Use design thinking for change management to co-create change. Both practices offer a unique approach to designing human-centered solutions.

Using design thinking for change management can transform your approach to change leadership. Design thinking and change management are two disciplines that enable leaders to identify and implement new ways of working. Merging the two processes allows for a new approach to designing change.

Statistics show that change initiatives are 30% more likely to last when those most impacted by the change are also fully invested in creating it. Blending the best of design thinking and change management can create an engaging strategy for change.

In this article, we explore how to use design thinking for change management in the following ways:

  • Design Thinking as a Practice for Change
  • What does it Mean to Design Change?
  • Redesigning Change Management 
  • Embracing Design Thinking for Change Management
  • Designing Your Next Change

Design Thinking as a Practice for Change

Though design thinking is typically considered a practice for product development, design thinking is an all-encompassing process that offers a different approach to change leadership. The design thinking discipline focuses on centering people at the heart of any initiative. Leaders can create solutions that best fit those most affected by the change by taking a human-first perspective to change. 

Design thinking for change management plays a key role in engagement by centering the needs of each participant and ensuring that each person involved has a stake in the success of the project. This process asks all participants to center each other’s feelings, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs in the decision-making process. This approach increases the chance that any new changes will be accepted and implemented in the long term. 

Using design thinking for change management also encourages participants to keep refining their ideas. This process of consistently reviewing and revising is ideal for developing initiatives that best meet the needs of all parties involved.

What does it Mean to Design Change?

Designing change allows for an expansive and creative approach to change-making. This process encourages idea generation through the collaborative effort of team members, leaders, and stakeholders in an organization. Bringing together a diverse group of people to co-create change allows for the most innovative and intentional ideas going forward. Each participant can draw from their collective perspectives and experiences to design the best solutions. 

The design process completely challenges traditional problem-solving. Traditional problem solving uses convergent thinking: choosing a solution out of the only choices available. Alternatively, design thinking allows for creative problem-solving through divergent thinking: innovating the best choices in a holistic, integrated, and collaborative manner. 

Businesses like Airbnb reveal how design thinking for change management can completely transform a company. This innovative approach to change helped Airbnb create a culture of experimentation and double its revenue within a week. 

Frustrated with their lack of growth, the founders of Airbnb realized they needed to change and change quickly. Instead of operating as a tech startup, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia realized they needed a non-scalable approach: applying design thinking to their business model.

In a non-scalable experiment, Gebbia and his team rented a professional-grade camera, flew to New York, and hit the ground taking high-resolution images of renters’ properties. Within a week, Airbnb doubled its revenue and fast-tracked its success.

Redesigning Change Management 

Change is an unavoidable part of every organization. Companies that are best equipped to handle the challenges that come with change actively reframe change through the lens of innovative change management. Change is an abstract concept that often causes confusion, fear, and chaos. Change management responds to the chaos of change as leaders manage external factors. 

Leaders who champion organizational change management focus heavily on the process of implementation and acceptance of change as a whole. When we consider change management through the lens of design thinking, we can paint a picture of change that benefits all parties involved. 

Embracing Design Thinking for Change Management

Design thinking for change management focuses on cultivating a purpose. With design thinking, organizations can center their values and ideals for the future as the starting point for all change initiatives. Moreover, the design thinking process encourages participants to take a procedural approach to implement change. While the outcome may still be a mystery, organizations can use the established process of design thinking to embrace change management. 

Merging both design thinking and change management practices requires a keen understanding of the similarities and differences of each methodology:

Design Thinking

Design thinking focuses predominantly on designing with a solution in mind. This process highlights an innovative approach to creating change, focusing on ideation and experimenting to find the best solution. 

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Each card helps you reference existing ideas or solutions from one domain so you can remix them into a new context.

In design thinking, participants focus on “what?” as they navigate a challenge. Relying solely on design thinking for change often misses the mark of addressing change initiatives’ implementation and adoption aspects. 

Change Management

Change management prioritizes the adoption of an idea, using the implementation of that idea as a vehicle for change. Proponents of change management rely on influential leadership to answer the “how” of change implementation. 

This approach is most successful when team members reach a certain level of “readiness” to accept change initiatives. Typically, change management misses the part of engaging others in the design and decision-making process. Without the necessary engagement, leaders may implement a change that stakeholders had no say in creating. 

When merging both change management practices and design thinking methodology, we can address the “why” of making change. On a larger scale, design thinking for change management allows all participants to develop a sense of authorship when it comes to deciding what changes best suit all parties and how to navigate the challenges that accompany a change. 

Relying on research, process, and new ways of working, design thinking for change management encourages each stakeholder to engage in the process of creating change by centering empathy. Together, both practices focus on creating a new way to work by asking why change needs to happen, what processes to use to implement change, and discovering how the change will ultimately take place. 

Designing Your Next Change

Change can be an ambiguous process. Applying design thinking principles to your next change will help you find clarity in the midst of the unknown. 

Consider the following 5-step design thinking model to best implement change management:

  1. Empathize with Those Impacted By the Change

The first phase in design thinking for change management is to empathize with those that are impacted by the change. Change leaders should empathize with all stakeholders by acknowledging and validating their beliefs, experiences, and fears. Leaders should empathize with all parties involved by adopting their perspectives and mindset. This process should include research into how each person will be impacted by potential changes as well as the pain points associated with a change. 

  1. Create Consensus on What Changes Need to Be Made

The next step is creating consensus on the most pressing changes. Leaders and team members should develop a relevant problem statement using the information from the first phase. All participants should reach a consensus on what the main problem is. This way, they can work together to co-create the best solution in the following phases. 

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Use this template when a large group needs to create key points for a topic or question and write down those key points to a consensus. This is an adaptation of the Liberating Structures 1-2-4-All for 24 people.

3. Generate Solutions for Potential Challenges

Innovation drives design thinking for change management. Use this phase to harness the most innovative ideas. Encourage team members to think outside the box and develop as many potential solutions as possible. 

Techniques like storyboarding, role-playing, mind-mapping, and brainstorming are excellent ways to identify the most appropriate solutions. 

4. Prototype to Create Solutions 

The prototyping phase encourages all stakeholders to develop solutions on a small scale. The purpose of this phase is to further explore ideas from the ideation phase as they relate to the previously defined problem. Deliverables for this phase may include building a physical prototype or detailing a process or idea. 

5. Run Experiments to Find What Works

The final phase allows participants to test their prototypes. This step intends to identify a solution that is the most appropriate for real-world scenarios. All participants should agree on a final solution that resolves the problem from the second phase. 

Use design thinking for change management to bring innovation to the forefront in your future change initiatives. Apply the best of both practices to your next change strategy.

If you want to implement design thinking throughout your organization, we can help. At Voltage Control, we assist leaders and teams in thriving through change! Contact us to learn more about the best way to align design thinking to your next change initiative. 

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