Empathetic Destination

Turning design thinking into destination-wide strategy for Madrid’s depopulated Sierra Norte

Peter Drucker once said that the purpose of a company is to “create a customer.” Seasonality is one of the main challenges to creating eco-responsible customers and loyalty in the Sierra Norte region of Madrid (one of Europe’s poorest), which can only be overcome by public-private actors who interact and collaborate regularly. Design thinking offers a framework for growing and multiplying these interactions and creating ideal, returning customers.

Sierra Norte de Madrid, Design Thinking Travel Destination

Design thinking is a proven problem-solving methodology for uncovering and addressing people’s needs, and consists of 5 main, non-linear stages: empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototyping and testing solutions.

According to the Design Value Index, a stock market performance monitoring tool for design-driven companies, firms that use design strategically grow faster and achieve higher margins than their competitors. This implies fully integrating design into company strategy and decision-making, and investing in the development of this capacity throughout the business.

Likewise and crucially, design can generate significantly higher income and sustained competitive advantage for Madrid’s sparsely populated Sierra Norte travel destination, whose product par excellence would be extraordinary integral experiences for the smart eco-traveller so long as all ecosystem participants involved in its elaborate orchestration share the practices, attitudes and language of empathetic design. Commissioned by the Madrid Regional Government Department of Tourism, I worked with the San Roque Innovation Centre to facilitate a Network Analysis and Design Thinking Deep Dive workshop and launch this collective learning process among rural tourism entrepreneurs, business owners, civil servants, NGOs, local authorities and public officials catering for and/or affecting rural tourism in the Sierra Norte region of Madrid.

We produced a detailed how to turn design thinking into Sierra Norte destination-wide strategy and shared language for co-creating value with affluent hard-to-please early adopters.

Design thinking is for Sierra Norte’s innovation ecosystem what fungi are for its forests

Trees talk to each other through the fungi internet — it’s like an information superhighway that accelerates interactions between a large and diverse population of individuals. Fungi constitute underground networks (mycelium) that share nutrients and information for trees.

Design thinking does for communication across Sierra Norte’s innovation ecosystem what sub-soil mycelium does for its forest. ‘Embedded’ design practices speed up the exchange of information, know how and other forms of capital among public, private and third sector actors for composing and fine-tuning memorable travel experiences year-round through the ‘eyes and ears’ of smart, green lifestyle tourists.


The ROI of empathy

Memorable tourist experiences are complex orchestrations

To prosper sustainably is to make information flow and grow

Empathetic design and project-based learning to attract and delight digital nomad visitors to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Diseño empático y aprendizaje por proyectos para atraer—y cautivar—a los nómadas digitales a Las Palmas de Gran Canaria