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Design Thinking

11.04.2019

Innovation in times of digital transformation

Artificial intelligence, product innovations and customer experience are major topics of digital transformation. However, innovations do not usually arise by chance, but can be methodically promoted, because creativity is a process and as such can be influenced and controlled.

Learn what is necessary for a good Design Thinking process and how you can start pragmatically with a workshop here.

The idea

The conviction that today’s innovations are less driven by specialisation and more by a creative and systematic interaction of different disciplines and backgrounds is at the core of Design Thinking.

One of the greatest pioneers of Design Thinking is the American design agency IDEO. They already designed the first user-friendly toolkits in the 1990s. From there, Design Thinking began its triumphal procession and has produced such bestsellers as children’s toothbrushes with thick handles. By the way, this is typical of Design Thinking: it can be the little things that make the difference between unsuccessful and successful.

The five phases of Design Thinking

According to the IDEO method of David and Tom Kelley, the Design Thinking process is divided into five phases. These are ideally run through consecutively but can also be focused individually.

1ST - EMPATHISE

The initial phase is the “Empathise” phase. It serves to build up empathy for the user. This can be achieved through various methods, such as user interviews, user observations, or putting oneself in the user role.

The aim of this phase is to get to know the user closely enough to make their behaviour predictable. Ideally, at the end of this phase, it should be possible, for example, to forecast the user’s holiday planning, even if this has never been directly discussed with the user.

2ND – DEFINE

After the user has been thoroughly familiarised with the system, the “Define” phase begins. In this phase, all knowledge of the previous phase is collected, and personas are created. Personas can be based on one user or combine several users.

IT IS IMPORTANT THAT A PERSONA ONLY REPRESENTS WHAT HAS ACTUALLY BEEN LEARNED THROUGH THE “EMPATHISE” PHASE.

All ideas and prototypes that follow in the process are always tested as to their usefulness for the developed persona.

During the “Define” phase the problem definition is also worked out. Based on all the previous information, the actual problem of the user is tested. This can lead to surprising findings, so the assumed problem “Users do not want to maintain their data” becomes the actual problem “Users do not find their way around the system”. The solutions can differ drastically, depending on the accuracy of the problem.

3RD – IDEATION

After the problem definition has been worked out, the focus is switched to finding a solution. This phase is called “Ideation”. Here, as many ideas as possible are generated in a short time. Quantity is more important than quality, because it is more likely to find an innovative idea with 500 ideas than with five. For this purpose, various Ideation methods are used, from joint to individual brainstorming.

4TH – PROTOTYPE

Once the team has decided on ideas that they believe have a great deal of innovative potential, the construction of prototypes begins and, with them, the “prototype” phase. During this phase, prototypes are built to illustrate the ideas. On the one hand, the illustration ensures that everyone really means the same thing. On the other hand, new and additive ideas always arise during the construction of the prototypes, always following the motto “Build in Order to Think”.

5TH – TEST

A built/finished prototype is tested directly on the user. This is done in the final Design Thinking “Test” phase. It should be noted that feedback from the user should be obtained as early as possible. In this way, ideas are validated early and an actual demand for the product/service is ensured. In addition, feedback can be used to further develop the product/service until there is an available version that is optimally tailored to the user – “Fail Fast to Succeed Sooner”.

At any point in the Design Thinking process, the result is questioned with regard to the user, and it is tested whether the developed product/service is desired, wanted and helpful.

THIS MAKES THE PROCESS HIGHLY ITERATIVE UNTIL THE BEST POSSIBLE SOLUTION IS FOUND.

Three ingredients that make the process successful

Even though the creative Design Thinking process is constantly evolving, there are always three central building blocks.

1. RELEASING CREATIVE POTENTIAL

Innovation is about creating something new, something that has not seen done yet. Therefore, the release of creative potential is the most important basic requirement.

To unleash creative potential, colleagues with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking are brought together. The heterogeneity of the team ensures that when ideas are generated, innovation is generated by the mutual complementing of ideas. Different experiences and thinking structures offer different approaches, which can often be combined to create innovative solutions.

In addition, an environment that promotes creativity is needed: being able to move instead of just sitting is a prerequisite for this, as are bright, open spaces. Post-its, pens, metaplan walls, flipcharts, handicraft materials and Lego bricks are also helpful.

2. FOCUS ON THE USER

The process itself is then completely focused on the user.

IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THE QUESTION IS CLEARLY FORMULATED FROM THE USER’S PERSPECTIVE AND IS NEITHER TOO LARGE NOR TOO SMALL.

An example of a successful question is “How can I help the user find his way around as quickly as possible when he returns to the homepage”, instead of, for example, “How can I install the button for “Back to homepage” in the top left corner?”.

The user is also asked for feedback at recurring intervals during the process. This allows a product/service to be developed that is optimally tailored to the user and makes everyday life easier for the user. This simplification of everyday life may involve much greater innovations than initially assumed (e.g. children’s toothbrushes, which can now be found in every supermarket).

3. THE ITERATIVE APPROACH

During the Design Thinking process there is always divergence and then convergence. This means that the (idea) horizon is first broadened and then certain things are worked out using various selection methods. This is often referred to as the “Double Diamond”. For example, many ideas are developed, but only a few are subsequently selected for the construction of prototypes. Or many users are interviewed, and personas are then created for a few selected users.

This procedure provides the team with further insight and ideas at any point in the process, which can be used if it turns out that the user does not want what has thus far been developed.

Since ideas and prototypes are validated with the user as early as possible within the process and further developed, changed or even discarded based on feedback, an iterative procedure is used. This iterative procedure is one of the main components for a successful innovation process, because it enables customer-specific development.

A good Design Thinking workshop

For a good Design Thinking workshop it is important to consider the three presented elements of success.

Furthermore, the workshop should be moderated neutrally, empathetically, and with a certain “desire for creativity”. The shortest successful variant of Design Thinking is carried out by Google with its Design Sprint. In general, for a complete and successful Design Thinking process, a whole week should be available.

IF THE NEED IS VERY SPECIFIC, SUCH AS THE GENERATION OF INNOVATIVE IDEAS, VERY SUCCESSFUL DAY WORKSHOPS, FOR EXAMPLE AN IDEATION WORKSHOP, CAN ALSO BE HELD.

In this type of workshop only one phase of the overall process is examined and worked on. The effort is significantly lower as a whole working day is usually sufficient.

In the following, an example of such ideation workshop is described.

The beginning of a workshop, whether one or several days long, should start with an exercise to release creative potential. This is about throwing participants in at the deep end and challenging and encouraging creative approaches to tasks. These exercises can be, e.g., drawing or handicraft exercises combined with the mutual introduction of the participants.

This is followed by the introduction, in which the aim of the workshop and the approach are explained. For some participants, working with a lot of creativity, working under time pressure and not always immediately understanding why they are doing something can be quite unusual.

Since an Ideation workshop starts directly with idea generation (phase 3 of 5), there is already a developed question. If this is not known to the participants, the question is presented to them and possible questions for understanding are clarified. Already developed personas from the Define Phase are also presented to the participants, if they are not already known.

IF QUESTIONS OR PERSONAS WERE NOT YET KNOWN TO THE PARTICIPANTS, AN EXERCISE TO BUILD UNDERSTANDING SHOULD FOLLOW.

For a deeper penetration of the question, for example, an exercise on the topics to which the question refers is suitable.

In the case of a very large question, it can also be advantageous to work on smaller questions of your own that are more practicable, for example, analogous to “How Might We” questions.

Once the question and the user (persona for whom the development is being done) have been clarified, the actual development of ideas begins. Various brainstorming techniques and methods can be used for this.

It is important that as many ideas as possible are developed. This increases the hit rate for a good and innovative idea and it increases the probability that extraordinary and crazy ideas will be promoted. This is good, because it is easier to tame a wild idea than to make a boring idea interesting.

When developing ideas, we first diverge and develop as many ideas as possible, and then converge. From the developed ideas, those that have the greatest potential from the participants’ point of view are selected.

The result of a successful Ideation workshop is a selection of ideas that the participants/customers want to prototype in the next step. Once prototypes for the ideas are available, they can be validated and further developed by testing them on the user.

Are you interested in Design Thinking and would like to enter into a professionally supported process? Get in contact with us!

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