Business of Business: Design Thinking – Creating Ideas that Resonate With Human Needs.

Billionaire Entrepreneur, Richard Branson Illustrates the living arrangements at his Chicago-based Virgin Hotel. Image: Forbes

by Joseph Oakon

Tons of ideas are churned daily by very smart and brilliant minds in the enterprise space ranging from brick-and-mortar businesses to virtual technology-driven ventures among others. But it may interest you to know that a large chunk of these ideas never seem to have connection with those for whom they were created. If you ask a number of entrepreneurs about this, a handful will resonate with this reality quite easily- Good Ideas, Low Acceptance! I often think that entrepreneurs in many cases just build ‘toys’ that suit how they feel and think, but not how the recipients think and feel.

There is usually a void that is left to be filled when creators create not for the people who want it, but for the creators. But how is it that a supposedly brilliant idea solutions never get the patronage or following it craves?

There are many reasons one can advance for the question above, but I will like to look at just one, which is very central to the others.

Let’s talk about design thinking. Design thinking is built on asking and answering questions in rather creative ways than what the norm holds. Simply call it, a new way of looking at a common problem by questioning them differently.

In design thinking, HUMANS are placed at the Centre of the business. This concept simply seeks the human needs behind the business needs. The line above aptly spells the core of design thinking- Finding the human needs in business needs.

Have you observed that when we are faced with a problem, our first instinct is usually tilted towards solving it using our last model of solution? But we fail to understand that sometimes our last model of solution became obsolete the moment we applied it.

What about asking questions differently in a way that can move us closer to understanding the situation better without the bias of a ready-made solution that is believed to fit all problems?

Richard Branson is a phenomenon when it comes to design thinking and so are his ideas. I did a little study on the Virgin Hotels in Chicago- one hotel built on the precepts of design thinking. I observed that ideas that will gain acceptance has to sync with those who want them.


On Virgin Hotels

Virgin Hotels brings something new to the hospitality industry, and offering guests an alternative hotel experience to the conventional hotel experience. Virgin Hotels created a hotel room that looks different and feels different when compared to anything that anyone else is offering.

Guided by human-centric principles, Virgin Hotel created a shift from the ‘actual aesthetics of the room’ to ‘COMFORT and FLOW’ as seen through the lens of the guests rather than the lens of the creators.

Paying Attention to Details

The creators delved into what most of us seldom think about or just downplay when it comes to crafting our idea solutions- they came up with a list of what others didn’t like about existing hotels (competitors)

-Dark rooms

-Not enough Vanity space

-Small Showers

-Uncomfortable Beds

-Not Enough Plugs etc

They fixed them. That gave them more patronage leverage. Virgin Hotel CEO observed that the moment of magic came from a bad experience at a popular New York Hotel. “They’d given me a suite but it was awkward,” he says. “The bathroom was an open bathroom but it actually opened into the living room. It had no privacy so you jump out of the shower and you’re standing in the middle of the living room. It’s a typical lifestyle hotel trying to be too cool for school. It inspired me to come up with a solution. I actually brought our designer at the time over to the hotel to show him the dysfunctionality of that room.”


Riding On the Error of a Competitor.

Leveraging on this error, the Virgin Hotels team came up with an idea to divide the chambers in the hotel room so as to allow for guests’ privacy when dressing. Not everyone likes his/her privacy shared or exposed.


Paying Attention to Trends

While the hotel was still in the making, quite a lot of articles were published about how the ‘female business traveller population’ was increasing fairly dramatically.

Cashing in on this trend, the team led by the CEO, took note of opportunities these trends offered..

“We took note of this,” Raul explains, “and we said ‘what if we designed the room not necessarily for the female business traveller but through her eyes? What would that room be like?’ That began to guide our design thoughts a bit more. We not only began to think of the way it should work and the way it should feel but also what other amenities would a lady like in the room? So then we added the VANITY DESK with the LIT MIRROR, we enlarged the shower and made it feel a bit more like a spa shower with a big bench. We added drawers to the vanities. We added the additional closet module, where you can hang long dresses in one side and also have a place for your shoes at the bottom, instead of just having one closet module.”

Virgin Hotels has the bed as one of its major designs when compared to beds in other hotels. The Virgin CEO captures how they were able to use that as leverage against other hotels. “We thought about the bed more in terms of how people work and play today because the lines of work and play have been blurred. In most hotels what they do is put in a very comfortable mattress and they add a bunch of pillows on top of the bed. What ends up happening is you wind up throwing all the pillows on the floor because you’re only going to use one.”


More Insights Inspired From A Trend.

“So we said the bed, the headboard, no-one’s ever thought about the headboard being ergonomic, most hotel headboards when you lie back against them the natural reaction is to put a pillow on your lower back, the headboard is straight but you back is not. It’s uncomfortable.

“So we said what if we create a bed where the ergonomics of it mean that the headboard works without the pillows? Then as we continued that thought process we thought one of the things that sometimes ladies particularly like to do is when they go away for a girls’ weekend, they all want to hang out in the same room. The bed should be able to accommodate two or three people to work and play in; hence we came up with the second headboard on the end and the curves on the back.”

The episodes that led to creating what I consider to be a hotel built on design thinking, have left me with a great deal of insight as to how one can create ideas that resonate with human needs while trying to achieve ones business needs.

If we could just pay more attention to human needs, we could be solving the most challenging of our business needs.

© Joseph Oakon™



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