2 Design Thinking Examples and Class Exercise

This chapter contains examples of successful design and instances in which design failed. It is written entirely by students at NUI Galway. 

Separate Taps for Cold and Hot Water

We’ve all used them. One tap is scalding hot, whilst the other is freezing cold. And so, we must make the choice between numbing all sensation in our hands vs. burning them raw in the simple pursuit of personal hygiene. I’ve never understood it. It seems this is mostly a feature specific to Ireland and the UK/commonwealth, which is often a talking point of confusion for tourists and non-natives (rightly so).

Apparently, the reason these separate taps ever came to fruition was that cold water was deemed fit for drinking, but the hot water would not be. Therefore, mixing the two would result in contaminated water. I’d question the sanity of someone who chooses to drink from a bathroom sink, but regardless I don’t think that is enough justification for this flawed design thinking.

One simple (albeit unsightly) retrofitted solution can be seen in Figure 1, as posted by an Irish reddit user.

Figure 1: A retrofitted tap solution (Reddit u/WhitePotato87)

Thankfully, modern bathroom sink units now almost all have one tap as standard to easily achieve a comfortable, warm temperature. In order to circumvent the mixing of safe and unsafe drinking water, both sources do not mix until they come out of the tap.

However, there are still many examples of this horrible design in public (even here at NUIG). I’ve talked about this with older relatives who tell me the idea is to plug the sink, run both taps, then wash your hands in the collected mixture. To me that seems to defeat the purpose of washing your hands, since you’re essentially bathing them in dirty water. Furthermore, who on earth has time for that? The older generations, apparently. The sooner these double taps are phased-out for good, the better.
By Cian Flaherty

Cattle Crush

A piece of design thinking that I have long been familiar with but only recently considered in this new light is what is commonly referred to as a “cattle crush”. The problem the crush addresses is simple. The average cattle farmer needs to be able to hold a cow in a given position to administer things like medicines, vaccines, artificial insemination, and tests. The problem here, is that a cow, even a young one, is proportionately stronger than a person. To hold one in place past a young age is physically impossible for an individual, and often even multiple people. Previous solutions to this problem have included tying the cow in place, which required getting a rope around one of the cow’s appendages almost as great a challenge as holding it yourself, or sedating the animal, which is dangerous for the animal, expensive and requires a vet’s presence.

The way the cattle crush works is simple. There are two high fences of sorts, just far enough apart for a cow to walk between them, but with no room to move left or right. At the end there is a pair of gates, and a gap in the middle, through which the cow can fit their head, but not their body. When the cow inevitably tries to push through the gap, it compresses the springs at the top of the gate, pushing it closed, and causing it to lock into place. This stops the cows pulling their head back through the gates, effectively locking them in place. This is a brilliant and simple solution to what had previously been a massive problem. The crush itself is little more than a series of metal bars and a few springs, meaning it is easy and cheap to manufacture and purchase.
By Sean O’Malley


I believe a good example of design thinking in the real world is the Fitbit. It is a wireless piece of technology designed for people to wear around their wrist, similar to a watch. It is used to measure a person’s daily steps, heart rate, as well as a lot more. It is an innovative design that involved intensely researching and examining the potential fitness market, its consumers, and fellow competition which at the time the Fitbit was founded in 2007 was very minimum.

This was not at all by mistake though as it was design thinking which addressed the aspects of the problem at hand. People who needed help and motivation could use this product to expand into the fitness community and could use this product to help accomplish their goals. It is a product that went from a wooden box with a built-in circuit board as it showcased its functionality and practically gaining many investors and lots of feedback from its prototype to a fully-fledged device that can be bought and consumed today.

The Fitbit promotes a healthy and active lifestyle for the user which is extremely useful in a consumer’s everyday life. The product design itself is innovative, aesthetic, unobtrusive to the user. These are key concepts of design thinking and why it’s such a great example of a product that is so successful as it used these principles. Throughout the years expanding using this style of thinking as well as designing many different versions for the consumers to use. They were able to make such huge and successful changes from consumer feedback and those methods that it is a vastly popular device to this very day.
By Rachel Howarth

Poverty: A Wicked Problem

One of the biggest problems affecting our world right now is poverty. It is slowly deteriorating our world either by war or the fact that people can no longer afford to eat therefore are dying. There are 7 billion people on earth world and 689 million of them are living in extreme poverty. One could even argue that poverty can wipe out a whole nation of people if not treated immediately. There are organisations that try to help this situation such as UNICEF, World Hope International and End Child Poverty Global Coalition. These operations ensure that people in disadvantaged areas get their basic needs, for example food, water shelter and clothes. The essentials that everyone on earth should have. UNICEF advocates for the protection of children’s human rights. They work in over 190 countries with help of voluntary contributions of governments, non governmental organisations, corporations, foundations and private individuals. World Hope International (WHI) is a Christian organisation that works with exploited communities to reduce their suffering from poverty.  The members of the End Child Poverty Global Coalition work together (and also individually) to reach a point where children can grow up in a world free from poverty, deprivation and want. We have plenty of operations in the world that try to prevent the spread of poverty and are trying to reduce the amount of people already living in it. Yes, their efforts are working to an extent, but what we must realise is that there is so much more that we could be doing.

One thing that the government and other leaders could do is give everyone access to basic needs. Food, water, shelter and even simple clothes should not be something that people fight for. While most of us are sitting comfortably with not only our necessities but also luxuries, there are people that are struggling to get by. Basic needs shouldn’t be something they struggle for. Another solution which may be obvious but for some reason isn’t done yet is people that have more than enough money to spare should provide for those in need. Individuals like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk could give away billions and still have enough money to call themselves millionaires.

I truly believe that even though there are some amazing corporations that tackle poverty, there is definitely more and better things we can do as people to help one another.
By Gradivine Mayemba

Just Eat

Just Eat is an example of successful design thinking as it addressed a common problem, and found a solution. Just Eat is an app where anyone can order food from their favourite restaurant or fast food place, and have the food delivered, all through an application. The food is paid for online, meaning the only time you need to leave the comfort of your couch is to collect the food at your front door, just metres away. Just Eat became especially popular when the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic hit, as we all were secluded to our own homes and our own workspaces during lockdown. This provided a fantastic opportunity for delivery apps to grow and prosper, just as Just Eat did. As a result of lockdown, people were not able to leave their homes, and as a result of this, many small business had to shut down due to a lack of customers. Just Eat played a pivotal role in saving local small business owners in the food industry, as customers were now able to get food all from the comfort of their home. Through food delivery apps such as Just Eat, people were offered the opportunity of continuing to enjoy that typical Irish Friday night treat. It has long been tradition to enjoy a takeaway after a long week of hard work, and now, through apps like Just Eat, we were allowed to enjoy that same scenario – just without the hard work!
By Dylan Reilly

Bolt Food

In my opinion, Bolt is an example of a good design. Bolt is similar to Uber as it offers many different services such as taxis and food. Bolt app is unique as it was initially specifically targeted for Tallin and Riga, but as it has gained popularity, it is now available in Russia, France and some parts of South Africa. Bolt was founded by Markus Villing, whose primary aim was to unite all taxis in Riga and Tallin and make them available on one device.

I am going to talk about Bolt Food. First of all, there was no competition in the market, but there was a demand for it: many people in Latvia and Estonia heard about Uber and liked the idea of it, fast efficient and user-friendly service but could not use it in their countries. Bolt Food displays a wide variety of restaurants available, placing the ones that are nearer to the customer at the top, which is handy because without clicking into the restaurant’s menu, you have a rough idea of your waiting time. Ratings, distance in kilometres and approximate waiting time are available for every restaurant. The app has a variety of filters, such as pizzas, burgers etc., to narrow the search and filter for allergens and boxes for additional comments. Paying method is flexible either by various cards or cash and as a customer, you receive a receipt. As a customer, you go through a 4 step process from ordering the food until it arrives at the doorstep; the customer is again informed when each step is completed, and the new step is started. When an order is picked by a Bolt employee, the employee’s name, photo and phone number appear along with an approximate waiting time. I think the best feature is that you can trace the employee, like a navigator, so you know exactly where is your food and if an employee takes a wrong turn or gets stuck and calls you it’s easy to give directions because you can see exactly where they are and tell where they should turn to reach you. Overall, Bolt Food is a great service as it is user friendly, interactive, transparent, secure and not time-consuming.
By Mia Samovich


What Uber did was reinvent the common taxi service into a more impressive service provider which concentrated on the simple fact that user’s should, and would feel as comfortable and satisfied with their service as desired. They took advantage of taxi’s complacency and lack of understanding with regard to user needs and wants.

They did this through various different new ideas. What I feel they did most effectively in regard to design thinking and user satisfaction was seek out the basics that the taxi service were slipping up on. A great example of this was their change in the method of payment. They saw the taxi’s payment service (which is to pay the taxi man in cash, the rate that the fare metre displays) as a below par or mediocre payment method. So, they made a simple but effective change in which they introduced  a contactless payment method. Not only does it avoid the confusion of cash but it also importantly eliminates the possibility that the customer will dodge the fare by running from the taxi without paying. On top of this they had several more user concentrated ideas. One of these ideas which stands out to me is the inclusion of driver ratings. Although a simple idea it is a very effective and helpful one. It provides the user with one of the most important and vital needs of theirs which is safety. Ensuring that the driver they are getting in a car with is respected by previous passengers and can be relied on.

Along with many more reasons, this is a sliver of why I admire the work of Uber and definitely think they deserve the recognition they get for leading the world in design thinking.
By Senan Dunford

 The Irish Transport System

In my opinion, a very poor example of design thinking is the Irish transport system. The transport system in Ireland is clearly a huge problem and I believe if it were designed differently there would be less traffic on the road.  I live in rural Galway and on driving to Galway city have had the experience of sitting in rush hour traffic for over an hour on some occasions.  Ireland needs to prioritise facilitating people taking public transport, walking and cycling, as well as decarbonising vehicle transport.

The efficiency of public transport could be greatly improved by giving priority to buses, trams (only in Dublin) and other public vehicles on the road.  This can be achieved by implementing more bus lanes and cycle lanes which would then reduce the number of cars on the road.  Dublin is the only county with the Dart and Luas system which I feel would be a significant introduction to cities like Galway, Cork and Limerick. Public transport is terrible; expensive, overcrowded, slow and out of date compared to other countries.

The United States in contrast to Ireland has created a transport system which allows for people of different regions to travel on different roads preventing a build up of traffic as everyone enters and leaves the city center. The grid system in the US is a type of city plan in which streets run at right angles to each other, forming a grid.  I believe if Ireland implemented this strategy, it would mean the greater good of the country. I also believe if more public transport was introduced and other forms of transport such as cycling and walking were more encouraged then the transport system would greatly benefit. Outside of Dublin and in rural areas, people take longer trips and there isn’t an alternative to cars.  This is due to there not being enough diversity in transport.
By Daire O’Donnell

Traffic Systems

There are many examples of good and bad design today; the traffic system focuses on innovation in our society. As a result, it is designed exceptionally well but can also be a little poor in others. One example of bad design is intersections on the road. Intersections are an obsolete way of conducting traffic and ultimately create more traffic. Intersections are built on this old, stop-and-go method of operating the traffic using traffic lights; Intersections have also been proven to be much less effective than roundabouts. Roundabouts use a smooth flowing form of traffic running, where the cars have a much smoother flow. Roundabouts don’t have traffic lights meaning that the traffic is smoothly moving. The vehicles only really stop for a moment before joining the roundabout, unlike an intersection where you must stop and wait until a light tells you to go. Roundabouts have also been proven to reduce injury and fatal crashes by 78 to 82% compared to intersections. Comparing the two methods of traffic conduction, it is clear to see how outdated intersections are and how roundabouts are a much more efficient and safer traffic conduction method. Intersections should be replaced with roundabouts. The traffic system is exceptionally well thought out in design, but it fails in some respects. Intersections are the focus of this. It makes it easier to fix the problem because the answer is already there and is in use, with roundabouts working more effectively than intersections. It just needs to be implemented correctly where the intersections currently are.
By Joshua McCormack

The German Recycling System

After visiting Germany several times over the years, I’ve come to believe that almost everything about their public infrastructure has been created utilising the tenants of good design thinking. Perhaps that is an over-statement, but certainly the recycling system that exists in most supermarkets is an excellent example of human-centered design. The setup is a kind of reverse vending machine that collects bottles of all shapes, sizes, and materials and spits out a voucher that can be redeemed for cash value in return. The value of the voucher depends on the material of the bottle and will only be given if the bottle is part of the program based on its barcode. The result is that almost one hundred percent of non-reusable plastic bottles in Germany are returned and disposed of in a more environmentally friendly way. It has also created a side economy of folks that are able to make extra money by collecting and returning the bottles that might otherwise build up in public spaces. 25 cents are given for a plastic container and between 8 and 15 cents for a glass one. This cost is initially passed off to the purchaser of the item in the hopes that it will incentivise them to return it after use. It seems amazing to me that other countries haven’t implemented this system already, as it’s been running successfully in Germany for 20 years. I recently read that a form of this was being trialed in one Lidl branch in Ireland, but the voucher would only be redeemable for store credit. While this has potential to be successful, I predict it wouldn’t be as incentivising or as impactful unless there was an option for a cash voucher. Obviously, it would be preferable to eliminate non-reusable containers from life generally, but with no end in sight on that front, more countries need a realistic solution to deal with the waste their populations create.
By Emilie Pye

Citigroup Center

Citigroup skyscraper
Base of the Citigroup skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.

The Citigroup Center also known as 601 Lexington Avenue was both a design thinking failure and success. This 279m tall skyscraper was almost New York City’s first to fall. This was caused by St. Peter’s Church. One of the conditions for the developers was to let the church stay where it had stood for decades.  This forced the architects and engineers to move the building’s stilts to the centre of the building. This required the chevron pattern of the buildings internal skeleton to be welded. But during construction without the engineer’s consent the developers decide to bolt the building. Normally this would not be an issue, but a New Jersey student of engineering phoned the engineer about a discrepancy with the building. They discovered that a diagonal wind of 112Km/h(70mph) would cause the structure to fail. They ended up hiring as many welders as they could find, making the repairs over 3 months during the night. This story was not brought to the public’s attention for nearly 20 years.
By Joseph Harkin

Class Exercise: Problem Solving (30-45 minutes)

In groups of 3-4 people discuss the following:

  • What problems did you encounter in the last week?
  • Choose one of these problems, and interview the individual who presented it. Create an empathy map.
  • Convert the problem statement to a “How might we…?” statement.
  • Brainstorm as many solutions to the problem as you can come up with, they can be completely outlandish.
  • Select a solution which is feasible, desirable, and viable.
  • How might you prototype such an idea?

Using the design thinking canvas as template for completing this project may be helpful.




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