Nov 11, 2020 By : Sandeep Karmarkar

Living your life with a design thinking mindset in unusual times

It’s been over 220+ days!! 13th of March this year was the last that I remember being in the office and spending time with my team in-person! Work from Home(WFH) as a concept was earlier known only to the software industry and in fact, it was actively practised by only a very few of these companies. Although India had its first COVID case on Jan 30th 2020, Karnataka had its first COVID case much later on March 9th. Soon, the WHO declared COVID 19 as a pandemic and the world changed forever thereafter!

India had multiple lockdowns and the government forced us to work (teach, learn, consult, train, evaluate etc..) from home and this introduced a completely new set of challenges for all of us that I’m sure we are still getting adjusted to. This is a difficult time for everyone; survival and maintaining the status quo is the upmost priority across different sectors.

If you are a working (from home) parent, you might be struggling with maintaining physical and mental well being due to blurred lines between personal and professional lives in these crazy times. If you are a student, you might be equally struggling with learning remotely over zoom/ team meetings also resulting in drastically increasing the screen time across all age groups and not having any in-person interaction with your classmates or friends.

Design thinking methodology can help you in getting over some of these challenges. First, let’s understand what design thinking is!!!

Design thinking process illustrated by the Interaction Design Foundation.

Design thinking is a philosophy and a set of tools to help you solve problems creatively. It specifically focuses on the human-centred side of creative problem-solving. It encourages organizations/ individuals to focus on the people they’re creating products/ solutions for which leads to better results as they focus on delivering outcomes rather than focusing on just the problem. 

There are plenty of great examples of how design thinking has helped many businesses as well as the society to solve complex problems during these pandemic times. Let’s walk through different stages of the design thinking process and see how this will benefit us, the working parents in this case.

We will focus on the five-stage Design Thinking model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( This process is iterative and cyclic.

1. Empathize: Understand the people you are designing for. In such difficult times, let’s empathize with our emotions, frustrations and acknowledge the issues that we are facing.

Empathy plays a huge role in solving any problem! The design thinking methodology recommends learning more about our audience/ consumers. If we focus on working parents as our primary audience, we’ve to go deeper in understanding the emotions and challenges that each of us are going through. 

Working parents face many challenges throughout the day from managing working remotely to helping their children with online schooling. With the increase in the number of meetings to interruptions during meetings can get overwhelming & stressful making it difficult to balance personal and professional space. This also means reduced physical activity leading to possible health issues. Emphatically speaking, we have to consider these challenges/ frustrations.

2. Define: Reframe and create a human-centric problem statement

Once you have an opportunity to emphatically understand our ongoing issues, you should define a problem statement that you would like to solve. The working parents may not have control over too many meetings but they can certainly try and take better control over their availability and flexibility. So we could define the following problem statement as “How might we help the working parents to control their availability with enough breaks?”

Instead of looking at the face value of the problem statement, once we dig a little deeper into it with empathy, we can redefine what really needs to be solved. Else, we may end up solving a wrong problem.

3. Ideate: Brainstorm radical ideas, don’t hold back, and explore all possible ways how you could solve the problem. Ideation phase can be divided into two main parts, Diverge and Converge.

  • Diverge phase talks about coming up with as many ideas as possible that could solve the problem. Wacky, funny, blue sky or futuristic all are valid ideas! Make a list of all of your ideas first before discarding them away. The more the merrier! Here are a few ideas that I could think of: 
    • Don’t attend every meeting that’s on your calendar
    • Ask for agenda before getting into every meeting
    • Take control of your calendar
    • Let your team know about your preferred style of working
    • Don’t say to “Yes” to every meeting request 
  • In the convergence phase, by applying some realistic constraints, we should try narrowing the ideas down to 2-3 best ideas that you believe would solve our problem statement. Here’s what I shortlisted: 
    • Take control of your calendar
    • Don’t say to “Yes” to every meeting request

In short, at the end of the ideate phase, you essentially collect, categorise, refine and narrow down the best ideas or strategy that can be prototyped further.

4. Prototype: Build representations of one or more ideas. Create easy to discard experiments.

This phase helps you to translate your ideas into tangible prototypes that others can touch, feel and interact with. Try out a couple of quick options to see what works and what doesn’t. As a working professional for our problem statement, our prototype could be for a week, blocking a few slots on our official calendar for taking breaks. Since most of the companies rely on their work calendars as the single source of truth to know the availability to set up meetings, you blocking your own time for a few essential breaks will not allow others to set meetings at these times. You could also start declining meeting invites that are of no value to you or your team.

You might want to use this freed up time to indulge in physical activities like walking/ running/ cycling/ doing yoga for at least 20-30 mins. You might want to try out various time slots during the experimental week before considering/ committing to any one of them. 

These small low cost (from time of investment standpoint) prototypes help us iterate faster and reduce stress, frustration and eventually improve productivity. These experiments help us decide how best we can improve time management within the allotted time frame.

5. Test: Test your experiments to gather data on what works and what doesn’t.

Testing is the most important phase of the design thinking process. Unless we test our ideas, we won’t know, which idea is going to give us the desired results. After testing these experiments for a week, evaluate if you have managed to help yourself to control your availability with enough breaks. Note down aspects that worked and areas that need improvement. Things that didn’t work in your prototype, you would want to go back to the ideate phase, brainstorm, prototype the tweaks or new ideas and test again to check the results. Remember design thinking is an iterative and cyclic process.


While there are numerous positive talks about the vaccine for COVID19 coming out early next year, there’s still going to be a lot of uncertainty around us. Our actions won’t always give us desired results in the first attempt but we have to stay strong and keep iterating.

I’m confident that the design thinking methodology will help us validate our ideas early before going too deep into executing them. This will help us to spend our energy in the right areas and solve the right problems. Hope you find this methodology helpful to lead your life in this difficult time!

Additional reading:

  1. 40 Design thinking success stories:
  2. See how Doug Dietz used the power of empathy to redesign MRI machines at GE. Here’s a short video:

About the author:

Sandeep Karmarkar is a seasoned design leader with over 20 years of experience in the design industry specialising in the field of User experience design. He is currently Director of Design at Nutanix India. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and helping others grow. With special skills of balancing left and right brains, he is also an artist, photographer and a fitness enthusiast.