Case Study

Application of Design Thinking to make commuting safer

Key Takeaway

Students of Design Thinking Club were given hands-on opportunity to solve a live problem that has critical social impact that deals with citizens’ lives. They were taught to leverage and apply various Design Thinking tools across various phases of solving the problem. This live-project exercise also demonstrated the success of Design Thinking as a value-added course for the students, which the faculty championed in college. The Road Transport Office Department received fresh ideas from budding minds to solve a grappling problem. This exercise proved successful for the inaugural batch of the Design Thinking Club that could be replicated for years to come.



  • Four faculty members from the college participated in the inaugural edition of the Faculty Development Workshop titled ‘Design the Thinking’. They decided to take Design Thinking to interested students as a value-added course in their curriculum.
  • To champion this cause, they formed the inaugural batch of ‘Design Thinking Club’, a student’ club solely focused on creating and nurturing the culture of Design Thinking in the college campus.
  • As a medium to understand the practical application of Design Thinking, a batch of 17 students applied the concept in a live project titled ‘Design Thinking: A Human Centered Future Focused Approach’ to a live road traffic congestion problem at the junction of an arterial road in Chennai that was prone to fatal accidents.
  • The students submitted their fact-findings and recommendations to the authorities at the Road Transport Office, Chennai.


About the Client

The engineering college, whose students were part of the workshop, was established in 2011 with a mission “to provide technical education in futuristic technologies with the perspective of innovative, industrial and social application for the betterment of humanity”. With an intake size of about 300 students per year, the college produces competent and disciplined high-quality professionals with the practical skills necessary to excel as innovative professionals and entrepreneurs for the benefit of society.

One of the key points in their vision statement states, “productive partnership between Industry & Institute for research and development in the emerging fields”. Understanding this need to create agenda setters and active problem solvers of tomorrow, the college management actively supported and hand-held the Design Thinking Club. Their aim was to trigger the innovative thought process for their students using Design Thinking.


Purpose of the Workshop

A batch of 17 students resolved to solve a Road Traffic Congestion problem at the Sunguvarchatram Road Junction that lies between Chennai and Bengaluru. The area adjacent to the junction also hosts manufacturing plants of automobile multi-national companies, thus keeping the area extremely busy and congested. 

This junction is infamous for fatal and non-fatal accidents amounting to severe ailments for the victims. In 2017 alone, the junction was witness to over 30 casualties and 100 non-fatal, but severe accidents. In 2018 however, the numbers fortunately dwindled to 20 and 35 respectively. Yet, the threat remained large. Hence, the team decided to explore multiple avenues to solve this threat and make the junction a safe passage for all commuters.

They decided to divide this exercise into critical stages and use apt tools of Design Thinking wherever they felt applicable. 


Activity Details

The first step

The faculty participated in the inaugural edition of the ‘Design the Thinking’ workshop in July 2017. Inspired, they faculty sensed this opportunity to kick-start innovative thought process amongst the students and approached the management for the same. The college management guided them and thus the journey of the inaugural batch of the ‘Design Thinking Club’ commenced in the college. This club facilitated Design Thinking sessions taken by the faculty for the students and acted as a medium to collaborate and apply Design Thinking on live projects of critical importance. 

This inaugural batch had a participation of 89 interested students across various specializations of engineering. Students finished their theoretical sessions and were ready to witness Design Thinking in action in a Live project. 

The RTO project

As mentioned earlier, a batch of 17 students appalled by number of accidents happening at the congested Sunguvarchatram decided to try to correct the issues there. They diligently took up this challenge through the following steps. 

Data Collection & Art of Observation: Design Thinking provides context to raw data. Students proceeded with the available data from primary and secondary sources. However, data provides us with content. Appropriate context to the information was achieved by actual observation. The students proceeded with actual field study and identified eight critical sites across the junction. These actual observations prodded the students to focus on the mindset of the commuters, which subsequently led them to key insights. 

Journey Map to observe mindset of the driver: The basic tenet of Design Thinking is to focus not only on the problem, but to emphasize on the person having the problem. Students applied the Design Thinking Tool called Journey Map to identify various touchpoints that occur in the journey of a commuter that makes him/her vulnerable to the threat of accident. Importantly,this helped them to capture the emotional highs and lows of a commuter across his journey. These emotional points helped to understand a driver’s mindset.

Understanding the root cause of the problem: Further deep diving led to identify the correct root cause of the problem, i.e. distraction / disturbances in concentration for the drivers while commuting. The problem especially aggravates during nights. Another dimension also involved the improper maintenance of the necessary caution equipment that prevents road accidents.

Brainstorming: No idea is bad idea. Students brainstormed for host of solutions during the divergence phase of problem solving. Every idea regardless of the impact and feasibility was welcomed and paid due diligence to assess its importance. All ideas were listed to address the identified problem.

Stephen Covey’s quadrants to Prioritize ideas: Subsequent to divergence phase, students applied the tried and tested method of Stephen Covey to prioritize ideas based upon urgency and importance.

Finishing Convergence in Style: The Convergence phase helped the students to pin-point those ideas based upon various aspects such as Ideas’ quickness to implement, how bold and long-lasting the idea would be, will it be radically different, and so on To sharpen them, they applied the QBL tool along with the 10gm–100gm–1000gm Design Tool to weigh each idea vis-à-vis others.