As the pharmaceutical sector continues its significant shift towards consumerisation, there’s an ever-growing imperative for brands to exude authenticity, maintain relevance, and build unwavering patient trust. Considering this shift, design thinking has been embraced for its emphasis on prioritising patient empathy and user-centred solutions.
Whilst this approach isn’t new – having been popularised by IDEO over the past two decades – design thinking has proven especially impactful in the pharma sector, addressing its unique challenges and historical oversights with a fresh, empathetic lens. The industry’s traditional focus on providers and compliance often marginalised patient experience, resulting in functional yet impersonal designs. It was a mindset that overlooked the power of experience in patient engagement, potentially contributing to lower adherence and negative health outcomes. Recognising the critical role of the patient in building products and services, design thinking became a catalyst for change, advocating for a deeper human-centric understanding, which in turn, informed better experiences.
We’ve discovered, however, that design thinking has a design flaw.
Traditionally, design thinking has overlooked the power of branding. Whilst it provides a robust framework for problem-solving, focusing on empathy and user-centred innovation, it tends to neglect the brand perspective. Similarly, the benefits of design thinking – such as its iterative approach, deep empathy, and cross-functional collaboration – have often been absent in the workflows of traditional brand and design consultancies. This reciprocal gap has two important implications:
1. Whilst products and services may be enhanced by design thinking, they lack the distinctive identity that differentiates most meaningful and memorable experiences, missing the power of brand building.
2. Branding agencies miss out on the deep human insights that design thinking provides.
Both oversights can lead to missed opportunities in cultivating brand equity and forging deeper connections with end-users.