 



Design thinking uses empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, and other techniques to solve practical problems in areas that are not traditionally associated with design.

One of those areas is health care. At the time of writing, known cases of a mysterious new Coronavirus have jumped to 5030. More than 1100 people in China have died and the virus has now spread from Wuhan to over a dozen countries, including the United States.

China’s government has imposed a travel ban on Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province. The restriction seeks to create a guarded line preventing anyone from leaving the area infected by the disease and thus preventing it. This might be the most ambitious lockdown in the history of civilization with a lockdown of about 50 million people in Wuhan. It may also be too late. The mayor of Wuhan acknowledged that just before the ban, five million of Wuhan’s 11 million residents left the city, most returning to rural villages to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

In combating the Wuhan virus, scientists, doctors, and nurses form the first line of defense. Experts are still combating with basic questions about the virus of Where it started? How lethal it is? How it spreads? And how long it will take to develop a vaccine?

As answers materialize, designers and design thinkers can play a vital role. Among the areas where they might help:

Visualizing data

Graphic designers can save lives by helping scientists and public health officials communicate information about the geography of the disease, how it spreads, and how to stop it.

Rethinking China’s health care system

China does not have enough hospitals, and the ones it has are mostly inefficient, and poorly organized. Videos circulating on China’s social media shows scenes of chaos and squalor inside Wuhan’s hospitals. The government has ordered construction companies to work round the clock to build a six-acre, 1,000-bed emergency hospital for coronavirus patients within one week. But facilities thrown up with such haste still function properly, and will not effectively minimize the risk of contagion.

Cleaning up China’s wet markets

Many of the early victims of coronavirus worked in or visited one of Wuhan’s largest wet markets, where a wide array of wildlife species—bats, civet cats, snakes, live wolf pups—were sold as food. Experts say that close contact with these creatures can accelerate the mutations that spawn viruses capable of jumping to humans. Chinese authorities imposed a temporary nationwide ban on the trade of wild animals and quarantined all wildlife breeding centers. Designers may not be able to change a country’s dietary preferences. But they could address the infrastructure around wet market hygiene.

The goal of design thinking is to do the upfront work to validate the solution that addresses the real problem while gaining an intimate understanding of people who might use it, so there’s a higher likelihood of a success in the long run.