When it comes to Design Thinking, you would probably only think of high-pressure tech companies implementing it to launch new products/services. If that is the case, you would be surprised to hear that not only tech companies, but national governments too are embracing Design Thinking to improve the lives of their citizens. 

Countries such as Singapore and South Africa have implemented this innovative tool, with a focus on Human-Centric Design. If you are interested in finding out about how the US government has effectively used the principles of Design Thinking to make public programs more customer-friendly, then continue reading this article! 

Reducing Upfront Costs for Government Programs 

Since 2013, the US government has been making  conscious efforts to make public programs more human-centric in their approach. This was due to a combination of the Obama administration’s encouragement of new types of solutions for government issues, and also following the massive failure of the HealthCare.gov website at the time. 

Many people suggested that the HealthCare.gov platform failed because it treated the analysis, design and implementation steps of the project completely separately from one another. The planning of the project itself lacked the kind of cohesive vision that the Design Thinking ideology is built upon. Hence, there was a need to find a solution that considered these stages all as different steps of the same overall idea, and a team that understands how to string this vision together – which is exactly what Design Thinking does. 

Hence, the US government’s overall approach to launch new government programs has since then shifted towards quick and frequent feedback from users to decrease the risk of failure and overall costs. There is now a greater emphasis on rapid prototyping, iteration as well as comparing two alternatives to find the most efficient solution for particular projects. All of these are vital aspects of implementing a human-centric design approach. 

Also Read: What can Legal Professionals Learn from Design Thinking?

Increasing Efficiency for the Department of Veteran Affairs 

An integral part of the American national identity is the respect given to their war veterans. Many veterans have also voiced over the years how difficult reintegration into society tends to be for them, with many of them unable to find jobs or afford a basic standard of living. 

To address such issues, the US Department of Veteran Affairs was established, but due to administrative shortcomings, revamped their internal structure with the aid of Design Thinking in 2014. 

For this initiative, a team of consultants, specialising in Design Thinking, was hired. They interviewed about 300 employees and veterans connected with the department, to eventually create a customer-focused (in this case, veteran-focused) roadmap that described the needs of veterans through the different stages of their lives. 

Ease of Access to Food Stamps in California 

The state of California used to have a long and cumbersome application process for the provision of Food Stamps, a government program designed to provide food for some of the poorest people in the state. The application used to be about 50 pages long and consisted of almost 100 questions. As a result, many applicants would be unable to finish the application process in due time to be approved for the Food Stamps program. 

The government of California realised that they needed to make this application significantly more user-friendly. Given that California is home to Silicon Valley and the global hub of technological innovation, the California government applied Design Thinking to create a Human-Centric solution for this issue. 

With the help of Design Thinking, they came up with a solution to allow applicants to take photos of their documents with mobile phones, rather than asking them to send scanned copies or physically send documents. They also shifted the application program online and easy to access via mobile phones, rather than requiring them to be physically completed and mailed. As a result, the turn around time to apply for food stamps reduced to 10 minutes. This integration of human-centric design made the application process of Food Stamps easier and resulted in more people receiving the benefits of the program. 

Revamping the Public Service Landscape with Design Thinking 

The US Federal government has partnered with Accenture to expand the use of design-thinking within the US government. 

One of the main initiatives of this undertaking include, creating a salesforce for government services that is comparable to its commercial counterparts, increasing US government involvement in AI-related activities, and creating an Analytics-as-a-Service platform for public programs.

By integrating Design Thinking into government programs, the US government is keeping up with the challenges posed by an increasingly digitising US economy. In a survey, about 85% of Americans reported that they expect the services provided by the government to be on-par with those offered by private institutions in terms of ease and access, especially those provided online. 

Also Read: How to Implement Design Thinking steps in your Startup


The US government’s widespread integration of a human-centric approach to their programs is a testament to the increasing popularity of the concepts of Design Thinking, which is only projected to grow further. In addition to using the principles of Design Thinking for food stamps, veteran affairs and lowering costs, the US government has also implemented it for programs related to social security and healthcare. 

Design Thinking has been increasingly implemented not only in the public sector, but also in the private sector to understand changing consumer preferences and trends. It is becoming an integral part of business-planning across domains. 

Like any other business skill set, Design Thinking can also be learnt by formally studying it. If you are interested in learning Design Thinking from your own location, perhaps as a part-time course while continuing to have a full-time job, you can also learn it online. Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a Design Thinking course that is fully delivered online. This 3-month online course is a short investment relative to the large scope of growth that has been projected for the application of Design Thinking.  

If you have additional insights or comments related to Design Thinking, please engage by posting them in the comments section below! 



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