Design Thinking

What is Design Thinking?

Innovation Next is grounded in our own experiences using the Design Thinking framework for behavior change and providing technical assistance and support to other organizations that are using design thinking for the same goals. Here's an example of how those interactions have gone over the years:

Innovator: Hi, I’d like to get your advice about an app I’d like to create for teen pregnancy prevention.

Us: Great! What would you like your app to do? And what outcomes would it produce?

Innovator: Well, young people use apps, so we think it would be a good format to deliver information.

Us: Sure, everyone uses apps now, but it's hard to get folks to download another app. What conversations with your target audience led you to believe an app would be a good solution to the problem you are trying to address?

Innovator: Well, we actually haven’t talked with the target audience about it.

Us: Hmm.....

Design Thinking, when it's done right, helps you find solutions to challenges or pain points you've identified. You do this by gaining radical empathy for your end-users through interviews and observations. Then, you synthesize those learnings into insights that inform your design. We believe that the field of teen pregnancy prevention will benefit from using this methodology to develop technology-driven solutions for challenges in this space. Too often, we've seen people select a tool—often a tech tool—without fully understanding the problem that their target audience is experiencing. While having an idea about the tool you want to use is great, we have found that to really solve the problem your solution needs to be informed by meaningful interactions with your target audience. Design thinking helps shift our focus to our end-users by asking us to be flexible in adapting and potentially dismantling our solutions based on what we learn in the process.

Here's an example:

A professor notices that about half of her class isn't performing well on their exams. She briefly asks the class what is wrong and gets a mixed response - several students say that the material is confusing while others suggest that the material is clear and they don't have any concerns. The professor identifies what she thinks is the right tool to solve the problem. She assigns increased out-of-class reading and three extra homework assignments. Still, nearly 50% of the class performs poorly on the next test. The professor decides to hold office hours talk one-on-one with her students. She discovers that about half the class has purchased used textbooks that are out-of-date and missing material that was on the exams. Before the next exam, the professor grants digital access to the newest version of the textbook to all her students. On the next exam, scores improve by nearly 25%.


This story illustrates that to fully understand a problem and design a solution, you have to truly understand the point of view of the audience, you have to empathize with them, and you have to be open to changing your solution if that’s what the audience requires.

How Power to Decide Used Design Thinking: The Bedsider Case Study

In 2008, we were wrestling with a challenge that we noticed in the field. We saw a gap between what young people were saying they wanted to do - use contraception to prevent pregnancies, and what they were actually doing - not using contraception effectively or correctly.  We wanted to create a digital tool to address this gap that could impact our audience's knowledge, attitudes, and use of birth control. Working closely with IDEO, we started by engaging with members of our audience and a team of experts in the field. We rooted the project in a place of deep empathy and real connections with our audience. We recruited a small group of people who reflected the extremes on the spectrum of behaviors we were interested in —people who always used contraception and people who almost never did (despite not seeking pregnancy and/or not wishing to contract or transmit an STI). We conducted interviews in peoples' homes often lasting several hours each. This approach helped us unearth behaviors, desires, and needs which are often difficult to articulate. With “extreme participants”  the underlying causes of behavior are often more obvious, raising important, provocative questions. By including both ends of the spectrum as well as some people in the middle, the full range of behaviors, beliefs, and perspectives can be heard even with a small number of participants.

The core insight that resulted from the audience research was that most public health messaging about sex and contraception focused on the risk, while ignoring the benefits. Imagine Coca-Cola putting the ingredients front-and-center rather than their promise of “happiness” and “life!” We created and framed Bedsider as a sex-positive brand designed to be there in the heat-of-the-moment decision-making that often accompanies risky behaviors that can be a precursor to unintended pregnancy by giving advice that takes these moments into consideration. We also found that young adults often place the social ramifications of behaviors (such as the ‘‘cool’’ factor) above health considerations. Rather than appealing to logic—the more common approach to educating women about unintended pregnancy prevention in public health—Bedsider acknowledges that sex can be fun, complicated, and emotional. Instead of scaring people into the right behavior, Bedsider reframes the discussion, it fits in with its visuals and verbiage —it doesn’t talk like the health department or a teacher, it takes the voice of your confident, knowledgable best friend that you actually want to listen to.

Bedsider Case Study

For more information on the Bedsider program, check out IDEO’s case study on their website and the report of the recent evaluation results that show that Bedsider works.