Design Thinking Application in Life Sciences

By: Zeger De Groote, Senior Grant Consultant and Project Manager

An approach to be organized while thinking differently

Faced with complex problems, we tend to say ‘we need to think differently, out-of-the box’. At the same time, we prefer to take rational choices, based on real data, on facts rather than intuition and gut feeling. Theories can help to facilitate your approach towards these complex needs and wishes and get organized, while still striving for innovation and change. Design thinking is such an approach, based on 4 distinct process steps:

  1. Inspiration: trying to make sense of the problem (or opportunity) and set the framework for collaboration. During this stage we define the objectives, the end goal, the constraints, and the critical success factors. We identify our technology or market components and map our key stakeholders and users.
  2. Empathy: while getting a sense of the needs and wishes of the users, we increase our understanding of how things are being done, why, and how people feel and think. Often neglected, but ever so critical, we use this phase to get people IN and become fully invested.
  3. Ideation: generating ideas via brainstorming exercises. Using convergent and divergent thinking is typical for this phase and feasible when you have a multi-disciplinary and diverse team.
  4. Implementation and prototyping: after selecting the best ideas, using fast, iterative experimentation cycles with prototypes will provide learnings, feedback, and improve your original idea. Evaluation and iteration is crucial for refinement and speeds up your innovation process.


Jon Kolko identifies following key advantages of applying design thinking process to solve problems:

  • Participation: developing a formal, meaningful, and emotional connection with users so they stop being consumers of a design and instead become co-designers
  • Exploration: a blend of logical, linear thinking and illogical, divergent thinking – and the ability to switch between these mindsets freely and frequently
  • Co-evolution of problem and solution: new prototypes and tested solutions often lead to a better understanding of the original problem and context, which in turn can lead to more, new, and better solutions


Design thinking & Life Sciences

Constant reform, changing rules and regulations, new technologies, the ageing population, and the improved and central role of patients, urge the Life Sciences sector (and equally IT and Engineering when replacing patients with users) to speed up their innovation processes. While there is abundance of bright minds to come up with new ideas to test solutions, development and implementation is often lagging. Abhishek Shankar highlights “as digitally empowered consumers become better informed, and seek personalized and accountable care and treatment that delivers intended outcomes, this trend of design thinking process is only going to become stronger” and indicates the sector needs to shift from a drug development-oriented value proposition to a patient-centric one. He defines a six-step design thinking roadmap to transform patient experiences towards improved care outcomes:

  • Defining the target audience, the engagement setting and the patient assessment criteria. This is the foundation of the design thinking exercise and defines the expected impact. (Design thinking step: inspiration)
  • Defining the scope of work and information/data you want to collect (e.g., via patient interviews, landscaping documentation). Mapping the patient journey will allow you to evaluate whether all interactions and data points are included. (Design thinking step: inspiration)
  • Defining user personas to build the design blocks for your product or service. During this step you interact with the patient to get their full experience. (Design thinking step: empathy)
  • Designing probable solutions into a process map. This requires a stepwise approach and evaluation to map what the user desires to experience. (Design thinking step: ideation)
  • Translating the design process map into a prototype, where you simulate the envisioned to-be situation or experience. (Design thinking step: implementation and prototyping)
  • Validating the prototype to see whether it meets the patient needs. A thorough evaluation of the commercial and technical feasibility is required and starts the iteration process to check and adapt your solution. (Design thinking step: implementation and prototyping)


At Modis we apply and facilitate design thinking tools and methodologies to support Life Science clients tackle complex challenges. As experienced project managers we bring structure and organisation, while our alignment and engagement skills help to improve stakeholder management and improve the human aspects of your interactions. Together, we focus on the users & patients, we identify the core problem, and test and evaluate our co-created solutions. Contact us to see and discuss what we can do for you.

– Zeger De Groote, Senior Grant Consultant and Project Manager, Innovation and stakeholder management enthusiast


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