Empathize and Define: the case of Airbnb and UberEats

Discovering insights in the initial phases of the Design Thinking process
November 2018

Design Thinking is a methodology that has deeply penetrated many organizations, and has done so mainly because of its ability to put the user at the center of the strategy and to provide a broader vision of the business, allowing multidisciplinary teams to work in unison in the same direction and with a common goal.

Although its application in real life is not easy, we cannot become empathic overnight, nor have super structured and focused ideas. The most important thing is to go bit by bit internalizing this way of working and making it ours.

Here, we show how two large companies have applied the principles of Design Thinking in the first phases of the process, Empathize and Define, to be what they are today.

1. Airbnb: how to discover insights to work on

In 2009, Airbnb was just another startup that fought to obtain a profit superior to the 800 dollars that it had made up until that time. One of its founders, Joe Gebbia, a student at the Rhode Island University School of Design, started working with Design Thinking and managed to turn the business around.

They put themselves in the shoes of their users; they delved into the lives of others through personal interviews and shadowings, trying to discover what the needs and fears people experienced when renting their houses to strangers. They succeeded, eventually reaching what they are today. One of its key findings: build trust, the most powerful insight on which to settle your value proposition.

If you want to know more, be sure to read this article and watch the following video:

2. Uber Eats: ethnographic research in situ, key to its success

Uber Eats is present in more than 80 countries, providing food service at home in a very efficient way, as confirmed by its annual profits.

The Uber Eats design team, based in San Francisco and New York, is continually traveling and learning about other cultures and ways of living. This in theory is excellent and not usually quite real, but in practice, they have converted this to a program called "The Walkabout Program" through which several designers travel each quarter to several cities and dive deeply into its people and culture. In this way they are able to connect with their partners, intermediaries and clients to provide an adequate service based on the identified problems specific to each city.

In addition to this, they use other types of tools, such as "Order shadowing" that helps them to observe and understand their designs in use, whilst also allowing them to prototype new formats, services and interfaces and constantly iterate with real users during their visits.

Here you can find an article that explains his way of understanding Design Thinking and the application of this methodology in its different phases.

Carmen Castillo