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Innovation through Design Led Thinking

We are entering a future where the need for innovation and new outcomes is crucial, and where the challenges that we face are becoming more abstract and ever more complex. The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town is a place where creative intelligence is unlocked, and where future-ready leadership is developed.


The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town (d-school) is the only academic institution in the region which offers academic training and capacitation in design thinking to university scholars and professionals in the public and private sectors.

The d-school was founded in Cape Town in August 2015 with funding, IP and academic support from Prof. Dr. Hasso Plattner - co-founder of software company, SAP AG, and chairman of its Supervisory Board - and the Hasso Plattner Trust.

Professor Plattner initiated and funded the first academic programmes in design thinking. The establishment of the HPI Schools of Design Thinking at Stanford in the US in 2005, and at Potsdam in Germany in 2007, brought academic rigour to design-led innovation practice, and made training programmes in design thinking available to academic scholars and leaders in the private and public sectors.

Students from all disciplines and industry and government executives come together at the d-school to learn to work collaboratively in diverse and inclusive multi-disciplinary teams on real world challenges and to develop human-centred innovative solutions.

So what is design thinking?

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Design thinking is a methodology and ultimately a mindset that enables innovation and new outcomes.

Training in design thinking provides tools, a process, and ultimately a mindset, that equips practitioners to collaboratively develop human-centred solutions to challenges in contemporary contexts that are dynamic and complex.

When implemented in daily life and professional work, the design thinking tools, process and mindset with which students leave the training, help them to develop a creative approach to problem solving and to contribute to a culture of innovation.

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Innovation at the nexus of Feasiblity, Viability & Desirability.

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Design thinking operates at the nexus of human values (desirability and usability) together with business (viability) and technology (feasibility). This is where innovation happens.

Very often organisations focus only on the feasibility and viability, ignoring human needs and preferences; while the latter are what ultimately determine the uptake and success of a product, service or system.

Applying a design thinking process helps to de-risk a project, through developing and testing solutions, in the form of low resolution prototypes, early with users.

What can Design Thinking do for you?

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Training in design thinking at the d-school develops competencies in human-centred, design-led innovation and entrepreneurship. It trains students to work in inclusive and diverse, transdisciplinary teams. The design thinking process enables practitioners to gain empathy with users, in order to identify expressed and underlying needs. The insights resulting from this process facilitates human-centred problem-solving.

These are career and entrepreneurial competitive edges in a world increasingly looking to innovate in order to develop new solutions in fast changing environments.

Design thinking helps organisations become more comfortable with the prototyping and testing early on in their product, system or service development. This ‘fail fast and learn’ approach helps to manage the risks associated with innovation projects and complex challenges.

How this works in detail, and how it can be implemented in practice, can be learned through the education and training programmes offered at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT.

Develop a Design Thinking Mindset.

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Be curious and willing to learn from others. Be open to different perspectives and disciplines. Abandon pre-conceived solutions. Be sensitive to, and open to learning about contextual and cultural nuances.

Work in diverse, transdisciplinary teams. Learn from each other. Listen. Defer Judgement. Build on the ideas of others. Solve problems and develop solutions together.

Focus on the user. Immerse yourself in user contexts. Understand yourself and your position in user-contexts in order to develop real insights into diverse user communities.Observe. Ask the right questions. Understand the real problem or challenge. Co-create with users.

Welcome abductive thinking. Encourage imagination.

Encourage wild ideas. Be visual. Go for quantity. Develop creative confidence. Learn by doing.

Embrace uncertainty. Fail early and often. Be Open-minded.

Anticipate change. Experiment forward. Develop new solutions and outcomes. Be open to identifying existing solutions that have the potential for new or broader application.

Test and Refine
Test protypes of solutions with users. Review and refine.