Design Thinking – Companies in Flux
More than just a Methodology
Design Thinking is a technique and at the same time a systematic approach in which innovative products, services or process solutions are developed by releasing as much creative potential as possible.
In this approach it is crucial that the Design Thinking Team is interdisciplinary and strictly oriented towards the needs of future users throughout the entire process. Its overall goal is to solve the Design Thinking Challenge. In order to do so, the iterative, six-stage Design Thinking process ensures that ideas and solutions can be reviewed, tested and revised as early as possible (qualitatively or quantitatively). This also means that the process step sequence is not always the same. Depending on the course of the process, some steps may have to be repeated. This continuous validation and learning process greatly minimizes the risk of market failure.
At the same time, the techniques used in the various process stages help to visualize the user’s wishes, needs and goals for the innovation team and the entire company.
The origin of the Design Thinking methodology dates back to the 1920s in Germany. The Bauhaus Art School, founded by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, was the first attempt to solve complex questions better and more innovatively by bringing together different disciplines such as art, architecture, theatre, music, design, etc. However, the term “Design Thinking” and the approach as we know it today can be traced back to David Kelley, the founder of the well-known design agency Ideo. Today, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Standord University and the HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam are major sponsors of the innovation approach.
Design Thinking Principles
The agile work culture and the right mindset are particularly important for the success of a Design Thinking project.
1) Design Thinking Team: Multidisciplinary Team Structure
Innovative ideas and solutions for complex problems often arise from a variety of perspectives and interpretations. Therefore, it is important in Design Thinking projects that the team members are as heterogeneous as possible, i.e. have different backgrounds both professionally and personally. In an ideal case, the team consists of six to eight participants from different divisions and with different characteristics (lateral thinkers, experts, external experts, mediators, etc.). Through a cross-functional and self-determined team, it is ensured that a broad spectrum of knowledge, experience and perspectives is represented. In order to develop creative and innovative ideas, it is also essential that mindfulness, appreciation and a constructive attitude are at the forefront of team communication.
A Design Thinking Team should be guided by a qualified design thinking coach who will lead the team through the design thinking process and ensure that the focus is maintained and the goals set are achieved.
2) Design Thinking Process: Iterative Approach
The Design Thinking process, based on rapid learning phases and working stages, is based on the work process of designers. The Design Thinking Team undergoes the following six phases in iterative loops:
- Understanding: The actual situation will be analysed and the problem area will be defined. For this purpose, all available information on the topic of the project should be collected.
- Observe: This is about building empathy for users in 360-degree research and understanding their views and pain points.
- Define position: In this phase, the problem is (re)defined from the user’s point of view on the basis of the gained insights.
- Finding ideas: The team then develops a variety of solutions and prioritizes them from the user’s perspective.
- Prototyping: This stage is used to realize one or more concrete solutions that are visualized in the form of a prototype.
- Testing: The prototype is presented to the target group in this phase. The resulting feedback provides further starting points for improvements and alternatives. If necessary, the prototype or the idea must be rejected. With the help of the knowledge gained, new ideas can then be developed and the process is repeated.
The design thinking process is divided into explorative and concrete phases that provide a framework for establishing assumptions for solutions and problems and developing innovative ideas. Depending on the stage, different methodologies such as (Buyer) Personas, Empathy Map Canvas or Business Model Canvas are used to solve the problem. Weak points and bugs can be quickly corrected by early testing, so that the risk of market failures can be greatly reduced.
3) Work Space Design – Flexible Space Concept
Interior design has a significant influence on how people behave and thus, it is a significant element in the creative process. Useful and flexible spaces helps:
- to break through silo thinking and build knowledge networks.
- to create proximity between team members and facilitate planned and unplanned meetings.
- to improve the team dynamic and communication flow and thus enable an active exchange of information.
When it comes to flexible space design, freedom and atmosphere are more important than stylish furniture, lego or digital gadgets.
Flexible space design includes flexible movable furniture, sufficient space for whiteboards and presentation areas, post-it’s and pens as well as materials for prototypical design of ideas. For design-thinking projects, classic conference tables are ideally replaced by standing tables with roles and work is done in front of whiteboards or Metaplan walls, because working in a standing position provides more energy and improves communication and dynamics in the design thinking team.
Design Thinking in Business
Design Thinking is much more than just a process or workshop method to find new solutions to problems: It is also a fundamental mindset about change of perspective, agility and awareness towards the outside world. Design thinking in classically hierarchically managed companies that are not agile nor user-centered is difficult to use and will rarely achieve the desired results. Besides a motivated and willing design thinking team, it also requires willing managers who create the appropriate structural and organizational conditions to be able to use agile methods. In our article Design Thinking in Practice we report on frequent stumbling blocks in the use of Design Thinking in practice.