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I worked on this with my colleague philipbrossette

“One step to improve the ability to innovate is to improve in design, because we believe that design in one way or the other way will lead to INNOVATION.”
Hasso Plattner

Source: Adobe Stock


In today´s fast pacing world organizations face multifaceted problems. Corona crisis. Climate change. New technologies. New competitors. These challenges require more than linear thinking to succeed. There is a huge need for innovation and new business models. The best possible outcome is not clear. This is where Design Thinking comes into play. By applying the Design Thinking methodology, organizations can address complex problems and gain a competitive edge. In this article we outline what Design Thinking is about and what are its main characteristics. We also take a look at the process and methods associated with it. 

What is design thinking?

"Design Thinking is a human centric approach for solving complex problems by generating new ideas."
Roger Martin; The Design of Business

Design Thinking has been originally developed as an innovation method for products and services at the Stanford University. Nowadays, we understand Design Thinking as a collaborative and creative approach and a mindset that can be used to solve complex problems and drive transformation processes in society and business.

Design thinking brings basically the best of two worlds together. On the one hand the Economic Values with the artefacts of analytical thinking and the critical consideration towards reliability and feasibility. On the other hand, it also brings the Human Values to the table challenging us to think more from outside in and considerate the artefacts towards validity and desirability.

I'm sure that you have already solved some wicked complex problems. Thus, I believe that you have already applied design thinking, you were just not conscious about that.

Source: Own visualization


Let's just summarize the main principles.

  1. Try to understand other people’s needs. Be careful with assumptions. Not everybody has the same needs you do.

  2. Collaborate radically. Together with others you will achieve better results.

  3. Go out and try new things. Be open minded like a child. Consider also crazy things.

  4. Visualize your ideas. Draw them, build something, so that people can better feel or even try them.

  5. Be open for feedback. Maybe people don’t like your ideas. So what? Fail fast, move on and try it again.

  6. Have fun. Design Thinking can be very joyful


Let's see how it works.

In the entire process we are always doing something. Try things out. The sooner the better.

Source: Own visualization


Start with empathy. You need to find out who has a problem and what is the real problem. For that you need to ask and listen. Try to reach the core instead of symptoms. Once you have the problem you need to collect a lot of ideas how to solve it. The more you have, the better it is. Maybe you have one very crazy idea and that will be the core of your solution.

One or some of your ideas you can prototype. This means you create an illustration or any other simplified reproduction making possible to test your idea. Now you let different people test it if it works out and ask them to provide feedback. Maybe you will need new ideas or prototypes, or it even turns out that you have misunderstood some needs. Remember: Fail fast and try again.

For each step there is a pre-defined time frame. It could be 10 minutes or 2 days.

Design Thinking is using different tools for each steps. There are plenty of books with the different methods (see recommendation below). They help to keep a good space and avoid to drifting off during the process.

An example

Philip and Amina are friends. Philip is the marketing manager of the hotel chain Linden. He found out that business travelers complain about the check-in process at Linden. Philip knows that if he wants to get a good solution for his customers, he needs to ask them what they want. Philip know that Amina loves Design Thinking and thus, ask her if she has an idea how to develop a better arriving experience for Philips hotel quests.

Philip finds a few customers who are willing to talk about their experiences and expectations and conducts interviews with them. Philip and Amina structure their answers and summarize them by developing one fictive persona, Franz Schmidt. Franz is like a real person with his own activities, goals, fears and wishes. Franz is now representing the customer Philip wants to serve at Linden.

Philip and Amina describe Franz Schmidt’s customer journey and highlight the problems from Franz’s view. They collect ideas for each touch point. They select the best ideas and show them again some of Philip’s customers. Now Amina and Philip have a plan which new arriving experience could solve Philip’s problem. They summarize it as a story board, make some drawings how it will look like and even plan the email messages the Hotel Linden would send out to its guests in future. They organize a small party where they present it a couple of Philips customers. After their feedback they know what to improve and begin with a detailed planning. Philip would like to start with the Hotel Linden in Berlin as a pilot.

One year later, the reviews of the Hotel Linden Berlin raised from 4,2 to 4,7. Their room utilization increased 5%, their Opex decreased 12%. Philip is aware that everything is changing. Before rolling out the new arrival experience, he decides to use Design Thinking for a quick review if there are new elements to approve…

How to start

We encourage you to try it in a small project. It can be the development of a new customer facing presentation, your Christmas party or new plans how to spend your time during times with Covid-related restrictions. You do not always need to follow the entire process but can use certain elements of Design Thinking. Just make those first steps and enjoy the process and your results.

If you want to learn more, SAP has developed a precise advanced Design Thinking framework and offers Design Thinking Workshops. Check out your local offers.

Stay open, stay healthy.

Recommended literature to start:

The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, Larry Leifer

Designing Your Life by William Burnett & David J. Evans

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