Design thinking

12.11.2020 | Ideas & Models

Currently, design thinking is a popular concept for creative problem solving, and was first developed by the IDEO ideas agency. In essence, this method aims to produce innovations that are oriented towards the user and satisfy his needs. This is based on the assumption that true innovation can only arise from the intersection of three equally important factors: people, technology and economy. Consequently, it combines desirability, feasibility and viability. Only when all three factors are taken into account can an innovation prevail.

Interdisciplinary Teams

Design Thinking aims to bring together as many different experiences, opinions and perspectives as possible regarding a problem. The background idea is that only interdisciplinary teams can create real, outstanding innovations. In order to ensure the most diverse approaches to a problem, the teams should consist of people with different backgrounds, not only in terms of expertise, but also in cultural and national aspects. Differences in age and gender are also explicitly desired, so that very different perspectives can be taken into account.

Iterative process

An essential element of Design Thinking is a structured process that takes place in iterative loops. Six phases can be distinguished.

The process begins by developing a common understanding of what the problem to be solved is. The goal is to define and delimit the task field and to formulate the project. Typical orientation questions are:

  • Who is the target group?
  • What are the rules in industry?
  • What are the design options and limitations?
  • What are the key success factors?
  • What are the actual challenges?

The problem should be described in the language of the people concerned, which presupposes that one knows these people and their relationship with the problem exactly.

Subsequently, research is conducted into how people have dealt with the problem so far. This requires a careful analysis of the current situation, the actual behavior, background, causes and motives have to be investigated. Intensive research and field observation are necessary for this. On the one hand, information is gathered from primary sources, for example customer data, and from secondary sources such as the Internet or industry data. Moreover, it is advisable to seek direct customer contacts, conduct interviews, visit specific locations if possible and make your own experiences.

Furthermore, it is important to develop genuine empathy for the targeted users and their situation. Only on this basis can we find out what they need, what is important to them, what they want and how they make their decisions. Often they are not even aware of their own requirements, they only become aware of them through a combination of observation, questioning and reflection. In this step, it is important to look at all sides open to results and collect as much information as possible.

The goal of the next phase is to define the core problem for which a solution is to be found. It is important to condense the collected information in such a way that connections, dependencies, similarities, conflicts and tensions become visible.


To better understand the wishes and concerns of the target group, it is often helpful to imagine a fictitious person, get a concrete picture of him or her and give him or her a name. This person represents the target group. The face and the name make it easier for the team members to introduce themselves to the targeted customers, for whom a detailed profile can then be developed.

As soon as the task is precisely defined, the creative part of the work begins. First, as many ideas as possible are developed, and creativity techniques can be used, for example brainstorming or headstand techniques (see below). Only when there are no more ideas, the proposals are structured and evaluated. The evaluation takes place with regard to the desirability, feasibility and economic viability of an idea. Due to the human orientation of Design Thinking, the factor desirability has to be weighted somewhat more strongly than the other two.

In the next step, the collected ideas are examined for their practical suitability. For this purpose, first prototypes are developed with as little effort as possible to illustrate the approaches and make them tangible in practice. Often it is not economical for cost reasons to produce a model for each proposal, so the most promising ideas should be selected. For the other approaches, it may at least be possible to create drawings or virtual constructs with computer equipment (for example CAD models).

Finally, the prototypes produced are tested for their suitability for practical use. This is done in cooperation with potential customers. Because only if the people whose needs are at stake confirm that they are satisfied with the new product, an idea can be described as useful and brought to market with good prospects. A prerequisite for this is an open dialogue with the target group. It is advisable to let the users do their thing and observe how they handle the prototype and what they say about it. Their feedback provides starting points for improvements and alternatives. It is also possible that a prototype, and thus an idea, may ultimately be discarded if no real benefit is obtained.


The working environment plays a major role in design thinking. Ideal are rooms that offer enough space and a relaxed working atmosphere and where there are standing tables, armchairs or recliners. Whiteboards and a variety of materials and equipment should also be available, such as slips of paper, markers, beamers and possibly even a 3D printer for rapid prototyping.