Design Thinking In HR: Creating The Human Connect in 2023

Squadsy Team
July 21, 2023

Design Thinking In HR: Creating The Human Connect in 2023

Explore how Design Thinking can transform HR processes to be more human-centric. Discover its application, real-world examples, and future trends in HR.

Imagine a tool that could revolutionize your HR processes, making them more human-centric, engaging, and effective. If this sounds the ideal scenario for you, then what you need is a methodology called Design Thinking.

But what is it, and why is it relevant to you as an HR professional? This article explores more on how Design Thinking can transform your HR processes and create a more engaging and fulfilling workplace. So get comfy with a coffee as we dive in.

What is Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that has its roots in the world of design but has since permeated various business functions. It's a methodology that puts people at the heart of every solution, challenging assumptions and redefining problems to identify innovative strategies.

You might be thinking, "Isn't that what HR is all about?" In a way, yes. But Design Thinking takes it to a whole new level. It's not just about understanding employees; it's about deeply empathizing with them, getting to the core of their experiences, needs, and motivations. It's about co-creating solutions that truly resonate with the people you serve.

In a world where employee experience and engagement are the keys to a thriving business, Design Thinking is not just a nice-to-have; it's a must-have. It's a powerful tool that can reshape the way we approach HR, making it more human, more empathetic, and more effective.

The Need for Design Thinking in HR

In the realm of Human Resources, we're no strangers to challenges. From talent acquisition and retention to employee engagement and performance management, the list is long and ever-changing. But in the face of these challenges, are traditional HR methods enough? 

Traditional HR methods, while proven, often focus on processes and systems. They tend to be reactive, addressing issues as they arise. While this approach has its merits, it can sometimes overlook the human element, the very core of HR. 

Enter Design Thinking.

This methodology, with its human-centric approach, has the potential to address these challenges in a more holistic and proactive way. It encourages us to step into the shoes of the employees, to understand their needs, their pain points, and their aspirations.

Design thinking pushes organizations to redefine problems, to challenge assumptions, and to come up with innovative solutions.

For instance, consider the challenge of employee engagement. Traditional methods might suggest implementing a new rewards system or organizing team-building activities. While these are valid strategies, they might not address the root cause of the issue. 

With Design Thinking, we would start by empathizing with our employees. We would engage in open conversations, conduct surveys, or even shadow them to understand their day-to-day experiences.

In a nutshell, Design Thinking is not about doing more; it's about doing better. It's about creating HR processes that are not just efficient, but also empathetic and engaging. It's about building a workplace that truly understands and values its people.

Understanding Design Thinking in the Context of HR

Design Thinking isn't just a buzzword; it's a practical, hands-on methodology that can bring about real change in your HR processes. But to harness its power, we need to understand its mechanics.

Design Thinking is a five-stage process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Each stage is crucial and plays a unique role in crafting human-centric solutions. Let's delve into these stages and see how they can be applied to HR, using the challenge of improving employee onboarding as an example.

Design Thinking is a five stage process

1. Empathize

This is the foundation of Design Thinking. It's about understanding the people you're designing for. In HR, this means getting to know your employees on a deeper level. It involves listening to their experiences, understanding their needs, and feeling their pain points. This could be done through interviews, surveys, or even spending a day in their shoes.

An example for this in the context of improving employee onboarding could involve conducting interviews with new hires to understand their experiences and challenges. You might discover that new employees feel overwhelmed with information or struggle to connect with their team remotely.

2. Define

Once you've gathered insights, it's time to consolidate your findings and define the problem. This isn't about the symptoms, but the underlying issues. In the above context you might define the problem as: "New employees need a more structured and engaging onboarding process that helps them connect with their team and understand their role at their own pace."

3. Ideate

This is where creativity comes into play. With a clear understanding of the problem, you can start brainstorming solutions. The key here is to think outside the box. Don't limit yourself to traditional HR practices. Think about what would truly meet your employees' needs and enhance their experience.

You might come up with ideas like creating an onboarding app, setting up a mentorship program, or designing a week-long onboarding process with tasks that help new hires understand their role and connect with their team

4. Prototype

Once you have a list of potential solutions, it's time to bring them to life. This could be a basic version of the onboarding app, a blueprint of the mentorship program, or a detailed plan of the week-long onboarding process. The goal is to create a tangible representation of your solution that you can share with others.

5. Test, Implement & Refine

The final stage is to test your solution. This involves implementing it on a small scale, gathering feedback, and making necessary adjustments. Roll out the new onboarding process to a small group of new hires, gather their feedback, and refine the process based on their experiences.

Create a Culture of Design Thinking

Remember, Design Thinking is an iterative process. It's about learning and improving, not getting it right the first time. It's a mindset, a way of problem-solving that should permeate your organization. Encourage your team to adopt this mindset, to be empathetic, creative, and iterative in their approach.

In essence, Design Thinking in HR is about understanding employee needs, defining the real problems, coming up with innovative solutions, and continuously improving. It's a journey, not a destination. And it's a journey that can lead to a more engaging, fulfilling, and human-centric workplace.

Next let’s look at some real life case studies of organizations implementing and benefiting from the Design Thinking methodology.

Success Stories of Design Thinking in HR

By now you know Design Thinking isn't just a theoretical concept; it's a practical tool that has been successfully implemented by organizations worldwide. Let's look at a couple of real-world examples that illustrate the power of Design Thinking in HR.


IBM is a pioneer in implementing Design Thinking in HR. They used this approach to redesign their performance management system. After empathizing with employees and understanding their dissatisfaction with the existing system, they defined the problem:

The traditional annual review system was not meeting the needs of their dynamic workforce.

They ideated and came up with a new app-based performance management system that promotes continuous feedback and growth. The new system was prototyped and tested before being rolled out company-wide. The result? Increased employee satisfaction and a more agile and responsive performance management process.


Airbnb used Design Thinking to enhance their candidate experience. They empathized with job applicants and realized that the recruitment process was stressful and impersonal. They defined the problem and ideated a new approach: treating candidates like their valued guests. 

They prototyped a new candidate journey that includes personalized communication, clear expectations, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. After testing and refining, they implemented this new approach. The outcome? A significant improvement in candidate experience and employer brand perception.

These success story examples illustrate how Design Thinking can transform HR processes. By understanding the human side of the equation, redefining problems, and creating innovative, people-centric solutions, we can make HR more humane, empathetic, and more effective.

The Future of HR with Design Thinking

As we move forward, the role of HR is evolving from a support function to a strategic partner. This shift is driven by the increasing recognition of the importance of people in driving business success. And Design Thinking is playing a pivotal role in this transformation.

According to Deloitte, Design Thinking is becoming a key tool for HR professionals to enhance innovation and create meaningful experiences. It's helping HR move beyond compliance and efficiency-based processes to create productive and meaningful experiences. It's enabling HR to reimagine the employee experience, making it more engaging, fulfilling, and human-centric.

For instance, Cox Enterprises, as reported by Gartner, used Design Thinking to improve their employee experience. They used the methodology to understand the needs and pain points of their employees, and then designed solutions that addressed these issues. The result was a more engaging and fulfilling employee experience, leading to increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

Moreover, Deloitte's 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report highlighted that organizations where HR delivers the highest levels of value are almost 5X more likely to be using design thinking in their programs than their peers. This shows that Design Thinking isn't just a trend; it's a proven methodology that can drive real value.

As we look to the future, it's clear that Design Thinking will play an increasingly important role in HR. It will be a key tool for HR professionals to create a more human-centric workplace, improve the employee experience, and drive business success. It's time for HR professionals to embrace Design Thinking and start reaping its benefits."


Design Thinking is more than just a buzzword or a trend; it's a powerful tool that can transform HR from a process-oriented function to a people-centric one. It's a methodology that puts employees at the heart of HR processes, leading to more engaging and fulfilling experiences.

As we've seen from the examples of IBM and Airbnb, Design Thinking can lead to innovative solutions that truly resonate with employees. And as we look to the future, it's clear that Design Thinking will play an increasingly important role in HR.

But implementing Design Thinking is not just about following a five-step process. It's about adopting a new mindset. It's about being empathetic, being creative, and being iterative. It's about being willing to challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and co-create solutions with employees.

So, if you're an HR professional looking to improve your HR processes and create a more engaging and fulfilling workplace, it's time to embrace Design Thinking. It's time to start your journey towards a more human-centric HR.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.