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What do the organisers of the Design Thinking Forum have in store for its third edition?

The third edition of the Design Thinking Forum is happening between September 18th and 19th. The event, organised by the Marketing Insiders Group and the Design Thinking Society, has many surprises in store, so we caught up with organizers Magda Ropotan and Mădălina Vilău to find out what’s new to this year’s edition:

This is the third edition of the Design Thinking Forum, what are some of the new things happening this year and how has the concept of the Forum evolved since the first edition?

Magda Ropotan: When we were organising the first edition, in 2017, we were just putting Design Thinking on the business map in Romania. Therefore, we set out to broadly introduce the concept and start building a starting point for more complex approaches. We had a good mix of Romanian and international speakers, with a wide range of expertise, that had allowed themselves to be ‘converted’ to Design Thinking. Some of the participants still remember to this day Oskar Dekker’s presentation. He was the leader of the dutch construction material company Bruil and by applying Design Thinking principles, he managed to overcome the post-crisis decline, narrowly escape bankruptcy and reinvent the company, becoming one of the leaders of the concrete 3D printing revolution.

In the second edition, we wanted to bring to the stage concrete examples of business projects where Design thinking had made a difference, and especially Romanian case studies.

For the third edition, we wanted to go even more in-depth and we came back with arguments and studies that underlined the reasons why Design Thinking works and what its potential impact can be on a broad spectrum, be it in business, social or education.

Mădălina Vilău: In a world dominated by uncertainty, where the crisis still has its teeth sunken deep into the fabric of the business world, executives are still haunted by the remnants of this traumatic period and still are reticent to make bold moves and open the gates to innovation. Design Thinking is a proven method that drives results. The first edition was more poetic, about pioneering. For the second edition, we brought on awarded authors specialized in Design Thinking, among which, Markus Edgar Hormess, the co-founder of WorkPlayExperience and co-author of “this is Service Design Doing”. Now, for the third edition, because the need for concrete actions is just as dire as the need for inspiration, we structured the conference so that the 18th is all about specialized workshops and putting Design Thinking into practice in creating products, services, AI, building future-proof strategies, HR processes, cultivating empathy and Customer Experience while the 19th is a full day of conferences, with 7 foreign keynote speakers and just as many effervescent Romanian speakers.

Who are the speakers for this edition and what will they be talking about?

Magda Ropotan & Mădălina Vilău: We’re bringing industry-leading voices in the field, with expertise in diverse markets and disciplines. The topics they’ll be speaking about will bring arguments and examples in favour of using Design Thinking in unexpected fields and issues, from innovation to business, to negotiating war conflicts, creating exponential business models or finding solutions for the big global issues humanity is facing.

We’re really excited to be joined by select speakers like acclaimed author Jeanne Liedka, who is among the top 50 most influential business thinkers, Adam Radziszewski – Director of Innovation at Oracle USA, Kai Frithjof Brand Jacobsen – Director of the Peace Operations at Patrir, Lars Lin Villebaek – Chief Delivery Officer, Diana Stafie – FutureStation founder, Andrei Baican – Head of CX at Banca Transilvania, Teodora Migdalovici, founder of The Alternative School for Creative Thinking and private diplomacy platform and Ulrich Weinberg – Director of The School of Design Thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institut.

The conference will also host an interesting dialogue between Andreea Roșca – founder of The Vast & The Curious and Nansi Lungu – Consumer Behaviorist at Bitdefender and university professor. 

The workshops taking place on the first day will be facilitated by Randy Salzman – Communication Professor at the University of Virginia and co-author of “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector”, Ana Krasovschi – Human Resources director at Carrefour Romania, Diana Stafie – co-founder of Future Station, Corina Ghiațău – innovation consultant in HR and the team at Design Thinking Society – Alină Cătălina Bănuleasa, Tudor Juravlea, Dragoș Gavrilescu, Alina Bălan. Such a diverse range of expertise, is it not? On our site,, you can find the full agenda alongside complete bios for all the speakers and the topics for all the presentations.

Magda Ropotan is an Innovation Coach & Partner at the Design Thinking Society as well as co-founder of the Design Thinking Forum.

Coming back to the first edition, how did you decide on the theme?

Magda Ropotan: In my previous positions in consultancy I was a very attentive observer of everything that meant trends, social change, technology, business dynamics and human-oriented organizations that know how to create added value for humanity and for society, not just for the individual. I did this in student NGOs, in companies and in varied positions in Romania and in other markets. Before returning to Romania, I worked for several years for IKEA in Moscow, where I was involved in strategic projects meant to transform and rethink the future of the company. Also in Moscow, this time as a consultant, I helped launch the first Innovation Lab for the same company and supported the launch of the first Hackathon and the first Start-up Accelerator with a focus on retail in Russia.

I fell in love with innovation then and started travelling the world trying to go in-depth on the topic and learn from the best in the field. In 2015 I wanted to return to Romania, settle down and drive the adoption of these transformation and innovation instruments that I deeply resonated with and which had really made an impact on my projects. I worked as a freelancer for a while, and met some other individuals who were just as fascinated by the subject as I was inside the Design Thinking Romania community. This is how the Design Thinking Society was founded, alongside my partners Dragoș Gavrilescu, Alina-Cătălina Bănuleasa, Tudor Juravlea and Alina Bălan. The idea for the Design Thinking Forum was taking roots in the same period of time and it was built side by side with Mădălina Vilău and her talented team at the Marketing Insiders Group. It was fascinating to rediscover the joy of running projects alongside Mădălina after well over 17 years since she had been my first boss when I worked for Connex, at 19.

Mădălina Vilău: Magda, whom I had been following and admiring from afar for a good few years, came to me with a proposal that felt like a breath of fresh air to me. After many years in entrepreneurship and ambitious projects in marketing and operational consultancy, Madga started to tell me about innovation, perspectives and trends with a passion you’ll rarely get to see. Especially when you’re involved in operational contexts in which you have to act and shapeshift 24/7, it starts to become a way of life that you end up loving and replicating in everything you do in your day-to-day life. I simply felt that there was an incredible opportunity to build trust around this concept and to be the first in the market to do it properly. It’s a different kind of business adrenaline – without it, I wouldn’t have gotten to the third edition.

And, of course, I cannot wait to attend this year’s forum! It’s the first year I’m curating a workshop on Customer Journey Mapping alongside Tudor Juravlea, on the 18th, while on the 19th I’ll be attending all the presentations, I don’t want to miss any! We have managed to build an agenda that we love.

For the general public, define the concept of Design Thinking.

Magda Ropotan: Design Thinking is a complex problem-solving methodology that most often leads to innovation. Like Jeane Liedtka, one of our speakers, says, Design Thinking can do to innovation in business what total quality management did for the production industry a few decades back: it “took the handcuffs off the creative energy of people, won their involvement and led to radical improvements”. All this to say that it helps us navigate or overcome the barriers in the way of innovation, which are most often put there by ourselves. 

Why do we now need, perhaps more than ever, to talk about Design Thinking?

Mădălina Vilău is an entrepreneur with over 23 years of experience in business and the Managing Director of the Marketing Insiders Group.

 Mădalina Vilău: Because we can only reestablish the equilibrium between business and society through empathy and interest for humans, and because Design Thinking is a process with proven results and clear steps that can be followed by absolutely anyone, Encouraging everyone to think creatively and innovate. It’s an incredibly beautiful combination between creativity, empathy, testing and truly caring for the final client. To me, after many years of leading projects in Customer Care, Customer Experience and any other customer-centric areas, Design Thinking has put me back in contact with things that I had thought I had promoted in every project: empathy, client research, emotion, interdepartmental collaboration, innovation generated by your own team, by you client, by feedback and more feedback. We need transformation in good. And in better. And I also think we need to become conscious that change comes from within us, from us. No one has to come into our lives to make them better, in business or at home. Everything is inside us. Only the way we know how to shape ideas and bring them to life depends on us.

 Magda Ropotan: In the Romanian society we need, now more than ever, people that can not only provoke dysfunctional, corrupt systems, and short-term agendas, but can put their shoulders into it and start building. We have all seen how important it is to not only disobey a present we don’t believe in but to build alternatives for a better future. Otherwise, we are only left with disobedience. To build a better future we need to understand that the way in which every one of us sees the world depends on our position, our filters and our beliefs.

We need moments in which we stop ourselves from rushing and give ourselves the opportunity to understand, to listen and not guess why people do the things they do, or say the things they say, but dive in ourselves, go into the other’s reality to see with our own eyes what they see, and walk in their shoes. We need to look for solutions together, test, have the bravery necessary to drop bad ideas, learn from what we have experienced and move on. Only this way the future that we are building can really be better for ourselves and for the ones around us.

This is the craftsmanship of designers that business has borrowed under the name of Design Thinking. This is why so many organisations embrace it. It helps you organise creative, diverse and multidisciplinary cells in your business, it allows you to structure them, and it gives you the instruments and the methods so you’re ready to start doing the work.

Who is the event addressed to? Who did you have in mind when planning the Design Thinking Forum?

Mădălina Vilău: Design Thinking can be applied to varied sectors, so we bring together a community of people in executive positions, from CEO and IT to HR, R&D and business intelligence. The positions of the delegates sound, like the millennials, would say, “very cool”: UX, CX designer, director of innovation, head of training, business executive, product & service designer, business excellence leads, head of clients & markets, finance director, head of HR, store manager, business strategy manager, behavioural analyst. Because for the workshop day the tickets are sold out, you can meet them face-to-face at the conference on September 19th.

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