1b. Design thinking in the real world

What types of problems can design thinking help use solve?

What types of problems can design thinking help us solve?

Design thinking can help solve a wide variety of problems. It has been successfully applied to domains like healthcare, education, sustainability, technology, and transportation. 

In this module, we'll take a look at two case studies where design thinking helped people develop creative solutions to problems that had significant impacts on people's lives: MiracleFeet, and Rising Tide Car Wash.


Case Study: MiracleFeet

The MiracleFeet team set out to design a more affordable, easier to use brace for children with clubfoot. Clubfoot is a condition where a child's foot is twisted inward, and requires use of a brace to correct. To learn more about clubfoot, visit the Mayo Clinic website.

The MiracleFeet team worked closely with children who had clubfoot, their parents, and their physicians to understand everyone's needs. They discovered that existing braces were expensive and difficult to use, which reduced the likelihood that they would actually be used.

Image from MiracleFeet

Guided by these user research findings, the team designed a new brace that could be injection-molded for under $20 USD. It includes detachable shoes, and looks more like a kid-friendly toy than a piece of medical equipment.

Parents are now able to more easily put on the brace, and are more likely to continue using the braces for the necessarily period of time required to correct clubfoot. The improved design makes parents' lives easier, and increases the chance of a successful outcome for their children.

Video: brace from miraclefeet on Vimeo

Case Study: Rising Tide Car Wash

A father and son team wanted to help adults with autism find employment. They were inspired to tackle this challenge by their own experience as a father and brother to an autistic young adult. 

Autism is a condition that interferes with a person's ability to interpret social cues and communicate with others, which can make it difficult to maintain a job. To learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit the Mayo Clinic website.

The father and son team knew that people with autism were often interested in detailed, linear, and repetitive tasks. This insight led them to develop an idea for a car wash. The detailed and repetitive tasks involved in washing a car could tap into the strengths of individuals on the autism spectrum.

Image from Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide Car Wash has been a success, and is now opening its second location. It gives employees opportunities to build up their social confidence, provides opportunities for meaningful employment, and gives the public a chance to see autistic individuals at work - helping to combat negative stereotypes associated with autism.

Video: from NationSwell on YouTube


Share and reflect

Discuss with your problem-specific learning group:

  • What is design thinking, in your own words?
  • How might a design thinking approach help you address the problems you want to solve?
  • What activities, if any, are you already doing that are part of the design thinking process?