Design thinking and Food Industry


This article tries to extend the design thinking approach in food Industry. We would like to bring human centric consideration in food industry, breaking the shackles of product orientation. If we see around our self, everything is changing and so is our Food. It has become more important than ever to understand people, there living and working condition, and asking relevant questions related to their day-to-day meal needs. If we focus on people’s needs rather than the product or technology, they would be better served than now.

We believe that like other industries, Design Thinking approach can be used to empathize with consumers in the food industry processes. we strongly support further ideate , observation , discussion and testing in this topic.

I believe design is about understanding people. If you don’t understand who you are designing for, you will never achieve something they will ultimately desire

Emily Boniface , designer , Nestle


Design thinking is a systematic, human centered approach to solve complex problems within all aspect of life. A design thinker steps into the end users shoe and observe the problem from other side , he thoroughly observes user’s behavior .He has to consider three factors – viability , feasibility and usability if he wants to effectively solve the problem or innovate .Design Thinking merges different “realities” and bridges the gap between different knowledge fields. With this article we want to explore and exemplify how Design Thinking can contribute to innovation in the food industry.

The Design Thinking philosophy can be imbedded in any industry can be part of its innovation process. we just need to keep in mind the phases of It

  • Understand – try to understand the problem before you start
  • Observe – Try to dive into your user’s problem space
  • Define point of view –focus on concrete end users need, behaviors and preferences along with business and technology consideration .
  • Ideate – Go for many ideas addressing single end user needs.
  • Prototype – Make your idea tangible and feedback ready
  • Test –Go back to the end user and validate the prototypes.


Examples of some of the day-to-day design thinking concepts, which shows Empathy towards consumer.

If we start observing “how consumers interact with products”, we can ignite our design thinking

Coffee mug holder in car for the drivers to enjoy coffee and ride
Take away coffee cups Roti maker
MIO is one such example where User Empathy has been taken into consideration.

Case study from food industry

We will take case of Kellogg’s Corn flakes and see how all the phases of design thinking is implemented and used. We are not sure of if W.K . Kellogg followed intentionally design thinking or it just was known unknown.

Let’s see each phase in more detail :


Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flakes (1908)

Try to understand the problem before you start.
For W.K . Kellogg , he wanted to have a suitable substitute for baked bread which should be easy to digest. Though the discovery was unintentional but the understanding was there. He understood the problem of patients in his brother’s hospital (also in general) , baked breads are not easy to digest.

There is a big gap between knowing and doing. Most of the innovation do not succeed due to this unfilled gap. we can use Design Thinking to fill this gap. One of the pillars for Design Thinking is to start the innovation process by generating an understanding of the problem or even sometimes to find the problem. So the first step should be to create a common understanding of the problem , which is to be addressed. The Way W.K Kellogg did .


Try to dive into your user’s problem space.
To develop good solutions, we need to closely see and feel the context of the problem. This is valid for all kind of innovations, also for food. The person working in field facing the problem as user is an expert and know the problem not necessarily the solution. Listening, watching, collecting user stories always helps to perfect the solution and make it more meaningful to the end user. Many times you see or feel some pain points or insights about a product or problem, when you use it yourself.

W. K. Kellogg, who was broom salesman , was a good observer we must say. He was well aware of his surroundings and thoughtful about his brothers patients.


Define point of view to focus on concrete end user’s needs.
One should also take into account behaviors and preferences of end user along with business and technology consideration. Design thinking starts by focusing on human needs, not what the producer needs. Technical feasibility and business viability comes second and third in a Design Thinking approach. Design Thinking helps companies create ideas that better meet consumer’s needs and demands, and should be the starting point of the process not the end.


Go for many ideas addressing single end user needs.
Corn was not the first and only trial that was tested and tried by Kellogg’s, he tried other grains as well and tested it. The process of Ideate helps you to transition from identifying the problem to creating a solution. This is the phase where we bring our understanding of problem and end user closer and think of solution in user’s perspective. It helps us to come up with wide range of possible solution; the best might be chosen later after testing and user feedback. Its also helps to

  • Go further step ahead obvious solutions and increase the innovation potential of our solution set
  • Helps us to Utilize the Teams capabilities and collective perspectives.
  • Uncover unexpected areas of exploration
  • Create volume and flexibility variety in our innovation options


Make your idea tangible and feedback ready
This is very generic and essential step used across all industry, Kellogg’s is no different here. Iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution. A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard. It’s mentioned in some of the website that Kellogg’s too tried other grains and got feedback before corn was finalized. Prototypes also helps to achieve the below benefits:

  • To fail early and cheaply
  • Test possibilities
  • Strike a conversation with the end user
  • To communicate


Go back to the end user and validate the prototypes
Ideally you can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, ask people to take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, try to create a scenario in a location that would capture the real situation.

With Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things already bringing drastic changes in the way we do business. It is to be expected that businesses in Industry 4.0 need both enhanced social and technical skills. There will be a shift toward design thinking instead of production thinking

Tim Brown – change by design
Clayton M. Christensen – innovator’s dilemma
Design Thinking and Food Innovation – by Nina Veflen Olsen LINK
Mio Story:
Featured Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

About the authors
Vinay Kumar Singh – A research scholar at National Central University of Taiwan, he has over 13 years of industry experience. Currently he is working as Data Science manager enabling Business Transformation and value creation through data-driven application. He is responsible for Digital Transformation, Data Science, Digital finance , and Industry 4.0 implementation.

Sanjeev Kumar Sharma – A Food Technologist with 12+ years of experience in Research & Development in Multinational Food Industries. He has authored three books and is avid blogger on different topics of food technology

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