Exploring the Intersection of Design Thinking and Life-Centred Design

In a world full of complex challenges, where global issues such as climate crisis and social injustice demand innovative solutions, the confluence of Design Thinking and Life-Centred Design offers a promising approach. A passionate group of Design Thinking coaches recently gathered at the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg to explore this intersection. We felt the compelling tension between our inherent desire to be user-centred and the deep realisation of the broader system at play.

Zoom In with Design Thinking

We started the workshop by introducing our challenge, which could be approached from a human-centred as well as a systemic perspective. Once everyone had the same understanding of the scope, we jumped straight into ideation. Ideally, we work with existing Personas that have been synthesised in previous research phases.


SAP Design Thinking Process

In the ideation phase of the workshop, we explored a wide range of ways to approach the problem from the perspective of the Persona. Some of the ideas that emerged already considered the wider impact of potential solutions on ecosystems, communities and the planet. We realised that taking a step back from our relentless pursuit of user benefits could lead to more sustainable solutions.

Zoom Out with Life-Centred Design

Life-Centred Design expands the scope of responsibilities for the longer-term health of all life, society, and our planet. It offers a holistic perspective to understand relationships across interdependent technological and living systems.


Principles of Life-Cented Design

We explored the current reality and emerging future possibilities using a 4D Mapping embodiment practice. The process started by looking at the challenge from a meta-perspective and collecting the main stakeholders of the system. Each stakeholder was then represented by a participant who made a shape with his body, expressing a quality of that role.

Once all the roles had been embodied, the participants were able to adjust their position, level or direction in the space to make it more accurate to the current reality. From there a movement in the sculpture emerged representing a possible future.

The practice helped us to examine our assumptions, intentions and the complex interplay of our actions within the larger system. Participants and observers were able to witness changes in the system and the dynamics that drove them.

System Innovation Canvas

We used the insights we gained in the 4D Mapping to populate the System Innovation Canvas which provides a structured five-step approach to envisioning a future with sustainable impact:

1. Problem Space: Identifying the issue requiring systemic change

2. Key Factors: Understanding the factors causing and affected by the issue and their interrelations

  • Society: Demographics, Family Living Patterns, Lifestyles, Education
  • Technology: Technological progress, innovations
  • Economic: Levels and distribution of economic growth, industrial structures, competition, finance, micro and macro economics
  • Environment: Sustainability, climate change, pollution, resource depletion, biodiversity
  • Politics: Political viewpoints, (in)stability, regulatory roles, lobbying, legislation
  • Values: Attitudes, preferences, culture, social relations, mental modelsIntervention Points: Identifying opportunities for interventions.

3. Intervention Points: Identifying opportunities for interventions

4. Solution Space: Determining the capabilities needed to implement impactful interventions

5. Desired Future State: Visualizing the desired future state resulting from these interventions


System Innovation Canvas


In the workshop, the fusion of Design Thinking and Life-Centred Design allowed us to move effortlessly from a human-centred perspective to a systems-thinking mindset and back again. This fluidity aligns perfectly with the core principles of Design Thinking, which encourages us to oscillate between broad exploration and focused execution. We have found that Design Thinking and Life-Centred Design can work seamlessly together as partners on the journey to creating a better future.

Originally published on my blog imagium.de

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