Why a design-thinking partnership is right for your business

In today’s rapidly evolving socio-political, economic, and technological landscape, businesses face unprecedented challenges. Navigating this complexity requires more than traditional problem-solving approaches – it demands innovation deeply rooted in human-centred principles.

Design-led thinking is not just a buzzword; it’s a mindset shift that can revolutionise the way businesses operate. The pace of change in the world today is staggering. From geopolitical shifts to technological advancements, businesses operate in an environment of constant flux. In such a landscape, traditional strategies often fall short, leaving organisations struggling to adapt. According to McKinsey & Co., businesses that embrace design thinking not only stay ahead of the curve but also foster a culture of innovation that propels them towards success. By putting people at the centre of everything they do – with empathy being the central principle in design-led thinking – these organisations are able to create products, services, and experiences that resonate deeply with their customers.
In November 2023, the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika (d-school Afrika) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted students from various universities for its annual Design Thinking Week. The project partner for this year’s programme was the Muizenberg Improvement District.
In November 2023, the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika (d-school Afrika) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted students from various universities for its annual Design Thinking Week. The project partner for last year’s programme was the Muizenberg Improvement District. Read the full story here

How design thinking could benefit your business

At its core, design thinking is about understanding the needs and desires of people and using that insight to create innovative solutions. It’s a human-centred approach that places empathy at the forefront of problem-solving.

“By prioritising human-centric solutions,” says I Am Jack Frost-founder, Paul Steenkamp, “companies can create solutions that resonate more deeply with their colleagues, clients and communities, leading to improved satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately, business growth.”

As a result, design-led thinking is not just a buzzword, but rather a mindset shift that has the potential to revolutionise the way businesses operate.

“Furthermore,” says Paul, “design thinking encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration and iterative development, allowing businesses to adapt quickly to market changes and emerging trends, ensuring long-term sustainability and competitiveness.”

What does a design-thinking partnership look like?

By collaborating with experts in design thinking, such as the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika at the University of Cape Town, businesses gain access to invaluable insights and methodologies that can transform their approach to problem-solving.

In practice, project partners collaborate with the d-school Afrika by introducing their unique design challenge as a project into the d-school’s student learning environment. This helps students learn collaboratively and apply design thinking to a real-world context.

“At the outset of any project partnership,” says Ettienne Mostert, Business and Partnership Development Manager at the d-school Afrika, “we work with the project partner to uncover what the human story behind the problem the project partner faces is.”

“Once we’ve collectively agreed with the project partner and the direction we’d like to take the project in,” continues Ettienne, “we brief the multidisciplinary student teams on our programme. 

“From there, it’s up to the students with the help of dedicated design thinking coaches, to synthesise this into a human-centred challenge and, using a design-led thinking methodology, to ultimately propose and prototype a solution with ongoing feedback from the project partner.”   

Throughout this collaboration, the project partner benefits from the exposure to the design-thinking process, as well as gains new ideas from the participants working on their unique design challenge.

For example, one such partner for the d-school’s Foundation in Design Thinking Programme, the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, was looking to create a sustainable public library service model for the Western Cape Province. 

Their goal was to contribute to nation-building, good governance, social and human capital development and sustainable economic growth while also adapting to the changing landscape of library service delivery.

Through their partnership with the d-school Afrika, they were able to reimagine their user experience journey, resulting in a solution concept aimed to transform library services by bringing together thought leaders, stakeholders, experts, and community representatives to envision the future of libraries.

The resulting initiative aims to empower the Western Cape Library Service to evolve into a vibrant hub nurturing a culture of reading, lifelong learning, and inclusivity.

Why a design-thinking partnership is right for your busines (2)

But what exactly does design-led thinking entail?

“At its core,” says Ettienne, “it’s about embracing ambiguity, reframing problems, and iterating towards solutions through rapid prototyping and testing. It’s a holistic approach that encourages collaboration across disciplines and fosters a culture of experimentation.”

Furthermore and in today’s increasingly interconnected world, the importance of Afro-centric innovation cannot be overstated. By drawing on the rich diversity of African cultures and perspectives, businesses can create solutions that are not only relevant but transformative. 

This is why partnerships with organisations like the d-school Afrika are so valuable – they provide access to local expertise and insights that can drive meaningful change.

“The local and global context is evolving towards more inclusive and sustainable problem-solving approaches in business,” says Paul. “This shift encourages businesses and leaders to adopt strategies that prioritise empathy, collaboration, and innovation, focusing on creating value for a wider range of stakeholders, including communities and the environment. This transition reflects a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of global challenges and the role of businesses operating collaboratively at an ecosystem-level in contributing to solutions.”

As a result, a design-thinking partnership is more than just a strategic business tactic, it’s a catalyst for transformation. By embracing human-centric principles and Afro-centric innovation, businesses can unlock new opportunities for growth and success. Whether you’re a multinational corporation or a small startup, the benefits of partnering with the d-school Afrika are clear.

“Human- and Afro-centricity,” concludes Paul, “significantly influence innovation for growth by ensuring that solutions are culturally relevant and address the specific needs of African markets and communities.” 

Design thinking fosters broader engagement, the harnessing of indigenous knowledge, best practices, and diverse insights, alongside mutually rewarding partnerships that fuel and deliver effective problem-solving.”

So, if you’re ready to take your business to the next level, consider joining forces with the d-school Afrika at UCT. Don’t let the challenges of today’s world hold you back – unlock your organisation’s ability to navigate complexity with design-led mindsets.

Connect with us today to find out more.