Design thinking in InsurTech

A customer-centric approach to product innovation and experience.

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Can insurtech founders think like designers?

Insurance, like many industries, is in digital transformation frenzy. Adopting new thinking and understanding emerging customer needs is a necessity or else insurers risk to be disrupted by the the big-tech and newcomers, who see insurance as ripe for innovation. It’s also good to look outside one sector and borrow practices from others. There are founders who’ve been using design thinking to move the needle. Joe Gebbia of AirBnB is one of many examples, he has talked about how design thinking transformed Airbnb from a failing startup to billion-dollar business (link below).

Can startups think like design teams?

With technology disrupting every industry, both startups and incumbents can benefit from creative thinking. Innovation is the holy grail in insurance, finance and medical sectors right now. This article is about helping you unlock the creative powers of your organisation small or large. Insurance carriers and MGAs seek to provide customer-centric solutions that are digitally-native. Design thinking helps you innovate and deliver meaningful products and services with your customer at the centre. It’s been used extensively in financial services and its positive outcomes are well documented. Check out the CAPCO report in the link below.

Creative problem solving?

In this article, I am suggesting my approach to design thinking from our current work in the InsurTech space (see Whitespace), but can be applied to any product. This is not a cookie cutter template and I intentionally avoid terms like ideation which I don’t find useful. Ideas come at any time, any place, not just in brainstorms and boardrooms.

CB insights finds that over four in ten startups (42%) fail because they jump to the solution before understanding the problem. In other words, there is no market fit for their solution. That is the number one reason for failure according to the findings. It’s worth pointing out that failure is rarely an outcome of one sole reason... Understanding if the problem you are trying to solve is meaningful and validating there is a market need is good practice.

Now, a creative process is never linear. It’s by nature messy. Expecting to follow a diagram and come up with innovative solutions isn’t really convincing. Embracing uncertainty however, in a constructive way, could lead to interesting, different and even innovative solutions that tackle real market problems.

Design thinking is a blend of analytical and intuitive thinking. In principle, design thinking is not a complex method and anyone should be able to exercise it. That said, you can benefit from a mentor or support if your team is not familiar with the creative process.


It’s been ten years since IDEO’s Tim Brown published his book about “design thinking” Change by Design and article (June 2009 Harvard Business Review). He writes that “design thinking” is not something new, Brunel and Mackintosh were both design thinkers. Nowadays, IBM, Procter and Gamble, Mastercard and many large corporations embrace design thinking to innovate, serve unmet needs, create better experiences for customers, and kick-start new ventures. Design thinking has become widely adopted as a process for innovation. Tim Brown says the design profession is preoccupied with creating nifty, fashionable objects -- even as pressing questions like clean water access show it has a bigger role to play. He calls for a shift to local, collaborative, participatory "design thinking."

100 years ago, Bauhaus was founded in the industrial town of Weimar by Walter Gropius, who saw the connection between the arts and the industry. Thereafter, designers in modernism saw themselves as problem solvers. But it is only recently that the industry sees the scale of value that design is bringing to business. Apple has just announced the Apple Card, offering “the incredible ease of use” that they are known for. It’s an excellent example of applied design thinking. Many challenger banks also create customer-centric and data-driven solutions that will turn the traditional banking sector upside-down. These initiatives are human-centred and design-led.

My pointers for design thinking:

👀 Look…

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…observe, research, ask, get inspired, discover.

I can’t imagine creating anything in isolation. We all require a stimulus to create. And we are all creative people, in different ways, that’s how we are wired. Creativity isn’t a privilege of the artist. It’s a privilege of humanity.

Adopt a beginner’s mind. Avoid your expertise and try to connect “different dots”. Think like there is nothing to lose or to prove. Thinking like a beginner encourages you to be curious and ask more questions. You can look at a problem from distance or from a different angle, from another person’s point of view. I found this very beneficial when I first worked with Whitespace Software, knowing little about insurance.

Empathy, is a skill we all have, is also key to discovery. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and necessary for creating customer-centric products and services.

Note: When we execute, we naturally focus on the detail. We inevitably fail to see the bigger picture, which leads to losing perspective of the problem. So it’s great to step back and reflect by observing with an open mind. Easier said than done, but it’s worth observing how a two-year-old goes about playing with new toys.

Take the time to look outside your industry. There is so much to learn from other sectors. Great designers often work across industries.

Do, do, do. 🔨

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Being hands-on is the real part of designing. The tools you use are less important but teamwork is. It is a collaborative process after all. Start by prototyping early ideas in a rough and ready way. Aim at mockups that are just good-enough as minimum viable concepts. Try investing less time and money in perfecting them before you have some early proof-of-concept to share with users.

There are so many prototyping tools available today, that there is hardly any reason to jump straight to coding - although sometimes this is unavoidable. The scope here is to get an idea as fast as possible into the hands of people, long before you are all-ready to launch.

Try it. Early!

Show it to the people long before you are ready to ship, before your prototype is fully cooked. Test it with your real customers or with a similar demographic.

Even before they say anything, the moment an idea reaches an audience, no matter how imperfect, your brain is receiving signals of success and failure. The idea here, is to validate what works for people and what doesn’t. This isn’t about asking people what they want, let focus groups deal with that. Your aim is to validate your ideas and make sure you are on the right track serving their needs and softening pain points.

Investing your resources to develop something to perfection before a customer has seen it, is a high-risk low-reward practice and I have unfortunately experienced that.


Great products are outcomes of many iterations and small improvements.

Chop large parts in small bits and iterate in cycles involving users. This will help you refine the proposition and better understand the customer along the way.


These are the design thinker’s steps in my view and I would not put them in order. There is no recipe to innovation unfortunately. The key difference between design thinking diagrams you’ll find on the internet is that “ideas generation” (often called ideation) should be part of all the above steps. Sure, you need an idea to start prototyping but that can be inspired as you think of the problem or look for clues in your research or better, an early brainstorm with your team. It’s good to have plenty of ideas to start with.

I am not in favour of assigning much time to idea generation. I much prefer to have a flexible discovery phase (see “look” above) in which ideas will emerge.

Design thinking isn’t just for designers. It’s for everyone who wants to make a difference, think afresh and collaborate with others to solve meaningful problems. Its application goes far beyond products, it is used from the design of services to governments and new ventures.

Design thinking isn’t a bullet proof method and not the only method. It does require building your creative confidence, but it’s available to anyone regardless of tools and background.

Can I help you with design thinking, innovation and customer-centric products? Drop me a line