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Design Thinking for the greater good

A unique case study on how Design Thinking was used to create a better meal experience for the elderly.

In the last decade, the government of Denmark realized that one of the many problems that plagued its society was the rapidly ageing population. One particular problem therein being — more than a 100,000 of these senior population lived in assisted living facilities and care homes and were sadly underfed and malnourished.

The municipality of Holstebro (a small town approx. 300 km west of Copenhagen) with the help of a firm Hatch & Bloom decided to take on this problem with a rather innovative approach. Innovation director Lotte Lyngsted Jepsen led the effort, to improve the meal service for seniors over the next 6 months.

The Design Thinking Process

Hatch & Bloom leveraged the concept of Design Thinking to address this problem, each step described in detail in the following sections.

A snapshot summary of the entire process

What Is? — Understanding the problem in detail

Before both the teams i.e. the municipality of Holstebro, Hospitable Food Service (Holstebro’s meal kitchen organization) and the Hatch & Bloom moved ahead, they realized that the menu of the food being served was dated and was in dire need of an update.

They then conducted a thorough ethnographic research of the entire process — they studied the kitchens where the food was made, the delivery process, they also interviewed those who had discontinued the service and those who were to begin with the same soon.

They learned that for the seniors to receive such meals was below their dignity as it happened to be associated with a lot of stigma. But on a more positive note, the team also discovered that this generation of seniors was very capable in the kitchen. They often tried to customize their meals to suit their palate.

Finding out the reasons behind low morale and decreased customer satisfaction

The kitchen employees on the other hand, felt demotivated because their working conditions were not well maintained. Working in such a kitchen also had an associated stigma. These employees often wanted to do something differently, but had no idea as to how they could.

What If? — Delving deeper into the problem

To explore opportunities and evaluate new avenues the Hatch & Bloom team conducted a set of three workshops with a personal chef. The outcome of this was that they concluded that the employees working in the kitchen setup were as good as professional chefs. This finding boosted the morale of the employees.

Thinking out of the box; Mapping needs to user personas; Conducting workshops and ethnographic research

The team also discovered that the menus being distributed, was not up to date, the descriptions of the menu items were not appealing enough and lastly the vans being used to deliver the meals in were not maintained in proper condition.

What Wows and What Works? —Exploring & evaluating Opportunities

The team now started experimenting by prototyping different options with different groups of kitchen staff as well as seniors. They started presenting the food differently, prototyped different styles for the menu, food items therein and so on.

Prototyping with meal kids, with menus and ingredients; Quick testing to understand what the target audience likes and dislikes

The learning from this initial set of experiments resulted in quick packaging design changes that allowed for more modular meal kits, that allowed the empowered set of seniors to build their own meals.

For the kitchen employees, Hatch & Bloom turned around their culture by introducing new uniforms, new vans, they got in a professional chef who pepped up the entire environment therein. The kitchen staff now felt more empowered, motivated and had a sense of drive to serve better meals going forward.

The Resultant — The Good Kitchen

This exercise also yielded a new name to the service Hospitable Food Service now became The Good Kitchen. The new menu presented categories such as entrees, desserts, and so on. The Good Kitchen employees also made changes to the menu based on what they heard from seniors. They were now in charge of the menu and the ingredients used therein, the end result being a more curated and perfected menu.

New Branding, logo and a boosted sense of morale

The key element of this exercise was the radical shift in the employees perception of themselves and their work. This in turn resulted in higher consumer satisfaction, a substantial increase in orders(500% in the first 2 months), and Good Kitchen and Hatch & Bloom winning the Danish Design Prize for Service Design.

We can hence learn that Design Thinking is not only applicable in the sphere of Design, Products or Technology. It can also be used for the greater good and in improving and elevating an experience to the individuals involved in a system.

You can find the video case study of this topic here.

Note: Figures and Statistics referenced from Jeanne Leidtkas course material, and images from stock photos.

If you liked this article and would like to learn more about Design Thinking, Gamification or Story Telling, please feel free to read my articles on those.




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Gaurav Menon

Gaurav Menon

A product enthusiast with a background in business and marketing, I write about concepts, case studies and tools from the product & technology domain.

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