As before, many companies do not focus so much on the user perspective when it comes to innovations, but focus on aspects such as technology, feasibility, cost-effectiveness and marketability. How user-friendly a product or service is and whether there is a specific need for it is neglected. Here Design Thinking can help to take a big step towards customer focus.
But how do I establish a design thinking process in the company, for which problems is the method suitable and which requirements do I have to meet? These and other questions are answered in our FAQ, which Huub Waterval, founder and CEO of Nextview, an independent Salesforce consulting company and operator of several design thinking centers, supported us with his know-how.
Design Thinking is a way of thinking and acting that first focuses on people, their needs and values, their technological and business opportunities – before creating a desirable, feasible and lasting solution. In contrast to other innovation methods, design thinking is sometimes not described as a method or a process, but rather as an approach based on the three basic principles of team, space and process.
The design thinking approach can be used for all kinds of challenges. It ranges from a strategic level, such as rethinking business models, to a very concrete level of developing ideas and solving problems from a user’s perspective. Interdisciplinary teams guarantee a holistic approach. What is important for the design thinking approach is the mutual understanding of the people involved – even if it is sometimes uncomfortable to talk about the actual problem.
The idea is not necessarily new: Although the terminology of “design thinking” only appeared a few times in the beginning, the approach has a long history that originated in industrial design before 1960.
Three steps are identified within the design thinking approach:
Discover (such as research and analysis),
Define and create (such as brainstorming)
as well as delivering (for example creating and testing prototypes).
The most important principle of design thinking is the iteration of these steps, whereby this cycle is repeated several times. This approach can also be applied to the strategic design of the developed solutions and their implementation in the company.
Specifically, design thinking is about understanding how customers buy – not how companies sell. The approach is therefore from the perspective of the customer or buyer. Possible negative emotions during a buying process or the customer journey are identified, then eliminated or the entire buying process is optimized thanks to design thinking. Design thinking is not a standard process, but an iterative and creative process that always focuses on the customer and the problem.
Design Thinking initiates, facilitates and enables digital transformation and real changes (keyword: change management). Both internal and external stakeholders are involved in the change process. It is important that you can empathize and listen to what people from different areas of a company have to say. By helping to design the solution to their problems, the stakeholders take responsibility for the designed solutions. Changes and solutions are adopted before they are implemented.
The success of the design thinking method is based on consistently thinking from the perspective of the user, recognizing and understanding their needs and developing and testing solutions based on this deep understanding in an (ideally) multidisciplinary team. Design Thinking is primarily associated with a clearly structured process that can be used to develop innovative problem solutions: research (data collection), definition (data synthesis), presentation (idea development), prototype (development of interaction prototypes) and test (user tests).
Other methods of project management such as the waterfall model are too rigid and are often used in companies with hierarchical structures. Agile methods such as Scrum or Kanban are iterative, but too focused on small-scale individual solutions. Design thinking, on the other hand, creates a real change in the company to create customer value, and the introduction of new technologies enables the organization to deliver this value to its customers.
Design thinking is less a concrete recipe than a new way of thinking. The problems to be solved are mostly complex, unique and do not fit into a specific category in which previous approaches work. In design thinking, understanding the problem is central, while the solution is secondary.
Identifying the problem and researching the actual challenges mark the beginning of a design thinking process. It is therefore in the nature of things that design thinking lives from the challenge. The more complicated the better. Design Thinking takes over the process of collaboration between different teams and methods. It can be used for almost any problem.
Although design thinking is about the power of imaginative and innovative thinking, everything becomes all the more tangible once you start. The actual space in which participants learn, try out, experiment, adapt and gain experience is one of the most important tools in this process. Creative workspaces, ideally outside of your own company, make it easier to get involved with the problem, to release creativity and to develop new ideas and solutions. Design Thinking Centers have now become established for holding workshops.
A Design Thinking Center is a good point of contact for interested companies, organizations and institutions. There you can get an idea of what it means to start transformation projects with Design Thinking instead of technology. Through the use of creative thinking and methods of service design thinking, the participants learn to recognize the actual needs of their target group and to develop sustainable solutions that lead to sustainable business models.
Basically, openness, empathy, personal competence and conceptual thinking are described as the three most important requirements for design thinking processes:
Openness: In addition to curiosity for innovation, one of the most important characteristics is the ability to engage in completely new solutions. The more open a person is to new solutions, processes or ideas of any kind, the more suitable they are as value drivers in a design thinking approach. You need people who enjoy exploring completely new approaches and solutions. The more unthinkable the approach, the more visionary, the better the solutions that design thinking can create.
Empathy: The better people can put themselves in the position of other people (e.g. their own customers), the more likely they are to create solutions for other people. People who are really good at putting themselves in the position of other people and their needs are more likely to contribute to a design thinking project than people who assume needs that can be measured quickly and easily.
Professional competence: Ideas and visions are good, but they become even better if they are seasoned with a good dose of professional competence. For this reason, consultants, for example, can only make a limited contribution to design thinking solutions. The more substance flows in from industry, the better the result will be. Visions alone are not enough. Only the mixture of imagination and expertise creates highly interesting solutions.
Conceptual thinking: The ability to analyze a wide range of information, to translate it into knowledge, to grasp an idea from abstraction and to make it tangible through visualization or prototyping is one of the main advantages of design thinking.
Design thinking workshops have no predefined patterns or procedures. The only requirement is that they support the workshop’s playbook and the tools that support the main principles of design thinking, namely enabling iteration, increasing empathy, facilitating co-creation and promoting visualization and prototyping.
Nevertheless, there are numerous tools and methods that can be combined depending on the problem and phase of the process. Personas, interviews, field observations, customer journeys, customer experience maps and storyboards are used for the analysis. Various creativity techniques are used in the brainstorming process. The subsequent prototyping includes 2D and 3D models, mockups, storytelling, comics and scribbles. Finally, the participants can check the feasibility of the developed solutions in test scenarios (e.g. A / B test, user test, reviews).
The success of a design thinking process largely depends on its participants. An introductory workshop usually takes place with around ten to 15 participants. A Design Thinking Workshop has an average of between 25 and 40 participants. Depending on the task, the number of participants can sometimes increase up to 80. The group of participants should ideally represent the variety of disciplines within the organization and consist of different personalities (e.g. IT department, organization, administration, production, consulting, sales). Even if there are no rigid guidelines as to who should participate from a company, there is a component critical to success: the management. In order to increase the acceptance and later implementation of the solution approaches, at least one representative of the C-level management is required (e.g. CEO, CSO or COO).
After a first design thinking workshop, the ideas, prototypes and results are collected, compared with the business perspective and specific recommendations for action are derived or prepared. In Design Thinking, too, there is no solution without a digital component – this is then supplemented depending on the challenge.
The results of such a first design thinking workshop are then transferred to the inside of the company, firmly anchored and controlled there. In this way, small changes can lead to big changes. Ideally, the ideas and creative approaches become part of the DNA or the corporate culture and are thus fully and sustainably integrated into the change process, which leads to permanent solutions.