Design Thinking Can Change The World; And You Don't Have To Be An Interior Designer To Do It


Disregard your industry and consider why thinking like a designer, or using ‘Design Thinking’ could make you more influential in what you do. It’s a style of strategy that originated from architecture and interior design however reaches worlds far beyond these disciplines.   

We live in an era where more so than ever the need for creative solutions is imperative. Industries are becoming interwoven through technology and people are more closely connected than ever before. The world has become a tiny place with an abundance of opportunity whereby anybody has a potential platform to engage society and solve problems.

A common misconception is that because one does not operate in a creative realm, that one is not capable of having a creative solution. This is due mostly to creativity becoming an industry which more often than not governs it as a profession as opposed to a way of being or style of thinking.

The truth is though, creativity is embedded in our DNA, much like work-ethic and passion. There are creative accountants, bankers, lawyers and doctors in the world, who rely on creative solutions to make the world a better place. If we understand the system to unlocking that style of thinking then we stand to better service the people who need our services the most.

This is essentially the premise behind design thinking and it can drastically transform the ways in which we design products, processes, strategies and services. It’s the act of putting the human-being first and designing around the experience.

In recent interviews with Boyana Popvassilev (interior architect and director of 26 STREET

) and Angela Luna (CEO of ADIFF), The Urban Developer delved into how this style of thought is attributing to improving lives and creating better services. The conversation will be driven by Popvassilev who has an in-depth industry experience utilizing this style of thought and Luna’s ‘ADIFF x Goodgood-for-good reversible reflective jacket’ as the exemplar, which is the complete epitome of design thinking.   



What is Design Thinking?


‘Design Thinking’ is a buzz phrase you may have already heard.  It’s not exactly what some of you imagine, I’m not here to teach you how to be more trendy or show you the latest architectural blogs and products.

Instead let's talk strategy.

We are all in admiration of companies that changed the way we live such as Uber and Apple, but do you ever wonder how they approached the making of their service or product?

‘Design thinking’ is a fairly new problem-solving method being embraced by global leaders, start-ups and established businesses, governments and individuals alike.  The core principles of this method originated from the interior design industry, however can be applied to any field or discipline.  It allows us to come up with entirely new ways of doing, using, and living that have not necessarily been explored yet. It allows us to resolve issues, see alternatives options and be innovative at the core of our practices.


Photo Courtesy Of Interaction Design Foundation

As most of my clients are residential and mixed-use developers, I like to encourage them to wear their innovative hats when we are going through a project brief. After all, we are responsible for creating communities together, which involves various levels of psychology, and constant reinvention.  This brings me to two important notions of practice before mastering the method.  First we must reset our thinking to see our customers as people rather than consumers.  Only then can we organically establish an emotional connection to their life patterns which will lead us to new answers.  Second, we must pull apart problems to look at them holistically, rather than isolating one aspect we are trying to fix.

This year the World Economic Forum published a list of the most empathetic companies, who all happen to be changing the world.  This is because we are entering the ‘Empathy Economy’ where it is largely believed that companies who understand their customers on a human level will ultimately succeed at anticipating and designing their future needs.  At this point I encourage readers to watch this short video which brings us to;



Popvassilev: Conducting research to gather understanding of our users. We do this through observing, engaging and empathizing with people in order to understand how they are motivated and what experiences mean the most to them. Empathetic thinking is a deeply personal way of understanding issues which then allows you to make assumptions on how you may solve those issues. If we are not capable of thinking with empathy then the whole system is flawed before it even begins.

Luna: At first, due to my lack of connections at refugee camps, I relied on articles, interviews, documentaries, and conversations with volunteers in order to fully understand the problem for which I was designing. While researching the refugee crisis, I noticed numerous daily issues faced by refugees that could be addressed through design. This prompted me to create a series of garments that responded to these needs.


Popvassilev: In this step we assemble all available analysis relating to a problem or challenge. In addition we inform ourselves with added facts, patterns, insights and assumptions that may be interesting to our case, then layer them on top of our findings.  Lastly we re-frame our question based on our user insights from the Empathy stage.


From the empathetic thinking stage I began designing the products, while always continually trying to connect them back to the problem. Having been to the camps now, tested the products, and interacted with my final users, I was able to obtain a much better understanding of how the crisis has shifted, what needs still have to be addressed, and how my products could assist.


Photo Courtesy Of ADIFF


Popvassilev: The brainstorm and design phase of our new solution. This is the point where you really start to ‘think outside the box’ in order to create solutions for the problems you’ve identified through the earlier stages.


After learning more about the crisis and feeling the overwhelming desire to offer support in some way, I really had no idea what I could do to provide any assistance. With a background in fashion, it wasn’t like I could change political policy or go be a social worker. It was my last year at Parsons, so I really had no other choice but to try to find a way to use my skills in design to find a way to help. It was never about making a charitable concept fashionable, it was finding a way to propose solutions via design and to communicate awareness about the refugee crisis itself through the medium of clothing.


Photo Courtesy Of ADIFF


Popvassilev: Changing our habit from  ‘think in order to build’ to ‘build in order to think’.  Prototyping is key to the Design Thinking method, it allows us to test on a real audience, do it quickly, fail fast and start again. Quick findings from our users in this stage are most important and often the time it takes for a company to get to prototyping stage is also indicative of their nature and successes.


All of the clothing within the collection crosses within other design disciplines, such as product design and architecture. The prototyping process (which is still ongoing) featured a lot of trial and mostly error. Almost every week I’d have to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out another way of doing things, but that was part of what made the project so interesting and actually fun for me. It took me about 4 months to figure out how to get the tent jacket to stand up! While I’m glad everything actually works in the end, I still see room for many improvements.


Photo Courtesy Of ADIFF


Popvassilev: Try again and keep testing for feedback. The results that are generated from this stage will allow you to redefine flaws in the product and create iterations of design that better solve the problem.  


I’ve mostly tested the products personally and within refugee camps. When I tested the products in Greece, I actually didn’t bring along any of my own jackets and just wore the collection everyday. I slept in the sleeping bag jacket for two nights on the 13-hour ferry to Lesvos – and it definitely made the floor much comfier. Within the camps, we received a 100% positive response to the collection from refugees, and an explicit need for such products. We have enough testing to move forward with production of our first jacket, but will continue to visit the camps with new products to get feedback from refugees.


Photo Courtesy Of ADIFF 

Popvassilev: So, how can we as designers and developers impact new communities through our upcoming projects?

It starts at the core of our practices.  Want to change the way your company approaches innovation?  Here’s an idea. Use the ‘Design thinking’ method to redesign your business.

Shift your loyalties towards the very people you are servicing, anticipation is the only way towards modern response behavior. 


Photo Courtesy Of ADIFF

The Urban Developer

aims to drive conversations that in turn make cities better places. Homelessness and displacement is an issue every city faces and a cause that deserves deep contemplation and consideration. Angela's endeavours to bring this product to life will aid in making lives more comfortable for displaced people, a cause that aligns with our values at The Urban Developer. Click to see more of Angela's campaign.  



Boyana Popvassilev

is an interior architect and the director of 26 STREET, a firm focusing on innovation through design of mixed-use developments.  She is Bulgarian by nationality, grew up in Toronto Canada, established herself professionally in New York City where 26 STREET was founded and is now based in Australia.




Angela Luna

is the Founder and CEO of ADIFF. She is a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017, winner of Parsons' 2016 Designer of the Year Award, and winner of the Eyes on Talents Innovation Award. She is a solution-based designer, committed to creating products and services to better the world.

    For further information on Design Thinking see supporting media below.



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