Is ‘Design Thinking’ just UX with a different jacket on?

Sep 20, 2018 · 2 min read

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about “Design Thinking” as the next “thing”,
the new “black” but having just completed courses in both disciplines, it seems they’re both the same, similar but different. Here’s a quick overview of both disciplines.

What is Design Thinking?
In its simplest form, Design Thinking seeks to understand the end user using these processes: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

What is User Experience Design?
It’s the pretty much the same method in which we seek to understand the end user using these processes: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

Here’s my point.

Design Thinking Success Story #1 — GE Healthcare

Challenge: Having an MRI Scan is generally not a pleasant experience for adults, let alone children. Children often struggle to stay still during the process and often cry as a result of the frightening experience. The Chief Designer at GE Imaging Machines was shocked by this and felt that something had to change.

Solution: By applying Design Thinking, he decided to observe children going through the scanner, while also having conversations with children, doctors, and educators. Through the conversations and observations, he found that rather than being seen as an elegant piece of technology, the MRI Scanner was seen as a scary machine by young children.

Outcome: As a result, CT Pirate Island Adventure was created. The MRI scanner was made to look like a pirate ship and it transformed the traumatic experience into a kid’s adventure story where the patient had the starring role. Prior to the transformation, approximately 80% of children needed to be sedated prior to getting their scan, after the change, this dropped to 10%.

User Experience (UX) Success Story #2 — Procter & Gamble

Challenge: Procter & Gamble (P&G) was assigned to improve Tide in order to stay ahead of the competition.
They ran surveys.
They interviewed customers.
Everyone loved the product — performance, packaging, and smell.
Basically, people had nothing negative to say.
So, there were no clues for improvement.

Solution: By applying UX/Observe use, the P&G team decided to go into customers’ homes and watch them do their laundry. In one woman’s home, they saw something unusual:

1. She put in the powder, let the machine fill with water and added the clothes.

2. Just before she closed the lid, she reached for a broomstick, poked it into the machine and started swirling the water. Why? Because the powder wasn’t mixing with the water.

Outcome: As a result, the team’s solution to that need is now known as ‘Liquid Tide’.


No matter how you cut it. The outcomes to both stories are very similar. Both solutions followed the process of user engagement/interviews and observation of the product in use. And from these methods, both reached their own solutions.

The products are different but the methods are the same in that ‘we seek to understand the user’.

If you only knew of one discipline and not the other, could you achieve the same outcome for both stories?… I think you could.

Basically, It’s the same soap powder, just different colored flecks!

NCR Edinburgh

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