Article: Nurturing human bonds: A design thinking approach

HR Technology

Nurturing human bonds: A design thinking approach

Here’s how a holistic and integrated psychological approach for psycho-social well-being was created leveraging design thinking principles at SPJIMR.
Nurturing human bonds: A design thinking approach

We all have watched Winnie the Pooh; we’ve watched Eeyore struggle with depression and Piglet managing his anxiety. Yet, as we grew up all we remember is Pooh eating honey and the red crop top. No one wants to discuss the other characters or their mental illnesses. Just as we don’t want to talk about them when they’re happening to us, and going to a psychologist seems too extreme.  

Psychologists use the science of behavior and mental processes to better understand what people think, feel, and why they act as they do. However, to survive competitive environments there is a need to look at the problem from different perspectives. There are medicines for headache and cold, but what about loneliness? We don’t look at these as things we need to deal with. These routine mental health issues are also often silenced by the fear of being judged.  At SPJIMR, we’ve tried to apply some of the principles of design thinking to look at these issues through a new pair of glasses. During this process we realized that there is also a need to create a healthy ecosystem to build and nurture psychological safety so people feel accepted and comfortable in their skin to take on their life’s challenges. 

Design Thinking 

What is Design Thinking? 

Tim Brown (2009) defined design thinking as “bringing designers’ principles, approaches, methods, and tools to problem solving.” A more detailed definition of design thinking is that it is: “a human centered innovation process that emphasizes observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization of ideas, rapid concept prototyping, and concurrent business analysis” (Lockwood, 2009).

Viewed as a practice, design thinking provides an integrated framework that brings together both creative and analytic modes of reasoning, accompanied by a process and set of tools and techniques. 

Elaborating further, we could look at the design thinking process as having three distinct, interlinked, cyclical stages: Insight, Ideation and Implementation. Using these we endeavoured to comprehend the human experience under any competitive environment, more specifically a B-School experience.

Insight: In the insight stage one has to deep dive into people’s life; decipher the emotional and rational needs through design thinking tools. The techniques used for understanding insights include observation and lite ethnographic study in the natural environment of the user. 

For this phase, we studied student’s experiences through careful observation and interviews to understand their day-to-day experiences in a B-School. To make sense of all the qualitative data we captured the information into a key design thinking tool known as the Empathy Map. What got unearthed was that while a students in a top B-School view the opportunity to study as a way to upgrade knowledge, enhance status and widen horizons;  at times experience a feeling of loneliness and a deep fear of missing out (FOMO).


This phase uses a variety of creativity techniques to generate ideas. Brainstorming methods are combined with convergent and divergent ideation techniques to generate ideas. The students worked in groups of seven to generate ideas. Some of the main themes that cropped up were opting for platforms for venting out distress and having fun, creating platforms for connecting and sharing, mentoring/ coaching / counselling and creating platforms for mental and physical resilience.

Implementation: Ideas selected from the earlier phase are prototyped. A distinctive feature of design thinking is the use of rapid prototyping. The key is to rapidly create a tangible representation of the idea, and put it in front of the user to test the user’s reaction to the main dimensions of the idea.

Design thinking, through fail fast & rigorous testing mechanism enables us to implement ideas through rapid prototyping. A prototype has to be desirable, feasible and viable in order to be considered a psychological safe effort.

VISHWAS, an intervention was created as a prototype using a holistic and integrated psychological approach for psycho-social well-being. VISHWAS was an endeavor to create an ecosystem of a ‘Fearless Organization’ (Amy C. Edmondson) where everyone is accepted and respected. The mission of VISHWAS was to help each person to feel psychologically safe to be able to seamlessly transition the vicissitudes of life and not feel judged. 

The process that followed was simple, ‘unplug to recharge’ and form ‘human bonds’ through listening, sharing, empathizing and connecting people on a platform where they can be their unique selves. Using Carl Roger’s basic principle of ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ we can build a world where people are comfortable talking without filters.  However we believe that in order to communicate effectively one has to first listen deeply and then talk. We also follow Stephen Covey’s principle of ‘Understand before being understood.’ 

Aligning our work to Amy Edmondson’s we began by: 

Setting the Stage

When you are getting people on the same platform, with common goals and a shared understanding for what they’re up against its setting the stage for psychological safety. We have endeavored to create a platform where people can come and share their life stories. In an attempt to reach out to people who are not comfortable sharing their personal issues through speaking, a blog section was created where students could share their life experiences anonymously through writing.  The blog reaches out to 1000+ current students and alumni. 

Inviting Participation

We invited participation from people who have meandered at some point in their life to come up with stories that are compelling and genuine. We created this through an inspirational platform that gets successful people from all walks of their lives to share their crucibles and how they handled their failures. The interaction was informal and free flowing so that each individual could participate in the process at his or her comfort. This helped both in feeling safe and encouraged active empathy. 

Responding Productively

To reinforce a climate of psychological safety, it’s imperative that people are provided with ‘safety nets’ when they take risks. In this world of imperfections each individual is allowed to feel that it’s ok to not feel ok at times and its ok not to be perfect at all times too. This concept can be extrapolated to organizations where platforms are created so people are more accepting and connect at the human level. It eliminates the fear of being judged and contributes to inclusiveness of the firm. It can also help manage diversity. Most importantly, it can tackle unmet needs of the people and help foster employee engagement at the utmost level in an organization. This will help create fearless organizations where collaboration and creativity flows which is essential requisite in this VUCA world. 

Outcome of this Initiative 

Students volunteered to be a part of this initiative to create and nurture psychologically safe workspaces. They are drawn to the strong sense of meaningfulness and connectivity that VISHWAS aims to bring at the workplace. Not only have alumni been a part of it, they are also reaching out to become VISHWAS mentors. They’re torchbearers to this initiative, spreading across the ethos of psychologically supportive work spaces. We realize that the issues VISHWAS is trying to solve are grave and need urgent attention. What we’re trying to do is create small ripples in water hoping for it to turn into a wave someday. 



Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review, 86(6), 84.

This Tells you Why your Mental Wellness is Important By Subhra Moitra - March 20, 2017

How Fearless Organizations Succeed

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Brown, T., & Wyatt, J. (2010). Design thinking for social innovation. Development Outreach, 12(1), 29-43.

Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking ’and its application. Design studies, 32(6), 521-532

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.

Kolko, J. (2010). Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis. Design issues, 26(1), 15-28.

Oxman, R. (2004). Think-maps: teaching design thinking in design education. Design studies, 25(1), 63-91.

Read full story

Topics: HR Technology, #GuestArticle

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?