Remote design thinking can help you find fast, innovative solutions to big business problems.

In fact, running design projects on virtual platforms can actually lead to better results than face-to-face innovation projects, as Adam Billing (Founder at Treehouse Innovation and Sprintbase) shared recently.

In order to solve problems with innovation, you must have the ability to rapidly and consistently respond to new challenges with innovative solutions that make a real impact. This is where design thinking comes into play.

A snippet from Adam Billing’s session during the Innov8rs Connect Unconference, June-September 2020. To watch the full session recording, join Innov8rs Community with a Content or Premium Pass.

At its most basic level, design thinking is a human-centered problem-solving approach that uses creative tools and mindsets of design to help all kinds of organizations find innovative solutions to the challenges they face. It seeks to balance what is desirable with what is technologically feasible, financially viable, and ethically sustainable.

  • Desirability: Design thinking considers the problem to be solved, the ways that it can be solved, and the ways in which the solution will cater to human needs.
  • Feasibility: Design thinking takes into account whether the solution to the problem is feasible given the organization’s resources and available technology.
  • Viability: Design thinking includes financial projections, including initial investment, projected revenue, and growth.
  • Sustainability: Design thinking must take into account the effects of the solution, both socially and environmentally.

Design Thinking Process

The design thinking process outlines the way that organizations go from defining the problem to designing and creating a solution. By its nature, the design thinking process is very hands-on, and typically incorporates three steps:

Empathize: Members of the organization go out into the field to interact with and understand the user in order to gain insight into their needs and desires.

Ideate: Once the problem has been identified, the innovation team delves into the creative process with designs, sketches, and idea development.

Prototype: From the ideas created in the previous step, designers create a prototype of the suggested solution.

All of these are very hands-on activities that require face-to-face interaction that is not possible in a remote work environment. It is therefore necessary to consider ways that we can overcome the challenges of working remotely in order to reproduce the magic of in-person design and innovation.

Challenges Of Going Remote

Going remote presents a variety of challenges for design and innovation teams who are used to working closely with others. Some of the primary challenges designers experience when going remote include:

  • Reproducing “face-to-face magic” and group creativity
  • Keeping people on track
  • Maintaining individual and team accountability
  • Achieving tangible outputs
  • Using the right methods effectively
  • Making it as fun and engaging as a face-to-face workshop

These challenges can stifle the creativity of the team and result in less effective solutions, not to mention increasing time and expenses on the project. Fortunately, remote design thinking offers a number of advantages that can help organizations surmount these obstacles.

Advantages of Remote Design Thinking

Despite the difficulties organizations initially face, going remote actually offers numerous advantages over more traditional face-to-face methods. For each step in the process, the main advantages are as follows:


You can engage the right team members with needed skill sets, regardless of geography.
Remote communication allows you to collect input and inspiration from more diverse sources, as you can connect with people around the world.
You can invite users and stakeholders into “your virtual studio” to participate and co-create with you, which allows for a more productive interactive experience.


Remote communication provides for synchronous and asynchronous working, to facilitate greater idea diversity.
You have the ability to use digital media to bring your ideas to life.
It is easier to run remote brainstorms with diverse user and stakeholder groups outside the team.


You can create more convincing digital prototypes to share and learn quickly.
Remote access allows you to get instant feedback from a wide range of stakeholders regardless of location.
Remote design makes it easier to incorporate the creative visions of others.

With remote design, you can greatly expand your pool of resources and more easily share ideas with stakeholders and team members. The design process can be enhanced through the use of digital tools and media, and you can more easily meet with individuals and groups regardless of their geographic location.

Mistakes And Lessons Learned From Going Remote

The team at Treehouse worked directly with various companies to create an effective remote design experience. During the process, two major mistakes provided opportunities for learning.

Mistake #1: Trying to Just Replicate the Face-to-face Experience Virtually

Although it seemed at the time to be logical to simply set up a virtual version of the office, designers discovered that it was impossible to replicate the face-to-face experience. Instead, they found innovative ways to incorporate remote technology to make the process more effective.

Mistake #2: Assuming People Would Be Gradually Moving to Remote Design Thinking

With the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workplaces became a reality quickly. What may have been projected to be a gradual, steady transition became a necessity practically overnight. Companies found themselves adjusting to remote design thinking at speed, which produced quite a few challenges.

As more companies adopt remote design thinking, they are beginning to discover the many advantages that remote technology offers over traditional face-to-face design methods.

The ability to connect remotely with customers, team members, and stakeholders around the globe allows for the introduction of more ideas, while digital media tools allow for more efficient design input.

Overall, the benefits of remote design thinking ensure that it will remain a necessary means of innovation long after the current crisis has passed.

This is a piece from The Innovator’s Handbook 2021. If you’re keen to dive into the best and latest on corporate innovation, request your copy here. To discuss anything Business Design join our upcoming Innov8rs Connect online event, 7-11 December.