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Design Thinking

5 Lessons In The Practice of Innovation

By Design Thinking, Digital Transformation, Future of Work

Written by Boineelo Modise

1. The Importance of Psychological Safety

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of innovation in business and society. To build resilience and agility into our organisations for the future, we must learn to foster a culture of innovation by embracing a multifaceted approach, putting people (customers and employees) at the heart of any innovation process or digital transformation agenda. 

As an intern, this has been an especially challenging environment. One of my projects was to gather insights from the team as we move towards the “new normal”. Here are some of the biggest lessons we have seen our clients face in the last year:

2. Innovation Requires Diversity

Perhaps it’s time we rethink our hiring processes and start hiring employees based on their differences rather than commonalities. Diversity unlocks a company’s innovation potential.  Effective and more comprehensive business solutions are born out of collaborations where there is (at least a little) disagreement or dissent.  A diverse set of lived experiences, cultures, abilities and opinions brings new perspectives to any problem and is therefore crucial to the development of new ideas. Great solutions to problems are found at the intersection of ideas, experiences and challenges. A diverse and inclusive workforce is also crucial for companies that want to attract and retain top talent.

3. Human-centred Design Is The Future

Human-Centred Design is a process dedicated to creating products, processes, or experiences that are crafted from the perspective of the end-user. Placing people at the centre of the problem leads to better products or services that actually solve real-world problems for users.

The focus of Human-Centred Design is on solving problems, not implementing solutions. This is why a key focus of the Human-Centred design is in asking the right questions and pouring focus into the research phase.  In order for us to create innovative, sustainable design products and services, we need to go beyond assumptions and find the truth – this is why Human-Centred Design processes are important.

4. Sustainability Is Key

The global lockdown may have had a small positive impact on the environment (just think, people in India could see the Himalayas for the first time in decades as a result of reduced air pollution), but we still have a long way to go in creating meaningful, sustainable change. Last year we saw an accelerated change in our weather patterns, we witnessed uncontrollable wildfires wreaking havoc and we heard repeated warnings from climate scientists about the criticality of our situation. We cannot ignore the call for sustainability anymore.

As leaders, designers and innovators, we have to keep sustainability top of mind when building solutions for our businesses and our clients. For example, in an effort to reduce single-use plastic packaging we worked to create a, zero packaging solution.  In developing an innovation challenge for the city of cape town we made social impact a key pillar, not just how much ideas could save or earn.

5. Digital Transformation Cannot Wait

Digital Transformation has become a necessity, not an add-on. However, it is imperative that leaders understand that Digital Transformation is not just about implementing tech. The first step is to take a Service Design approach. This means systemically unpacking your processes and tools so that you have a thorough understanding of your business ecosystem. You can then work towards leveraging technology to create value for your employees and customers.

Companies need to address the four types of Digital Transformation ( business process, business model, domain, and cultural ) in order to innovate and acquire the capabilities to rapidly adapt to a changing business landscape.  Companies that regard and pursue digital transformation in a multi-dimensional way will find greater success than those that do not.

Boineelo Modise is an intern at dY/dX

Social Innovation Using Design Thinking

By Design Thinking, Human Centered Design

The challenges that governments, business owners and communities are facing due to COVID19 cannot be solved with existing strategies and management. As a framework for innovation, Design Thinking can assist both the private and public sector in tackling both small – and large-scale issues, such as those we are now facing. This is particularly important in a country like South Africa, where traditional public service processes can take years to design and implement viable solutions (at which point, they are often no longer relevant).

Design Thinking offers a different paradigm for complex problem solving that takes a human-centred approach. Ensuring that solutions are developed with and around the people involved, Design Thinking first seeks to understand their needs, motivations, frustrations and behaviours. With this understanding, the team then takes an iterative, learn-as-you-go approach to build the best solutions to meet the users’ needs.

When working to create a lasting social impact project, one should consider the following criteria:

  1. Community – enriching those around you
  2. Ecology – not harming, but rather benefitting the planet
  3. Dignity – valuing and respecting people and ensuring they feel a sense of worth
  4. Profitability – the ability to make money

Using Design Thinking, we can create high-impact solutions that address all 4 of these criteria.

Design Thinking In Action

Re:solve Challenge

To help empower and encourage entrepreneurs and SMEs in creating innovative change for a post-COVID world, we recently launched a collaboration with The Craft and Design Institute (CDI), a non-profit company, and the City of Cape Town to launch the Re:solve Challenge. Fifteen teams or individuals will have the opportunity to build and prototype their business idea with the help of highly skilled business consultants, design-thinking facilitators, product developers, and creative experts.

The four-month programme will focus on uplifting local entrepreneurs who seek to solve current issues in transport, hygiene, food, security, education, medical care, retail and micro-enterprises.

Impact Week – SouthAfricaVsCOVID19

RE:solve followed shortly after our recent partnership with Impact Week, which also called young creatives from all over the world to solve COVID-related challenges using human-centred design toolkits.

Learn more about Design Thinking by taking the online course we created with Red and Yellow Creative School of Business. Learn more about it here.

How We Made Digital Transformation More About People

By Design Thinking, Digital Transformation, Human Centered Design

Listen to dY/dX partner, Nevo Hadas speak on the School of Innovation podcast with Yaniv Corem

Digital Transformation is not just about automation and Design Thinking is not just for designers. Both require a human-centred approach and a shift in mindset. In this podcast, dY/dX partner, Nevo Hadas, unpacks what the future of work looks like, busts common myths around design thinking and shares a successful case study of design thinking in action.

How Design Thinking Helped Me Navigate 2020

By Design Thinking

by Jesslynn Shepherd

“You’re such a laid back, go-with-the-flow type person,” said no one ever about me. I’ve always been an A-type adjacent individual – I like making lists and plans made out of more lists. Having a clear cut path has always been important in making me feel in control, whether in life or in a work project.

*2020 has entered the chat*, and all subsequent life plans essentially went to sh*t. But instead of feeling that dreaded sense of panic when I face uncertainty, I actually felt OK. Of course, that’s not to take away from the terrible loss and pain that the pandemic has inflicted on millions of people around the world, as well as a small sense of fear that comes with having a husband who is a healthcare worker on the frontline. But when it came to my very neatly laid-out 12-month plan, I was relatively cool about it falling apart.

What has led me to the sweet, sweet taste of that elusive laid-back feeling I often pretend to exude? It could be that the Capetonian way of life is finally rubbing off on my inner Jo’burg neuroticism, but I think it’s more down to the practice of learning to embrace uncertainty as part of the working process at dY/dX.

Uncertainty is a core component of design thinking and was probably the most difficult aspect I struggled with when I first started adopting a design thinking approach. I would often ask Nevo, one of the dY/dX partners who I work with, “Doesn’t it freak you out that this is such a big project and we don’t know what the end solution is going to be?” His answer was always a very casual “no”. My response would be an attempt at an equally chill, “Yeah, cool, me neither”. Like when you respond to an email with “no worries” when in actual fact you have very many worries.

It’s well documented that most people are averse to change and ambiguity – they may say otherwise in an attempt to be perceived as that free-spirited, nothing-phases-me-because-I’m-so-chill type of person, but when it comes to actual actions, you’ll find it’s very much true. But 5 years of design thinking later, I’ve accepted uncertainty as a key part of any successful project. And now, part of my everyday life.

Uncertainty is such a big part of the design thinking process because you learn to never start with a solution in mind. You put the user and the research at the centre, and that often reframes your thoughts and the subsequent process to allow for the best solution (if any) to take shape.

Take for example a project we worked on for a client that launched a budget hotel offering. The client had bought out a small hotel chain that offered accommodation known for its pay-by-the-hour business model, and was therefore associated with unwholesome services with the same flexi payment terms (no judgement here). We knew we wanted to reposition the brand and find out more about the customer, and had a hunch that it may be towards on-the-road business folk. But instead of our initial assumption where we were thinking along the lines of fancy Nespresso machines and Showmax VOD, the user research led us to a very different type of business requirement. One that favoured easier booking processes that allowed for customer accounts rather than paying upfront. Mind blown. This being a good example of what David Kelley, IDEO founder, promotes by saying “fail early to succeed sooner”.

From our user research, we identified 3 core user personas, with the largest opportunity being a business traveller that doesn’t book accommodation themselves, and doesn’t have access to a company credit card. For those who are familiar with the usual snail-pace in which corporates move, you know that payments are not quick and easy, and often have to go through a 30+ day payment process. But the problem is that these travellers often need to book accommodation last minute while on the road, and our client worked on an upfront deposit payment model. So the biggest barrier to booking accommodation with our client for this user group was that the traveller had to pay upfront rather than allowing the company to open a credit account. Had we not allowed for uncertainty within our process to give us the space we needed to identify new opportunities, we would have ended up with a bunch of expensive features that nobody really wanted. As a result, by making the service easier for businesses to use, we opened the door to allow for a whole new user market. 

Don’t get me wrong, design thinking isn’t about “winging it”. There is a process to design thinking and many tools that can be used to get things going. But it’s an inherently exploratory process that allows you to make unexpected discoveries along the way, and encourages you to dive into those discoveries should they challenge your initial assumptions and potentially lead to a more promising opportunity. These new avenues of possibility should lead to adjustments to any initial plan. And yes, it can feel a little chaotic to experience this type of open-ended, iterative approach, but things eventually come together and make sense over the life of the project. It’s really this design thinking approach to challenges that have made me feel comfortable with being uncomfortable, removing a lot of the stress of not knowing where I will be in a year’s time, and turning that into a feeling of excitement and curiosity. Plus, isn’t it kind of boring to know what’s coming next?

So when it comes to navigating the challenges of 2020, which has, and will continue to, essentially change the trajectory of most industries, the way we work, the way we shop and how we make decisions, I’m excited to find the opportunity in these challenges. So is design thinking the personal therapy I’m being paid to do? Maybe, my friends. Maybe.

Jesslynn is a project lead and consultant at dY/dX.

Impact Week Comes To South Africa

By Design Thinking

The award-winning German program, Impact Week, recently hosted a 60-hour Virtual Design Thinking Challenge to tackle issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hackathon, already hosted in Nepal, Kenya, Nigeria, Germany and India, was brought to South Africa in collaboration with dY/dX, TSIBA, Small Change Circularity, Launchlabs, Service Design Network, Mural and the Lufthansa Group.

As part of a global initiative to find solutions to the local and international challenges we are facing, the event offered a unique opportunity for young creative minds to use Design Thinking and user-centric design toolkits to solve problems in public health, business, education and community.  Participants also received mentorship from international innovation experts and Design Thinking coaches.

“Design Thinking and Service Design are still in their infancy in South Africa” says Templar Wales, partner at dY/dX ”so we were very excited by the opportunity to work with Impact Week to help grow the skills locally while making a real impact in communities that need it most.”

Each of the eleven teams conducted research, developed strategies and presented their solutions within the three short days. Consisting of a total of 74 local university students and young professionals, each team was also supported by local coaches and two international design and innovation experts.

Lakshmi Rao, Innovation Expert from India & the Lead Organizer of the hackathon explained, “Our experience in South Africa tells us that there is immense talent waiting to be discovered, an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is so empowering, enabling all of us to come together to build a future based on hope, opportunities and growth for South Africa.”

The three winning ideas were announced in an online ceremony. The winning team, Concept Creators, from MANCOSA, were presented with financial support to develop their solution, as well as mentorship from dY/dX and free access to the Design Thinking course developed by dY/dX and Red & Yellow Business School for each team member. All of the hackathon’s participants also received discount vouchers for the course.

The winning idea addressed food scarcity and hunger caused by poverty and loss of income, identifying that teachers were the nucleus that connects the community. Playing many roles over and above teaching, educators can play a central role in educating and facilitating the creation of sustainable urban agriculture initiatives on the school premises to provide nutritious meals.

Team Period Patrol took second place, confronting the long-standing issue of affordable access to female sanitary products which leads to low school attendance and a negative stigma due to ignorance. Using a holistic approach, they saw an opportunity to create jobs through the design and manufacture of reusable pads and underwear called “Mbali”, addressing education of menstruation through printed brochures. As part of a strategic growth plan, the team sees distribution and education being “Mbali Mobile”, a boldly branded pink tuktuk.

“Although the jury’s decision was unanimous, many of the ideas presented are worth looking into,” said Templar Wales, partner at dY/dX. “The teams should all see this as just the first step to creating solutions to challenges within their communities and continue to learn and use the Design Thinking techniques they’ve learned for problem-solving in other areas of life.”

Some of the other issues which were addressed included education, both online and community mentorship; solving for last-mile medicine delivery to frail and disadvantaged citizens by enabling agents from within their community; and a secure digital medical record storage and access. A WiFi solution called “Mahala Box”, created by a team at REGENT Business School, won third place. It would provide free access to skills development, job placements, self-help content and a range of books, videos, templates and exercises.

dY/dX, supported Impact Week in South Africa by facilitating the recruitment of participants from tertiary institutions and subject matter experts during the three day workshop as well as a keynote talk from Nevo Hadas, dY/dX partner.

Established in 2015, The Impact Week is a non-profit program that unites people from a variety of countries and organizations. It promotes innovation and entrepreneurship skill progression in developing and emerging economies as a foundation for sustainable growth, by establishing sustainable business models using Design Thinking. It equips the next generation with valuable skills for employment and to become inspiring leaders – successful entrepreneurs and game-changers – regardless of their field or level of expertise.

Digital Transformation in Retail – Zero Packaging Solutions

By Design Thinking, Human Centered Design, Product Development 6 Comments

Packaging has defined how modern and informal retail works. The entire system is centred around packaging, from displays, pricing, shelving, distribution, returns and more. Consumer purchasing behaviour, the way we promote goods (2 for 1), how check-out works, all link back to packaged goods as the “atoms” of modern retail. So with plastic waste and single-use packaging being responsible for 40% of all plastic production, it’s a systemic challenge to make significant change. Consumers are demanding smarter solutions and less packaging, but retailers and brands are struggling to find the way forward because it is a complex system, not just a single point solution.

First developed for the informal market, where smart dispensing can increase affordability and food safety, we were excited about the ideas potential scalability at formal retail too (read more about our experience in the informal market here).

The smart dispenser concept provides an insight into the future of retail. They benefit retailers, consumers, FMCG product manufacturers and the environment. Consumers are enabled to purchase the quantity they need and take their purchases away in their own container, use a disposable paper bag or purchase a container.

Through IoT-based technology, the smart dispenser shows their purchase cost as they dispense on a screen. The same sensors provide real-time stock levels to both the store and the manufacturer, simplifying restocking and distribution. 

If you can imagine how the customer shopping experience, payment experience and retail back-end systems change when you have a store with 300 or more smart dispensers for all dry goods (powders, grains, single purchase items) and liquids, it is a profoundly disruptive idea – like ordering a car on your smartphone was 10 years ago.

The smart dispensers allow retailers to offer their customers a packaging-free purchasing experience at scale, while at the same time increasing the effectiveness of their floor space through vertical stacking and real-time stock levels per dispenser. FMCG manufacturers can reduce their packaging costs by being able to ship in bulk to retailers and use the data generated by the smart dispenser to manage re-ordering and distribution more effectively.

Nevo Hadas

Lockdown Lessons: How DYDX is Navigating Covid19’s Lockdown Restrictions

By #COVID19, Design Thinking, Remote Working No Comments

by Nevo Hadas, partner at DYDX

We have been working remotely with international clients for the last 5 years. Lockdown for me (personally) has meant less travel, more time to exercise (zoom HIIT classes) and hang out with my kids. Unlike many other businesses that have suddenly had their world transformed and are struggling to adapt to a “no office” environment, our business hasn’t really been impacted too much.

The biggest business issue has been one delayed project, but we have grown during this period with new projects kicking off. The team at the moment is around 32 people, spread out between Cape Town, Johannesburg, UK and Netherlands. We have added 3 new “interns” (one is a reforming lawyer, one is a re-emerging educationalist, and one is a surf instructor/musician/organization psychology major) during this period.

Our systems are built for a digital-first organisation. We have very little email (which is a sign of digital maturity) and most of our communication is focused on projects in slack channels. There are almost no “meetings”. We don’t use video calls. Our work is done in collaborative workshops, and they are either really short (dealing with blockers in projects i.e. less than 30 min) or long workshops – where we collaborate as a team and complete key tasks. We have specific formulas for meetings and tools that we use which make our organization very efficient and ensure that nobody is dead-weight in the meeting.

This doesn’t mean that the period has not had its challenges and hasn’t created new opportunities. For example: In our design thinking and service design projects we normally facilitate physical workshops; day-long events requiring teams to work together in one room. That clearly could not happen.

As part of a 10-week certification course we co-developed with Red & Yellow, we had to deliver a full-day workshop for a group of 22 from Dimension Data. There were four teams, each working on different projects – challenging enough in a face-to-face workshop and even harder virtually.

We had to rethink and redesign the workshop process, delivering two fast-paced, highly collaborative workshops. Each was three hours long but because of the time pressure and interactivity, they felt energetic and engaging.

Similarly for Mediamark, in a Future Ways of Working workshop, usually delivered as a half-day physical event for leadership teams, we had to move it all online. We reimagined processes using Zoom, Miro boards and Google Docs, changed the agenda and had a successful outcome.

What has been interesting as a commonality for us, is even though organisations have all the tools (office365/ Gsuiite/ slack/ teams/ zoom, etc.), they haven’t explored how to use them. The organisations are hampered by a belief system anchored in the technology of eight years ago that influences how they see teams working together.

Four years ago we worked on a project with the Dutch government to develop and promote distributed remote teams. I expected a new-fangled intranet incorporating Slack and Asana, what we got was something very different. The realisation was that technology does not create successful teams, behaviour does.

This project, The Culture Canvas, was released as an ebook, downloaded thousands of times and led to us building our Culture and Future of Work Practice. In this lockdown, we decided to release another free eBook “” to help team managers improve how they manage remote teams. We have seen it spread quite quickly already with some organisations downloading the ebook hundreds of times. We have also developed a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify team effectiveness.

This has led us to develop a new training program that we expect to release at the end of May (it’s currently in beta with test organisations in SA and UK). So that is an opportunity that emerged from the lockdown.

My message to the industry and agencies is that this is a golden opportunity. You are thrust into change but it is beneficial pain. We have undertaken successful digital transformation projects with corporate marketing teams (such as Vodacom) and have spent a considerable amount of time in change management processes.

Agencies are sometimes arrogant and assume they know everything from a blog they read. The default approach is to get a new tool, come up with a new process and all will be well. This is not how it works! Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is easy. It just doesn’t work that way. Many are “too busy” to invest the time in transforming. Many great companies were too busy… until they weren’t busy at all.


Video: DYDX Partner Nevo Hadas on – Design Thinking for Business

By Courses, Design Thinking, Education No Comments

What is Design Thinking?

DYDX partner Nevo Hadas breaks down what Design Thinking is and isn’t, how it works and how it could help organisations solve complex problems.

This talk was hosted at Red & Yellow’s Breakfast Session initiative, and designed to help educate businesses on design thinking approaches and help them figure out ways they can innovate and grow.

Nevo discusses what creativity actually is, the processes surrounding success (and failure), and shares a number of lessons around Design Thinking.


Nevo Hadas led the development of “The Culture Canvas”, an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours. The latest ebook on managing remote teams, “” is available as a free download and a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment, designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams.