Q&A with David Schonthal on Design Thinking
Skip to content
Jan 26, 2015

Q&A with David Schonthal on Design Thinking

By David Schonthal

In advance of a visit to the Kellogg School by Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at the global design firm IDEO, Insight sat down with David Schonthal, a clinical assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School and a business designer at IDEO, to discuss design thinking and its potential to transform industries.

Insight: How would you define design thinking and how do you feel it differs from other design frameworks?

Schonthal: Design thinking is essentially the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. The way that designers tend to look at the world is to start with desirability. Often times, the way that business people will look at the world is to start with viability. But without a desirable product or service that people actually want to buy, everything else is irrelevant. Who cares if it’s feasible if it's not desirable? Who cares if it’s viable if it's not desirable?

Insight: What kinds of design innovations are you most excited about these days?

Schonthal: I’m particularly interested in the role that design plays in the world of health care, with emphasis on the word "care." So much of health care, particularly life sciences, has been focused on feasibility, at the expense of desirability and human-centered innovation. Many aspects of health care go un-designed—they just happen—yet these are very human experiences.

People don’t want to be treated like patients, yet many of the solutions we design in health care are very clinical. They reinforce an outcome, but they they’re not necessarily empathetic to the human experience. I feel there’s a huge opportunity to apply more design-based thinking to how we deliver care to people.

Insight: In what ways do you see health care as an industry into which design thinking can be integrated?

Schonthal: We will see the experiential side of health become increasingly important. From the moment people enter the world until the moment they exit, there are constantly opportunities to improve that experience through design. That may come from product-related innovations, or experience-related innovations, or from service-related innovations or organizational changes. All of those experiences can be designed.

It used to be "doctor knows best." Now, the voice of the patient is becoming more and more important. That clearly opens up an opportunity for more human-centered experiences, more designed experiences, and business models inside of the health space.

Insight: What, in your eyes, will the future of that design look like?

Schonthal: The lines between the clinical setting and your life will continue to blur, and some of us will be very surprised by how much health care takes place in a nonclinical setting. We will be interacting with our physicians through telemedicine. More of the treatments we get will be done in our homes—or the point of care will be shifted increasingly to fit our lifestyle—versus visiting an urgent care facility or a doctor’s office.

Insight: What are some of the advantages to that shift, from a design standpoint?

Schonthal: The lines between digital experiences and physical experiences are going to continue to grow more permeable. Medicine will have to adjust the way that it works to fit into people’s lives. That includes things like wearable technology and the use of mobile devices to track biometric information as a way of translating behavioral data into something that can improve a health outcome.

As we begin to quantify ourselves through things like genomics—and as our devices become increasingly connected—targeted therapies and personalized medicine are going to be other huge areas of opportunity in health care.

Biotechnology, informatics, and genomics—those are all very different worlds that are going to wind up intersecting in the most interesting and unexpected ways. People will design drugs specifically for you. Your vitamin supplement and your cancer therapy will take your genomic map into account.

If we talk about the future of human-centered design, I don’t think you could get any more “human” than designing specifically for somebody’s double helix.

Insight: Why do you think the teaching of design thinking is currently so in vogue at business schools?

Schonthal: A lot of people come to places like Kellogg to learn how to think differently, and design-based thinking is very different than how people have classically been taught. A lot of business people tend to be taught very top-down: You start with market research, secondary market research, and market size evaluation, and then you drill into the opportunity.

Design thinking tends to be very bottom-up. You start with human beings and then you figure out where opportunity exists by turning the lens completely around. It’s a point of view that everybody can understand because you don’t have to teach somebody how to view the world through a human lens. You just have to teach them how to take what they know intuitively and empathically and use it to create opportunity.

Editor's note: Interview was edited for length and clarity.