Design Thinking for a Connected Society

We live in a time where technological developments are so exponential that people seem unable to keep up. In this changing society, billions of people are connected through mobile devices, broadband connections, and cloud services and as engineers we are responsible for this transformation. However, do we consider how we (will) behave in this networked society; which devices will connect to whom or what; and what will be their functionality? Therefore, we need to take a stand, and develop innovations that are not only feasible and viable, but also desirable. Consequently, true innovations, such as achieved by companies like Apple (consider the “Think Different!” campaign which resulted in iTunes, iPod, iPad, iPhone etc.) or P&G (who changed their complete business culture to address the complex business problems they were facing), need to be proposed by considering the user, business and technology perspectives. Design Thinking is considered as an approach that integrates these three perspectives. Design Thinking requires a good understanding of the user, a strong connection to business processes and entrepreneurship and thorough knowledge about the latest technological developments. Consequently, Design Thinking is an approach that bridges the gap between engineering and the user (U), society (S) and business (E).

The course sequence addresses the components User, Technology and Business in three consecutive courses. A societal challenge is taken in a design project that will run as a recurrent theme throughout the three courses. Below, we provide a brief description of the three courses as well as an example project:


Q1 - DDEU10 Empathy with the User

In the first course of this course sequence you will learn how to find the right challenge that needs to be solved (desirability). It is not evident that users know what their problem is; let alone what a possible (technological) solution could be. For example, an engineer might be asked by medical specialists to improve the stability of scanning equipment, because they cannot get stable images when scanning children. The problem may not be the stability of the equipment, but the result of children being scared of the hospital environment. By making the equipment appear friendlier, a more viable solution can be found. Also, you will learn how to evaluate the feasibility of ideas at an early stage of the design process. For example, by building a paper prototype of your app and evaluating it with users, you may be able to discover many flaws, which will save you programming many lines of code. Consequently, this course will focus on specific methods to explore the desirability and the viability in the design process. You will be assessed on your ability to apply it in a small project and on your ethical considerations when involving particular user groups in your design process.


Q3 - DBSU10 Technologies for Connectivity

In the second course of this course sequence you will learn how to choose and validate technologies for any type of project to avoid last-minute surprises and costly re-designs. You will build upon methods such as the experiential prototypes as proposed in the first course to come to more technological prototypes that enable tests in real life. An important aspect is learning how to use networking technologies to network your prototypes and gather user data from the field to improve your designs further. Furthermore, you will use design thinking in connection with the general ideas of doing technology research (feasibility), and you will have try out your knowledge in a small design project. You will be assessed on your ability to find the appropriate technologies and the quality of the prototypes and arguments that demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed solution.


Q4 - DAAU10 Interdisciplinary Innovation

In the third course of this course sequence you will learn about interdisciplinary innovation. It will link Design Thinking to contemporary business practices and tools such as the Lean Start-up methodology and the Business Model Canvas, as well as different design innovation strategies. An important learning objective is the ability to formulate and articulate plausible value propositions by considering multiple stakeholders. The importance of business becomes clearer when looking at integration with the other areas (User and Technology). In this course panelists from diverse backgrounds from both within and outside the university will be invited to provide expert feedback on the project results. You will be assessed on your ability to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams and to develop, present and articulate a value proposition and a business model for your design solution.


Throughout the course sequence, you have to apply your newly acquired attitude, skills and knowledge about design thinking to come to solutions in an open design case. Each course will address one iteration such that the courses build on each other, but can also be conducted separately. You will learn how considering the user, business and technology angles and their mutual influences can realistically complicate, but also enrich a design project. You will have to face ethical problems, ambiguous matter, and critical decision moments on your journey in the product development lifecycle.

Example projects

Two example projects that applied Design Thinking are the individual project Sonostapp by Ineke Neutelings and the team project Concept Kitchen 2025 for IKEA. Below the descriptions:


“People with a prosthetic limb miss a sense of touch at this particular part of their body. The graduation project Sonostapp focused on providing people with a lower extremity amputation with an alternative sensory stimulus in order to help them experience what they can no longer feel.

To gain insight in what this feedback should be, methods of measuring around a prosthetic lower leg were investigated in an iterative research through design process. The results indicated that it is possible to measure differences in the applied pressure underneath a prosthetic leg with a thin insole between the shoe and the foot. To provide feedback on the pressure difference during walking, vibrotactile feedback as well as audio feedback was tested with one, experienced user. Audio feedback was considered as the most fitting option in the context of a tool for training, because a wider range of information and subtleties can be communicated through this medium in a short time, and it can be adapted to different stages of skill acquisition. Audio feedback on their weight distribution can help users to improve their balance while walking and in learning how to load both legs with a proper amount of weight. The application connected to the system also makes it possible to send the measured data to the experts at the rehabilitation center, who can then provide the user with help or feedback from a distance.”

This project was developed in cooperation with the Fieldlab Aangepast Sporten (F.A.S.) and Livit. Next to that a person from the target group was highly involved in the project.

Concept Kitchen 2025

IKEA is interested how technologies can support the kitchen of the future, while “preserving the tactile creative pleasure of the kitchen”. In this project, students explored how kitchen appliances can connect through the Internet, as part of the so-called Internet of Things. How image recognition can be used to identify ingredients that have been placed on the kitchen surface. Furthermore, they considered how advanced algorithms could generate completely new recipes based upon knowledge in the fields of chemistry, physics and data science (food pairing), or supported by databases in which ingredients and recipes from all over the world are collected (e.g. Bullipedia).

A system was developed that kept all these technologies in the background. Based on thorough understanding of the user, and the pleasure people have while cooking, the kitchen does not automate, but supports users in making choices. It combined the latest technologies (induction, display, sensing etc.) and embedded them in traditional materials to create a wooden cooking surface that recognizes ingredients and tools and guides user through the cooking process. The result was a prototype that demonstrates how social, technological, and demographics could impact the way we will behave around food in 2025 (see video).

This project was developed in cooperation with IKEA, students from Ingvar Kamprad Design Centre at Lund University and IDEO.


Started the Bachelor College in 2014 or later? As part of your USE Learning Trajectory, you must participate in 5 Studium Generale activities marked with the EC logo. Important: You can start participating in these activities as soon as you enroll at TU/e.