What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a process that puts people at the heart of solving Challenges.

It can be applied to any Challenge, from helping young people access better job opportunities, to developing a community wind farm. No matter how big or small your Challenge or community, our training will help you use Design Thinking to your benefit.

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Image courtesy of Failte Ireland

There are five stages to design thinking:

Design Thinking

You don’t need to be a Designer to use Design Thinking!

Simply put, it is a human-centred process that puts people at the heart of the challenge.

Together, as a team, we work through problem-solving exercises at each stage of the challenge:

First, we accept what the challenge is, and the opportunities it presents.

Then we empathize with the people who are affected by the challenges, by engaging with them and understanding their needs. This helps us to define our challenge, ensuring that we are answering the right questions, and the right problem.

We then move into the exciting stage of ideate, imagining the best ways we can solve our challenge- at this stage, no idea is too big! We choose a solution to focus on together, and test it to make sure it works, gathering feedback from our prototype and presenting our finds.

At the end of the challenge, the participants will come away with newly developed ideas and skills that they can use, including: Learning basics to Design Thinking, Team building, User research skills, Community Engagement techniques/confidence/experience, Research analysis skills, User experience design skills, Co-design skills, Prototyping, User testing, Communication skills, Further networking.

Case Studies

Design Thinking has been used widely and successfully across the world, from global companies like AirBnB and Apple, to social enterprises and charities. Check out some examples below of communities who used this innovative process to their advantage.


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Huntly is a rural market town in the north east of Scotland with 5,000 people, a historic town centre and a hinterland predominantly based on agriculture. The town centre had experienced a decade long decline of commercial businesses that once formed the key identity of the town.

icecream architecture worked with the community and a 'Town Team' of local leaders to develop a strategic plan for the area using Design Thinking. Firstly, for the Town Team members and organisations to improve their collaboration and partnership. Secondly, to empower the wider community and volunteers by ensuring the offer and training opportunities were relevant, appropriate and working towards the bigger plan.

A programme of workshops focused on assisting and mentoring participants from local organisations and the wider community using the Design Thinking process. Participants developed people-focused ideas that became potential solutions to local challenges.

The Town Team began to test ideas through temporary community action, to show the potential for change and allow for the experience of doing things differently.

The community gained access to a number of vacant buildings on the town’s main square. After several pop-up events in two of the buildings, they negotiated a six month rent contract with a former bank branch. This fully serviced building allowed organisations and individuals alike to see the potential that repurposing unused spaces could offer their community.


Based on the success of the pilot, the community secured funding from the Scottish Land Fund to purchase the building for long-term use, with the confidence that the space would be a vital asset going forward. In the 2 years following completion, local organisations invested £117k in projects and actions arising from the plan and managed to leverage an additional £3.5m of external investment and community ownership of 3 key buildings on the town square.

Merrion Square

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Merrion Square is a striking Georgian Square and public park located very close to the centre of Dublin, surrounded by attractions such as The Natural History Museum, The National Gallery, and numerous creative organisations and businesses.

36 stakeholders from Ireland's greatest cultural and hospitality establishments formed the Merrion Square Innovation Network (MSIN) to collaborate and develop the Square into a new, thriving destination for tourists and locals. Fáilte Ireland provided the innovation training that would empower each MSIN member to think not just as an individual business or organisation, but as a collective.

Design Thinking workshops were held to teach the skills and forge the connections needed to build a fresh approach. Customers were invited to allow the MSIN to effectively empathise and communicate, generating ideas that would resonate and have the greatest impact.

The workshops involved proven methods such as creating personas and ideation. Professionals from a range of different industries joined to give alternative perspectives on the Square's potential and history. The prototypes formed helped the MSIN gain vital funding and support from other bodies when each team took the opportunity to present theirs at The National Concert Hall.


Since 2012, the activities around Merrion Square have been ongoing.The MSIN actively organised or facilitated some activities, such as World Street Performing Championships and holiday events on St Patrick's Day, Halloween, and Christmas.

The success of this project created a renewed interest from other organisations, with the City Council providing a free wifi zone, ‘Supper on the Square’ hosting dinners in some of the historic buildings, and an outdoor cinema company screening classic movies in the park.

The square and surrounding area continues to be a bustling hub of activity.

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