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Design Thinking methods taking over the world


Eva Holmberg

Yrkeshögskolan Novia

Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 20.04.2022

When working in international projects, such as our Erasmus+ SUCSESS project, where the emphasis is on enhancing innovative pedagogical approaches and experiential learning methods, design thinking often comes into play. Design Thinking is both a way of thinking and working, and sometimes simply a collection of tools for service design and product development. Design thinking can be described as an iterative process to understand the customer and innovate solutions. We decided to explore three methods of design thinking: design sprints, jams and hackathons.

Design Sprints

Design Sprint was designed by Google Ventures and it is a cost-effective method to test ideas and products in just a few days. The sprints can last anything from three to five days and involve a team of 7 participants to hundreds of participants. They are used a lot by companies and NGOs as well as universities. Haaga-Helia has been involved with design sprints for years. On Porvoo campus, all students take part in a design sprint during their third semester. Porvoo campus has even exported sprints to China.

A sprint is a great way to collaborate with the industry. In short, a company or organisation gives a commission, e.g., marketing plan, website or concept design, and a team of students starts to work on the challenge. First, they map the challenge and set a goal and target group for the sprint. Then they gather initial customer understanding, sketch and look for solutions and decide on a winning concept. Then they develop a prototype and gather customer feedback for it before presenting the solution to the commissioner. It is a win-win deal: the commissioner gets fresh ideas and customer feedback, the students learn 21st Century skills and get to work with a real business case.


Jams are also popular ways to incorporate design thinking into a short timeframe. Design jams are fun, fast and collaborative brainstorming sessions where participants generate ideas and solutions in a creative environment. They have also been called for “idea factories”. Jams go through the Double Diamond Design Process to allow for an iterative creative process cycle (discover-define-develop-deliver) from identifying a design challenge to finding a solution to it. The participants have diverse skills and come together to create solutions to a challenge. The jams are hopeful sessions where participants are empowered to trust the team and tools to deliver a solution. The jams are usually over in 48 hours, sometimes in just one day. The result of a jam is usually a concept or a prototype, anything from a business model to an art installation. They can be used as a creative part of a longer development process addressing complex problems or big issues.

RestoJamit has been organised for students in tourism and hospitality at Finnish universities of applied sciences since 2018. Teams are invited from all 13 universities offering tourism degree programmes and they compete against each other in developing a solution for a company or organisation. In 2021, the task was to plan a tour in Finland with the Museum Card. In 2022, the commissioner is Suomen Latu – The Outdoor Association of Finland.


The Hackathon concept has its roots in words “hack” and “marathon” where the “hack” refers to programming. The idea with running a hackathon is to identify, model and illustrate new business and service ideas. These ideas are turned into concepts with the help of “quick and dirty” development, creativity, and rapid prototyping. Hackathons, too, are done in teams that often are interdisciplinary and the work is done in a limited time, usually in one to three days (24 and 72 hours). The prototyping is visualised and the end-user is involved during the whole process. The outcome is usually a tangible technical solution: Thus, programming skills are usually required of some of the members in each team participating in a hackathon.

In February this year, the SUCSESS project’s third training included an intense hackathon day with teams working face-to-face in Johannesburg and one team working online over Zoom. The aim was to come up with a solution for improving the employability of South African university graduates.

Should you sprint, jam or hack?

There are some common principles in all design thinking development methods discussed above: They are time-bound, iterative and intense, they involve visualising the ideas and aim to create solutions, the customer or end-user is part of the design process, people co-create in cross-expertise teams. It is important to keep moving all the time, learn by doing, to experiment and network. They all end with a pitch.

Based on the short overview of the different methods, it might seem like they are remarkably similar. However, the methods are often applied in different situations and contexts. Hackathons have their roots in the IT industry and traditionally the solution requires some programming. Design Sprints follow a more structured process and are conducted in an orderly manner with pre-planned steps. Jams, on the other hand, are mostly linked to the experience industry, bringing people to have fun together while innovating. After all, the concept of jams originally came from the music industry.

The results of design thinking methods can be amazing – and in all of them the time invested is paid back in so many ways, for example by creating impact and value. The best thing about the methods of design thinking is that they all enable collaboration across departments, industries, countries and continents – and end up giving all participants new insights, ideas and connections.