What is Design Thinking and how to put it into practice: The case of The Mona Lisa


Design Thinking is a movement that seeks to spread the way designers solve problems, embracing in the process other professionals and the clients.

Above all it is important to remember that it is not a solution for everyone’s nor every company’s problems.

Despite being highly efficient, it is necessary to keep in mind that many aspects of a company should be solved and developed in a way that is sustainable and healthy – and not all of them require this approach.

To understand Design Thinking, it’s worth remembering that its roots are in design, a profession recognized for consolidating professional methods to solve complex problems.

In this fashion, we can understand Design Thinking as a professional method to solve complex problems uniting groups of people with multidisciplinary knowledge, who may or may not have previous practical design experience.

Generally speaking, the role of Design Thinking is to open the doors of design to more people, even if they have no formal academic training. Bringing the resources, methods and strategies of design closer to more segments of society, be it for the reformulation of a national health care system or to improve the customer service at the local market, for example.

As an efficient problem-solving method, the design process establishes a logical work sequence, while still maintaining sufficient flexibility to be interactive and to go back to any previous stage in the process whenever necessary.

The result is a symbiosis between the sequential process and the creative process.

This symbiosis created a process that opens possibilities, explores options, and result in solutions to be offered to the client within the available time, with the capacity to engage people and mix distinct knowledge.

Design Thinking Practice

To illustrate the possible strategies in Design Thinking, and there are many, I created a hypothetical story about Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa moving to a new location.

In the example, I demonstrate the Design Thinking process in 5 stages: Understand, Ideate, Align, Prototype, and Test. Yet the approach allows for a variety of formats. I’ve personally seen strategies that varied anywhere from three to eight different stages.

Design Thinking Practice

The most important things to keep in mind in this process are its exploratory nature, the fundamental multidisciplinarity of the team involved, and the mandatory consultation/presence of the client or end user.

For digital projects, right after the initial Design Thinking process, it is possible to add three more stages to the continuation of the project.

In the models where I have used Design Thinking processes (like Google’s Design Sprint approach, for example) I customarily end up with a concept backlog for the development team to work with, the week immediately following the end of conceptualization.

In this fashion, I customarily add to the processes – when the resulting concept is approved by the project requisitioner – three more steps:

Release planning – Period when the development team and Product Owner detail the concept backlog and transform it into a backlog that has been prioritized and divided into different stories.

Development Sprints – Period where the development team produces the service itself, programing the system, its interfaces, and its integration with other existing services.

Service Management – Period following the first major delivery where the business team and the Product Owner evaluate the deliveries, the results, and manage the continuing improvements, adjustments and necessary corrections for the growth and maintenance of the service.

Design Thinking Practice

I will explain in greater detail the steps in the Design Thinking approach chosen with Marie’s story.

Marie uses Design Thinking for The Mona Lisa

Marie arrived early at the Louvre museum to solve a serious dilemma: The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci needed to change its location within the museum. Marie had to help the museum team study where to place the painting, whose value is priceless.


Define or refine your challenge well

 The first step for any successful design process is to define your challenge very well. Without any clear idea of the motives behind the need for the process, the path can become confusing and frustrating for the team.

It’s like the old maxim attributed to diplomat Henry Kissinger, “If you don’t know where you are going, all roads will lead you nowhere.”

To define the challenge there are diverse methods possible, for example, the four pillars strategy, but even a simple conversation about the problem can shed light on the subject.

I particularly like to involve all the stakeholders and team members to help compose the challenge, so it the path we intend to follow is clear to everyone.

In the challenge definition, I like to explore a few general success metrics, because this can help clarify the motivation behind the necessity for the design.


Marie brought together all the curators in a room and discussed their mission. She asked why they needed to make this change; if they had a date by when this needed to happen; what was the objective; what was fundamental; and even what absolutely couldn’t happen.

At the end of the conversation, she put down in her notebook the challenge that they had before them: How can we change the room where the Mona Lisa painting is located, without damaging the work, and guaranteeing that in its new location all museum visitors will be able to admire the painting in the best possible way?


1 – Understand – Understand the problem well, the context and the people

 The first stage in Design Thinking involves clearly understanding the problem to be resolved, the context in which it is found, and the people, creating empathy and gathering relevant information before starting to solve the problem.

In this stage it is important to maintain an open mind, highly active curiosity and to avoid as much as possible coming up with solution options, the desired outcome here is to gather data.

Connections will happen naturally, write them down and save them to use later, and continue the exploration.

Innumerous methods exist that can be used in this stage, some like rapid interviews, empathy interviews, shadowing and others.


Marie set aside her first week to better understand the problem, the context and the people involved in her challenge.

With her team, which was comprised of an architect, digital and interior designers, programmers, art specialists, anthropologists, and three museum visitors, they visited the museum at various times and on a few occasions spent the entire day there. She requested a blueprint of the museum and marked where all the works of art were, as well as studied how the museum had been designed.

They then put together questionnaires and interviewed the curators, the security team, the cleaning staff and any remaining employees they could access.

They spoke with visitors, tourists, as well as with Mona Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci experts.

They spoke with a variety of architects, engineers, masons, woodworkers, artists and painters. They found time to talk to cutting edge technology experts about the most modern resources and inventions in the field.

And lastly, they conducted in-depth studies of the work of art itself, its history and physical composition.

All this data was spread throughout their office, tacked to the walls, spread across the tables and even written on the windows.


2. Ideate – Create diverse ideas about how to resolve the problem

Based on all the things that were learned, generate as many ideas as possible, sketch out simply everything imaginable that could potentially solve the problem in the best manor possible.

At this time, it is interesting to revise the metrics, and primarily, to look at everything from the perspective of the final users, the people most important to the project.

I recommend that you always start to generate ideas individually, and only after getting together present all the group’s ideas for discussion.


In the following week Marie and her team started to come up with options for the new location of the painting. Starting with the museum blueprint they reread all their notes from the interviews and museum visits.

They walked around the room and for each note, photo, book and drawing that generated a new idea, they designed a new solution option.

At the end, the team forced itself to create solutions connected to unexpected possibilities. They imagined how they could use the most cutting-edge technology and digital resources and thought about the limitations that many museum visitors faced like the elderly, the physically disabled, and even the uncontrollable energy of some children.

At the end of the day, the walls were completely covered with possible solutions, all raised individually.


3. Align – Discuss the idea options chosen or join the ones that make the most sense

At this stage present all the individual concepts formed and try to build off the ideas, grouping repetitions, connecting those that have synergy and creating new ones to connect to those already defined.


At the beginning of the third week, the group got together to present each of their ideas to the rest of the group. The others, during the presentation, mentioned their ideas that were similar or those that had a lot of synergy, grouping them as soon as possible.

New ideas arose and others were discarded during the process, set aside in a large box labelled “Big Ideas for Later”.

The group moved forward putting the ideas together in a logical sequential order, telling a cohesive story to illustrate the problem resolution they imagined.

On the last day of the week they met with the museum curators and presented a story with the ideas they had. The museum staff requested small alterations and gave approval to move on to the next stage.


4. Prototype – Form a prototype for the solution based on the ideas chosen

This is the stage to create a prototype to be tested by the end users. Besides turning the conceptual designs into something tangible, the prototype also helps refine the ideas, and can even eliminate or generate new ones.

The concept behind the prototype is to make it quickly, with cheap materials, to be tested rapidly and generate learning.


To test the idea rapidly, Marie and her team built a few replicas of the Mona Lisa painting and brought them to the new room where the painting would stay. The architects and designers modified the room, including the elements from the ideas while the programmers wrote the code for the new software system.

The anthropologists, for their part, oversaw the purchase of the additional solution equipment.

During the process, one of the exact replicas of the painting fell to the floor and cracked, another didn’t hold up to the chosen lighting and a third was damaged when it underwent a simulation of being removed from the original wall and taken to the new room.

All of this helped the team refine the solution as a whole prior to the test.

At the end of the period, the team presented the room prototype with the replica painting to the museum curators who gave approval to go on to the test stage.


5. Test – Test the prototype with users and see what is good and what can be improved

Test the prototype as rapidly as possible with people to learn and adjust the solution. The faster you learn, the better. This way the solution will evolve in an agile manner and better suit the clients in an increasingly shorter period.


At the dawn of the following week, the museum opened a new session with a replica of the Mona Lisa so that some visitors could experiment the solution and give their feedback about the resources.

During this test week the team discovered that the hanging height of the painting was causing discomfort for some visitors and that security was compromised on two occasions, when two children managed to touch the replica of the painting

One of the technological resources that provided a view in augmented reality and zoomed in high definition, froze during Saturday afternoon and needed to be restarted.

During the test, all the points were adjusted and reinserted into the room to continue being tested.

At the end of the week the team was comfortable with the solution’s performance.


Restart the design process or go on to scaled development

Depending on what was learned it is possible to restart the process or redo a specific part of it (like only creating a new prototype).

In case the response is already satisfactory for a minor scale launch, even if it isn’t completely finished, once the learning is constant, the solution goes onto the development stage and delivery to the remaining clients.


In the last week of the project the team accompanied the painting’s room switch, completed successfully due to all the security measures learned.

Already in the new room, the painting was displayed to visitors with its new specifications.

With augmented reality, interactive walls, 3D projections and intelligent zoom, the work achieved new heights and interactive possibilities allowed for an even deeper immersion.

The architectural project prioritized the ability to view the work of art from any point in the room, allowing people to be less crowded in a single spot and fun elements managed to entertain agitated children.

Real time online communication resources allowed any visitor to display the painting in high definition to any other person in the world and even made it easier for the public to take selfies and post them on social media.

The team continued to collect feedback from tourists and visitors for constant enhancements.

Walks of Italy; Mona Lisa 360°;


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