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How to Use a Design Thinking Approach to Create Your Pandemic Preparedness Plan

So it’s time to create (or reevaluate) a Pandemic Preparedness Plan. The first thing to do is learn about the necessary legalities required by your city and/or state. While we can’t provide insights on legalities, we do recommend using a Design Thinking approach to creating your Preparedness Plan.

Here’s how to go about doing that:

Step 1: Empathize. Understand the human needs involved with the problem you’re solving. When creating your Preparedness Plan, the problem focuses around each person who interacts in your business — employees, customers, vendors, etc. Consider their needs, desires, and fears during this time.

A great way to ensure you are solving the problem in the best way for your employees is to engage them in the process. Ask your employees what their biggest concerns are and for their suggestions (this could be via a phone call or online survey). Your employees will appreciate having some ownership in the process.

Finally, make sure to communicate your solutions to everyone involved. Your employees and customers will appreciate the steps you’re taking to ensure their safety.

It’s also important in this phase to consider regulatory requirements, as the problems you’re solving have some legalities involved.

Step 2: Define. Frame the problem through the lens of the group you’re problem solving for. What will make people feel safe? What will inspire confidence in your customers while interacting with your business?

This is something you will revisit throughout the process. The key is keeping the group you're problem solving for at the front of your mind as you go through each step.

Step 3: Conceptualize. This is where you’ll brainstorm possible solutions and ways to do things differently.

In this phase, we recommend doing a “Less Contact Process Exercise”. This exercise involves thinking through every process, system, and business operation to identify points of contact. The first time around, this will be an incomplete list. As you begin to process and record each system, more will come up. This will be daunting at first, though necessary for a predictable, safe, and clean business that will put wary employees and patrons at ease.

When going through this exercise, consider things like:

  • Payment Transactions

  • Interactions between employees and customers during the shopping and checkout process

  • Back of house shipping and receiving

  • Customer use and employee change of waste and recycling stations

  • Cleaning and sanitizing stations and protocol

  • Employee shift arrival and departure

  • End of day money counting and deposit

  • Customer interaction with products on display

  • Water or other serve yourself stations

  • Use of shared employee break room

  • Seating arrangements

  • Employee and vendor interactions

Once you have identified the areas of contact, brainstorm ways to change these systems to reduce contact. For example, instead of having open-access to fitting rooms, assign an employee to set up the room for a customer and sanitize the door handle, hangers, etc. Or, instead of passing out individual menus, utilize a large wall-menu that can be read throughout the restaurant.

Step 4: Prototype. Mockup your solutions before putting them into action.

Once you know what systems and procedures will be changing, start to mockup what those changes will look like in your business. There are various ways to go about this, but here are a few of our favorites:

Bubble Diagramming

In this method, you will draw circles for each step of a process. You will then connect these circles with lines to indicate sequence and relationships between the different steps. You can draw these by hand or use an online software like Visual Paradigm.


For this method, you will use a sticky note to indicate a step in a system. This method allows you to move around sticky notes and test different ways of doing things. You can even color code sticky notes if you like! This method also allows you to easily see missing steps in a process.

Tracing Paper Technique

For this method, you will utilize tracing paper. Layer a piece of tracing paper over your store floor plan and sketch possible changes to the plan. Then, layer another piece of tracing paper over that to keep the pieces that work and re-sketch pieces that don't. Continue this process until you have a plan that works.

Test these changes by using chalk or painters tape outlines in your physical space, before you start moving big pieces of furniture and equipment!

Step 5: Test. Evaluate what’s working and what’s not with the possible solutions. If you do a painters tape outline and realize the layout you created doesn't quite work in the space, try something else!

If you created a wall menu to use instead of individual menus, but customers aren't enjoying the experience, try something else, like virtual menus they can read from their mobile devices instead. Your plans won't be perfect the first time around, so don't be afraid to test things out and reevaluate as you go.

Step 6: Repeat! Keep what’s working, and refine what isn’t working. Start the process over to develop new solutions and prototypes until the problem is solved.

We know this time is difficult, but forever moving forward, businesses will need to be more prepared for outbreaks and disasters. This is the time to adapt, innovate, and embrace new ideas. Hopefully these ideas gave you some insights and inspiration.



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