How design thinking works
All roads lead to Rome – or, in this case, to the best solution for the user. How do you create innovation as a company, whether in the product portfolio or in the corporate culture? There are many approaches to this. One of them is called design thinking. Here’s how it works.
Brainstorming, brainwriting, think tanks: there are countless ways in which teams search for – and find – innovative solutions, products and business models. One of these methods is design thinking. It was created in the mid 1980s by the innovation agency IDEO and is now more popular than ever.
Design thinking: Definition
‘Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.’ – Tim Brown, executive chair of IDEO. Essentially, it is a matter of developing an idea that is humanly desirable, technologically feasible and economically viable.
The four forms of design thinking
Four forms of design thinking have established themselves over time: The most widespread is creative problem solving, which companies use to develop needs-based innovations. Another type is sprint execution. With this option, you usually want to quickly develop a market-ready product (time management!). And are you familiar with creative confidence? This is also a popular design thinking approach that promotes a company’s entrepreneurship. And finally, we have innovation of meaning. Companies use this to define the vision and values with which their products and services are linked. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at creative problem solving – the most commonly used form. But first we need to talk about the most important principles of the method.
The four basic principles of design thinking
The human rule: Regardless of the context, design thinking is essentially a social approach. People are at the heart of every innovation.
The ambiguity rule: Ambiguity is inevitable – eliminating or oversimplifying is not an option. Only when you reach the limits of your knowledge and are willing to experiment can you see things differently.
The redesign rule:
Technologies and social conditions are constantly evolving, but people’s basic needs remain unchanged. In other words, we are only redesigning the means to meet those needs and achieve the desired results.
The tangibility rule:
Ideas must be made tangible (prototyping) so that they can be communicated more effectively and comprehensibly.
The five phases of creative problem solving
The process itself, the different phases of creative work, is central to the method. Because for every design-thinking process, interdisciplinary teams have to think like a total beginner to start with. In other words, you have to assume that you know nothing. You are only finished once your idea has been thought through and turned into a reality. Everything in between is a step-by-step iterative process in which the user and their needs are foregrounded.
Phase 1: Understanding the target group
Everyone in the team focuses on the customer/user and their needs. What are their individual desires and goals – both rationally and emotionally? The answers to these questions are mapped out at this stage. In other words, empathy and absolute customer centricity are key here.
Phase 2: Defining the issue
During the empathy phase, you gained valuable insight into your customers’ needs. Now it’s time to skilfully analyse these observations and define the core issue for your target group. The scope of the issue is now precisely set out. You can also designate certain people to help you think and act in a human-centred way.
Phase 3: Finding ideas
This phase of the design-thinking process calls for all your team’s creativity. It’s time for ideas. With the knowledge from the two previous phases, you now have everything you need for good ideas. Remain open to the unconventional, think outside the box and consciously break away from your usual setting. Work in unfamiliar places and choose creative methods such as brainstorming, mind maps, the morphological matrix or other tools that drive your team’s creativity.
Phase 4: Creating a prototype
Time for experimentation. In this phase, the main aim is to find the best possible solution for the customer/user’s problem. You need to transform your ideas into concrete products/services/solutions. Typically, you would work methodically here to gradually approach the desired solution step by step. However, you may have to restart the process after the first attempts at improving things if things are not working as effectively as hoped.
Phase 5: Testing the results
What would a prototype be without testing it? Exactly. And although this is the final stage, the design-thinking process is never really complete. The results of the tests are often the starting point for the next set of issues. In most cases, teams return to previous phases to make further changes or optimisations, or to discard alternative solutions once and for all. Especially as design thinking is characterised by constantly questioning the status quo and looking for a better solution.
How do designers think?
In the right place.
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