As part of the Full-Time MBA programme, students on Dr Ileana Stigliani’s Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving class have been schooled on the principles of Design Thinking and learnt from the best in the business.

For six weeks, students have been putting those principles into practice and working in groups to create design prototypes which, on Thursday 1st December, they pitched to Dr Ileana Stigliani and Heather Reavey, Senior Vice President of Practice Innovation at Continuum.

The design prototypes ranged from social networking for startups in the early stages, to store design concepts that drive healthier eating by placing active barriers between consumers and meat products, and an app that uses games to teach primary school age children how to budget.

“I was impressed by the students’ courage to embrace human-centred design across their innovation process, and base their decisions on what they learned from people and not just their own experiences or ideas”, Heather said. “In a start-up-obsessed culture it is easy to prioritize speed and progress toward realizing an idea over making sure that the idea will resonate with enough people to create a viable and sustainable business.”

The Communitas window helps bring local communities together.

The Communitas window helps bring local communities together.

Student project Communitas, for example, targets members of local communities who have lost touch with each other or moved to a new city. In the market research phase of the design prototype idea they spoke to Alexa, 42, who moved to London to start her career. Alexa wanted to meet new people and bond over hobbies, offline not online.

The team took Alexa’s comments into the ideation stage to create the Communitas window: a cross between the traditional post-it and a digital board. Users stamp their Oyster or credit card and post an event or invite people to join, using a tool to replicate the act of handwriting.

By developing the prototype idea as a physical object and installing it in large community spaces (e.g. a shopping mall), the window improves interaction and provides a combined offline and online experience.

Ileana also observed that “Teams exhibited a pronounced ability to deeply empathize with their users, which shone through in their presentations. Overall, what stood out for me was the ability to walk Heather and me through the journey of their project in a compelling and engaging way.”

Team DocEx pitched a design prototype idea that “cuts out the bureaucracy” for international students applying to study in the UK. International students can spend several hundred pounds organising notarised documents for each university application.

DockEx is modelled on GMAT, the web interface that shares GMAT scores with universities and applicants. Instead of international students sending documents by post or email to each institution, documents are uploaded onto the website and universities are notified. The process is streamlined and international students upload one document to DocEx for four university application processes.

Judge Heather Reavey said, "I was impressed by the students’ courage to embrace human-centred design across their innovation process."

Judge Heather Reavey said, “I was impressed by the students’ courage to embrace human-centred design across their innovation process.”

The pain point Team Quizit targets is the anxiety and annoyance of queuing. Their market research found members of the public expressing emotions of anger and frustration, citing the bad ambience of a long queue.

Empathising with users’ experiences of queues, Team Quizit set out to shorten queues and improve the experience. The Quizit app lets users plan their evening by looking up the queue times at their target destination. The business model is monetised with prompts such as, “do you want recommendations for places to get a drink?”.

Potential future uses for Team Quizit? The team pitched its future as a Tinder-style dating app with location data.

Students have been inspired by the Design Thinking class to enter their business plan into competitions and to develop businesses out of their group projects. What advice did Heather and Ileana have for students looking to take their idea to the next stage?

“Recognize that an app, or a new technology is not an idea—they are simply the tools to bring a great idea to life”, Heather said. “Challenge yourself to understand people within your sector and arrive at your idea by solving a meaningful problem or aspiration for all stakeholders.”

Ileana: “Take a few steps back in order to take the next step. Explore the problem first and be empathetic and curious about the needs of people affected by the problem. This might entail iterating back and forth across the different phases of the innovation process until you find a solution that hits the sweet spot at the intersection of human desirability, technological feasibility and business viability.”

Imperial College Business School is the only institution to include Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving as a core module on the MBA programme.

Imperial College Business School is the only institution to include Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving as a core class on the MBA programme.

Imperial College Business School is the only institution to include Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving as a core class on the MBA programme. So, how important is it then that innovation is a core part of the MBA curriculum?

Ileana says, “Innovation is a core component of the MBA curriculum and in line with the School’s vision “to benefit business and improve society through the power of innovative thinking”).”

“Because of the rapid evolution in products, services, technologies and business models, and the ever more complicated world in which businesses and organizations operate, innovation has become a fundamental source of competitive advantage. Therefore, for MBA students learning how to innovate is crucial.”

From Heather’s industry experience innovation, “especially human-centred innovation, is critical to business skills. People have the power–consumers and their networks have so much influence on business! Understanding what people need and aspire to, and then knowing how to translate this understanding into branded experiences is the most sustainable business edge.”

Ileana echoes Heather’s comments, “innovation is a messy and exploratory process, where both imagination and discipline – or “magic” and “science” – are equally important.”