Why I took up the Design Thinking elective as an English Philosophy student

The business side of things has always interested me. I have grown up in a family where business discussions were quite common. Identifying problems, strategising solutions, marketing, raising funds, team management, winning and retaining customers… I have found all these things fascinating from a young age. For a long time, the entrepreneurial bug was dormant in me.

This innate desire led me towards attending various business networking events during my first year of college. I joined the Trinity Entrepreneurial Society (TES) as the Incubator Ambassador, and also participated in the Provost’s Innovation Challenge. So when I saw “Design Thinking” as an elective for my second year, I instantly knew this would be my first choice.

This is what the Design Thinking elective taught me:

1. The role of empathy in establishing a business

Empathy is often known to be a “people” thing. Empathy is what individuals have for each other, and this attribute makes this world a better place. But, in the first session of the Design Thinking elective, I saw a different side of empathy – the business side. The professor taught us about the importance of empathy in understanding the customer’s needs and channelling that understanding towards building a useful solution. And hence a sustainable business.

My most important takeaway about empathy in business was knowing when to draw the line: offer a solution you think will help the customer, not that the customer thinks they need.

This quote by Henry Ford sums it up well: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

2. Teamwork enriches ideas and makes your idea realistic

The first session did cover some of my most favourite topics – empathy and customer persona. What took this first session to the next level were the fun activities we undertook as a creative bonding exercise. I received a slip of paper with the word “rubber duck” on it, and my on-the-spot partner had the word “clock.” We had 10 minutes to turn these random words into a product we could sell. Yes, this sounds absurd. But within those 10 minutes, my partner and I considered some everyday problems and came up with some ridiculous ideas – and some very surprising ones too. Of course, there were no wrong answers here, and the freedom to develop an idea from this rather questionable concept was intriguing and exciting. Such fun ways of creative involvement continued throughout the elective and added a unique perspective each time.

After our first Design Thinking session, teams were formed. The way we went about forming teams was a pleasant surprise. We received an email with our group numbers. So, the next Tuesday, at 9 am, I sat on the table with the number “3”, with 5 other girls I had never met before. We introduced ourselves and realised how many diverse disciplines like law, arts and business came together for this elective. This group was now my team for the rest of the elective, and we would soon ideate a startup concept, create a PowerPoint presentation and present collectively our pitch to the class.

I had my anxious moments about working with people I’d never met before – but that’s what this elective made me comfortable with. I realised that it takes multiple ideas to create a realistic, actionable solution. Receiving the unique viewpoints showcased the importance of teamwork, communicating different views and market research.

3. Soft skills come from experience and interactions. And yes, they are important.

My undergraduate course of English and Philosophy is one that requires independent thinking and personal, individual assignments. The Design Thinking elective was the first course that involved a group project and group report, one in which our grades were dependent on each member’s work, creativity and productivity.

This group project required us to communicate clearly with each other. We defined our roles and responsibilities, and set up deadlines for each of them. Creating our PowerPoint presentation gave us a sense of the power of design and font, and pitching in front of our classmates ensured we put our best face forward. Further, writing the group report as a team improved our interpersonal skills and engaged us with each other’s viewpoints.

I am really glad I chose the Design Thinking module; as someone who has the identity of being the “girl from the Arts Block,” it gave me a taste of the business world. I highly recommend more students, across disciplines, to opt for this elective and gain a new, real business world perspective.

I now look forward to taking the next step in my interest in business, through the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Cert programme!