Design Thinking: Innovation in 6 Steps

Design Thinking in der Praxis
Stephanie Piehlmeier
Business skills

Innovative products, services and business models: Companies need new ideas all the time. What products do our customers want? What do they expect from our service? How can we hold our own in the market? Creative solutions can be developed with ease using design thinking. Learn how this works and what is behind design thinking in this article.

PINKTUM_Design Thinking_2023

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a systematic innovation method for solving complex problems and developing creative ideas. New products and services are conceptualized from the user's point of view. The aim is to create real added value for users and to bring solutions to the market that are suitable for everyday use. Because the innovation process is strongly oriented toward the needs and desires of the users, design thinking is considered a human-centered approach.

Innovation = People + Technology + Economy

Innovations are created at the interface between people, technology and the economy. This means that the results of the design thinking process not only benefit the users—they are also technically feasible and economically viable. By implementing their ideas early on in the process and gathering feedback from users, the design thinking team brings the solutions closer and closer to the expectations of users and the market. Ideas that prove to be uneconomical or even impossible to implement can be adapted in the nick of time. This makes the products and services developed marketable and competitive.

Where does Design Thinking come from?

Design thinking has its origins in the innovation and design agency IDEO in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. At Stanford University, the approach was further developed, and soon it was known far beyond the tech scene. The beauty of design thinking is that it is suitable for any industry. Viewing things through the eyes of your own users and developing step-by-step solutions—this can be applied to almost any company.

The Principles of Design Thinking

Design thinking thrives on three central elements:

  • interdisciplinary teams (People)

  • variable spaces (Place)

  • clear approach (Process)

Interdisciplinary Team

Design thinking teams usually consist of five to six people with different professional backgrounds and, ideally, different biographies and personalities. The more heterogeneous the team, the better! As each person brings their own unique perspective to the problem, creative collaboration brings together diverse ideas that can transcend departmental boundaries. What is most important is that there is no competition between team members: "Who has the best idea? Who will come out on top?" Everyone should pull together and work together to achieve the best possible result.

Variable Spaces

In a conference room with white walls and comfortable chairs, it's hard for creativity to spark. To encourage the design thinking team to think and share creatively, an appealing space with appropriate working materials is helpful. Post-its, craft supplies, seating areas, space for models...—with these it's easier for the team to get into a creative headspace. Think of the space for a design thinking project as a workshop where creative chaos is allowed. To avoid interrupting the flow because the room has to be cleaned up for other purposes, ensure it is reserved exclusively for the project. In this space, the team can collect all ideas and prototypes and make them come to life. After all, a central principle of design thinking is visualization.

Clear Approach

Creative chaos, but with a system. In design thinking, the team follows a clearly defined process. Each phase is an important sub-step on the way to successful innovation and can be executed with different methods. As a rule, each phase is run through not just once, but several times. The team goes back a step or even several steps as often as necessary in order to readjust. Design thinking is therefore not a linear process. The steps are not rigidly run through one after the other but can be repeated in the middle of product development if necessary. This approach is referred to as iterative.


The Process of Design Thinking

The design thinking process can be illustrated using various models. The double diamond and the six steps (or phases) are particularly common.

Double Diamond: Problem and Solution Space

The double diamond describes design thinking as a process in two "spaces":

  • Problem space Here, the team deals intensively with the problem to be solved from the user's point of view.

  • Solution space This space is about developing and trying out new ideas to solve the problem.

Both rooms are opened simultaneously at the start of the process. This allows for broader views on the topic and different perspectives. As the rooms close, the team condenses the vast amount of information, structures it, and focuses on a common perspective. This opening and closing of the spaces can be visualized by two diamonds.

The 6 Steps of the Design Thinking Process

The problem space and the solution space each include three concrete steps.

Steps in the problem space:

  • Understanding: Identify, analyze and comprehensively understand the problem

  • Observe: Observe and interview customers to understand the problem from their perspective (e.g., with customer journey maps or interviews)

  • Define view: derive central pain points of the customers and define a common point of view on the problem to be solved

Steps in the solution space:

  • Find ideas: generate new ideas (e.g., with creativity techniques such as brainstorming or the Walt Disney method), evaluate and prioritize them

  • Develop prototypes: design initial models and prototypes (e.g., from building blocks or paper)

  • Test: Test prototypes and have them evaluated by the target group


More than a Method: The Mindset in Design Thinking

Design thinking is not only a systematic method but also an attitude and work culture. In order for a diverse team to develop a new, user-oriented and at the same time profitable product, it needs an open and innovative mindset. Curiosity, courage and willingness to change are complemented by empathy—for both users and colleagues—and collaboration. A good dose of frustration tolerance can't hurt either, for example, if a prototype isn't well received by the users or it's already back to the brainstorming phase.

Design Thinking and Other Agile Methods

As a flexible, iterative innovation method, design thinking fits perfectly into the agile method landscape. Other agile methods such as Kanban or Scrum can be easily combined with the Design Thinking process. For example, your team can use design thinking to develop an innovation and then implement it in a Scrum project ready for the market.

Design Thinking

You now understand how design thinking works in theory. Are you now interested in how a design thinking project works in practice? In our online learning course (e⁠-⁠training) "Design Thinking" you get insight into a real project! In-depth information and suggestions on how to transfer this to your everyday work are also included in the e⁠-⁠training.

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