An Introduction to Design Thinking PRESENTED BY SMS MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY ON 13 December 2016

SMS Management and Technology with Main Roads hosted a morning session for select staff within the organisation. The group used a traveller's experience in an airport as an exercise to explore the benefits of rapid design process using Design Thinking.

Exploring the experience of a traveller's journey through an airport

SMS Principal Consultant Greg Steward facilitated, with support from SMS Design Consultants Daniel Sims, Ellie Knapp, and Robbie Joseph.

Lou Di Giovanni from SMS joined the team as Graphic Illustrator, to capture the process and synthesise and visualise our discussions.

We started the session with key concepts of Design Thinking, and tabled a number of tools in the Design Thinking arsenal. We discussed the five E's (Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit and Extend) as one of the key tools. This approach enables the service designers to design for the end-to-end customer experience.

Greg introduced the participants to the Double Diamond framework of Design Thinking. We use this process to tackle a problem through a process of divergent / convergent thinking.

Double Diamond framework that takes us from "Don't know" to "Do know" through a series of diverging and converging phases

After a brief explanation of the concepts, the interactive fun began. Main Roads attendees were invited to start thinking creatively by imagining the Department in terms of a car metaphor. We questioned “What sort of car is the Department now?”, and “post innovation in 3-5 years’ time, what car will your organisation be?”.

Lou captured your view of the type of car the Departmetn is now and the vision of car metaphor of the future

We look forward to tracking the development of a rustic horse and carriage with multiple drivers to a fully autonomous, sustainable, driver-less Volvo over the next few years!

To design in a user centric way, we must empathise with our customers. Groups conducted empathy mapping on a range of customer groups who might visit our airport.

Each group transformed their maps to Personas to better get to understand their emotions and goals as they move through the airport. (Whilst these personas and their experiences were based on guesses for the exercise, these insights would normally be captured through a discovery phase where we really get to know our customers and empathise with our their needs.)


Sue is a coach of a school sports group that is travelling domestically with her team and fearful of her losing students and baggage at the airport.

Tess is very stressed about flying from Melbourne with her 11 month old triplets. She is worried about holding up people and feels that she is being judged by others.

Crystal suffers from a chronic pain disease. Other passengers are zipping around her and she can not get around as easily as others. Crystal just wants to get to the gate and find a comfortable seat to relax.

We considered each customer’s specific journey through different parts of the airport, and their emotional feelings towards their experiences. We looked for ‘moments of truth’, where the customer might be either highly delighted or very disappointed.

Groups identified that:

Sue can not relax until she has everyone on the plane and buckled in, where she pops her earphones on and shuts out the world for a few moments.

Crystal can not get around as effortlessly as most others in the airport. With so much going on, and everyone zipping past her and breakneck speed, Crystal just hopes she can find a comfortable seat to relax while she waits to board her flight.

Tess experiences a stressful arrival at the Melbourne airport. With three children under 12 months of age who she has to feed, change, and settle as she navigates the large and busy airport. It didn't help that she feels that everyone is judging her. This makes her all the more nervous. She can settle her children, but can she make her flight?

Groups were invited to imagine "How might we... " solutions based on our traveller's problem statements.

Greg encouraged the designs to have any properties imaginable - possible or impossible. In a real life context, this 'boundary stretching' serves to create divergent thinking. We may not be able to design the solution with all of the impossible properties, but the thought process helps us uncover innovative solutions that are feasible, but may otherwise remain hidden.

The groups' innovative ideas: Each idea might have been considered crazy as a whole but contained innovative insights to what the final solution might contain.

Walking the customers through a prototype...

The teams created tangible models in PlayDoh to illustrate and demonstrate their ideas. We use this method of building 3D models to rapidly visualise pain points or identify further innovations to our solutions. The teams examined how our travellers would interact with their solutions using the prototypes. Using the physical models helps prevent our brains taking short cuts in the experience. These short cuts could cause us to miss a vital part of the traveller's journey.

We were introduced to an automated transport / entertainment system to assist Sue to keep her team together and safely navigating the airport. A very feasible part of the solution uses GPS tracking on watches given to all of the children. In the event that they did split up, Sue can track them down again through an app on her phone.

Sue travelling with confidence, knowing exactly where her GPS monitored team members are located
A mobile optimised transport service that enables Crystal to book an inter-airport buggy to easily get her to the gate so she can relax in comfort before boarding her flight
A prototype of a security tunnel to reduce Tess's stress levels. Reducing distractions enabled the team to explore how to keep the children focused on getting to the gate for boarding

Insights from the session

The groups experienced that using the Design Thinking methodology, a team can:

  • Gain insights by empathising with customers
  • Define problems to be solved from the customer's point of view
  • Explore creative ways to solve customer problems that can lead to unexpected solutions
  • Prototype any idea
  • Poke, prod and test ideas to see what is feasible
  • Invest in outcomes that are more likely to 'hit the mark' with customers

SMS enjoyed the experience of undertaking Discovery exercises with Main Roads WA. We look forward to using Human Centred Design to help you explore and tackle future challenges, as you go about transforming Main Roads to the fully autonomous, sustainable, driverless Volvo that you created in your vision in the session.

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