Akbank Design Thinking Lab

How might we empower high-stakes employees to kick-start well-designed grassroots movements of customer-centric innovation?

Akbank Design Thinking Lab (Akbank DT Lab) is an experiential learning journey designed around the critical question of how to empower Akbank’s teams to ignite customer-centered transformation within the larger organization. The project aims to transform Akbank’s high-potential talent to become the enablers of well-designed and holistic customer experiences and foster cross-departmental relationships between mid-level managers to lead the customer-centered change movement within the organization.



Project Team:

Ayşesu Çelik, Barbaros Kaptanoğlu, Ceylan Uşaki Erali, Deniz Dönmez, Engin Ayaz, Kerem Alper, Onat Vural

Project Lead:

Mert Çetinkaya


Halit Soysal (facilitation), Özgür Önurme (videography)

The challenges that face the banking industry today are complex and interconnected. They are less about creating new financial instruments or new banking products, and more about tailoring well-designed and holistic experiences to customers. The “product economy” of the past is now replaced by the “experience economy”. This is an irreversible phenomenon.

Over the duration of a year and a half, the project Akbank Design Thinking Lab trained 100 changemakers from Turkey’s leading bank to pioneer a human-centered transformation across the organization. Employees experienced a 14-week transformative learning journey where they adopted empathy and experimentation mindsets and practiced the design thinking methodology.

12 people out of the initial 100 later became trainers of the program for Akbank to deliver Design Thinking Lab in a self-sufficient and sustainable manner. Program participants implemented their learnings in a variety of new products and service projects for Akbank, highlighting the real world impact of the project.

“Train the Trainer”

As part of the project’s scope, two-day training sessions were designed empower select Akbank employees to transform them into design thinking facilitators and coaches. Akbank employees who completed at least one Design Thinking Lab cycle were eligible to participate in this training to earn their “design thinking coach” badges. This engaging training combined theory with practice and participants left with practical resources that they can utilize in their daily work or in future design thinking labs.

When designing the program, our team analyzed global and local benchmarks and integrated previous learnings from working with several national and international organizations around the implementation of design thinking into the corporate DNA. Through the Akbank DT Lab, the multidisciplinary, cross-functional teams that were formed through a well-curated selection process worked on challenges that call for a user-centered design approach and can benefit from cross-departmental collaboration. After completing the DT Lab, participants were transformed into practitioners, coaches, and in some instances, facilitators of design thinking.

Each team had a strategic design challenge, which was defined by the company leadership. For 14 weeks, five different teams applied the human-centered design approach to tackle the complex challenges their organization was then facing and internalized the methods to overcome these real-life problems.

Participants did non not only learn and practice the Design Thinking methodology, but also adopted the right mindsets that would bolster their ability to collaborate, navigate in uncertainty, and rapidly test their hypotheses—a big step on the path to becoming “designers.”