Design Thinking in HR and Its Significance


What is Design Thinking

Design thinking is best known as a creative approach to problem solving that leads to innovative solutions that work better for people.

Why not apply design thinking to improve the employee experience with the same care given to delight customers?

Design Thinking in HR

Throughout years, Design Thinking was mainly used in product design industry. However today, it is used in many other industries, including HR and recruiting. As the HR function is rapidly evolving and adapting to new ways of engaging the workforce, design thinking can be very helpful in figuring out improvement areas in recruiting and hiring strategies.

Employees are overwhelmed with technology, applications, and a constant flood of information. Today people collectively check their phones more than 8 billion times each day, yet productivity is barely rising. To relieve the overwhelmed employee and develop HR applications that can help manage complexity, HR must adopt design thinking, which puts the employee experience at the centre.

Traditional HR solutions are typically programs or processes to train people, assess performance, ensure compliance, or document a practice at work. Most were built around forms, process steps, formal training, or classroom events. While these strategies work to a degree, today’s employees are already overwhelmed with a flood of email, messages, meetings, and other workplace distractions.

Key Principles of Design Thinking in HR

Below are the five key principles of design thinking that give a simplified path to revamp HR processes to suit the changing workforce dynamics:

Human-Centric Designs –Gone are the days when an institution would decide as per their convenience and needs. The market today offers enormous opportunity, and potential candidates choose according to their preferences. Today, we are driven by a labour market where an employee’s needs, requirements, and comfort are taken into consideration. Any organization that understands what a candidate is looking for has a winning hand compared to their competitors.

Collaborative Design –Future candidates and current employees play an equally important role in shaping your organization’s employer brand. A higher number of satisfied employees ensure better reputation in the market. On your website, if you have your CEO articulate good things about the work environment, it might not be as effective as a video uploaded by your employees who talk about their experiences and the reasons that have motivated them to work hard to grow and stick around for long.

Knowing your co-worker’s feedback and their thoughts about a particular workplace sets an image which might help you pursue a job or search for other opportunities. Any organization that knows its employee and tries to improve their experience, can and will attract more potential candidates.

Creative Problem Solving –Creativity is the need of the hour. There are so many new concepts that have been introduced for attracting the right talent – right from Recruitment Marketing, Inbound Recruiting, Social Media Recruiting, Candidate Relationship Management and Data-driven Recruiting. HR has gone through a tremendous transformation from what the recruiting process was five years back to how talent acquisition is now.

Technology has helped raise the bar to the next level. However, it has created many obstacles as well. Recruits and candidates are more connected and aware of an organization’s culture due to social and technological advances. Hence, it is crucial creating best candidate experience, branding strategies and implementing the latest HR technology to attract suitable people for the designated jobs.

Prototyping- Experiment with internal recruitment policies. Use different career site controls, videos, employee testimonials, employee career stories and team blogs to attract employees and recruits. Try and keep application forms short and keep the selection process shorter rather than making it tedious. Mix and match different types of questions in an interview that help you understand people’s character, knowledge, and experience.

Testing- It’s tough for an idea to be successful or give you expected results right away. Hence, it is essential to test your plans to see which one gives you the maximum output with minimum cost and effort. Try different strategies which keep employees satisfied while providing quality work. Once the idea is tested and applicable, you can measure time, cost and quality of your organization as well as employees.  As per companies like Airbnb and Pixar are one of the examples which show the difference caused by design thinking.

Applying Design Thinking to HR

HR can leverage design thinking via:

  1. Organizational design, which can incorporate design thinking when restructuring roles or the organization itself
  2. Engagement, which can be driven by using design thinking to make work easier, more efficient, more fulfilling, and more rewarding
  3. Learning, in which new, self-directed learning experiences can be shaped by design thinking’s central principle of putting the user experience ahead of the process
  4. Analytics, in which data analysis and design thinking can be linked to recommend better solutions directly to the employee
  5. HR skills, which must be upgraded to incorporate an understanding of digital design, mobile application design, behavioural economics, machine learning, and user experience design
  6. Digital HR, where design thinking is critical in developing new digital tools that can make work easier and better.
Design thinking casts HR in a new role. It transforms HR from a “process developer” to an “experience architect.”

Design Thinking empowers HR to reimagine every aspect of work: the physical environment; how people meet and interact; how managers spend their time; and how companies select, train, engage, and evaluate people.

Simply described, design thinking means focusing on the person and the experience, but not on the process. At its core, working as a designer involves studying people at work, and developing “personas” and “profiles” to understand employee demographics, work environment, and challenges. It relies on generating ideas quickly and testing prototypes that generate further ideas, digital tools, and solutions.

Design thinking moves HR’s focus beyond building programs and processes to a new goal: designing a productive and meaningful employee experience through solutions that are compelling, enjoyable, and simple.

Companies that have already adopted design thinking have a massive advantage over their competitors. HR needs to put themselves in an employee’s or candidate’s shoes to understand how they compare jobs, evaluate positions and apply for jobs to provide better strategies for recruiting and attracting potential candidates.

How organisations are embracing Design Thinking in HR

Today companies are relying upon design thinking. GE, for example, has made simplification a core new business strategy. It is introducing design thinking, a simplified model for performance management, new mobile apps for goal management and collaboration, and a new set of principles for work. The company now uses agile methodologies throughout product development and is teaching managers how to help teams “do less” and “focus more.”

One fundamental idea in design thinking is the use of behavioural economics. Many HR practices can be replaced with “intelligent choices,” using the principles of behavioural economics to encourage better decisions.

Today companies are using design thinking to improve learning dramatically. Deckers Brands, Nestlé, and Qualcomm have used design thinking to develop highly intuitive, experiential learning programs. Experiential learning programs begin with the individual and the context of an employee’s work rather than a model in which the presenter is the focus. They offer learning programs that are much more stimulating and engaging and lead to higher skills retention. In addition, they do not depend on a learning management system but can leverage new learning technologies to promote continuous learning.

Airbnb has changed Chief HR Officer’s function as Chief Employee Experience Officer function, understanding that experience is the essence of any workplace.

At Pixar, The Employees Experience Manager provides outreach, consultation, and support to all. This also led to more face time conversation with managers which helps to understand the difficulties faced by employees and the expectations of the management.

Where companies can start

  1. School HR in design thinking: HR should move away from “process design” to “human-cantered design.” This means studying what employees do, visiting their workplaces, and observing their behaviour. Based on these insights, solutions and programs can be designed that improve productivity, boost engagement, and increase employee satisfaction while also providing training or other HR services.
  2. Learn from design thinking in customer service: Many companies use design thinking in developing their customer service programs. To gain understanding, HR should visit great retail stores, restaurants, or universities. By examining satisfying experiences outside of work, HR can use these examples in HR design.
  3. Prototype, pilot, test, and learn: New programs should be prototyped and then piloted with a small group. By understanding what this group loves and what it dislikes, HR can improve the end-to-end employee experience


Design thinking takes aim at the heart of unnecessary workplace complexity by putting the employee experience first—helping to improve productivity by designing solutions that are at once compelling, enjoyable, and simple. Though Design thinking was initially used in product design companies only, however, due to technological advances and rapid changes in every field, using design thinking principles has become a game changer.

Author- Vartul Mittal is Technology & Innovation Specialist. He has 12+ years of strong Global Business Transformation experience in Management Consulting and Global In-house Centres with a remit to drive understanding and deliver Business & Operations Strategy solutions globally. He is always looking for new ideas and ways that can make things simpler. He has lived and worked across multiple countries and cultures involving senior client stakeholders from various industries like Financial Services Sector, FMCG and Retail. He has delivered engagements for Fortune 500 organizations such as Coca Cola India, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IBM, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life Insurance, Citibank and Barclays. Vartul Mittal is also renowned speaker on Analytics, Automation, AI and Innovation among Top Universities and International Conferences.


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