Solving intricate innovation problems with Design Thinking


Whether through the effects of globalisation or technological changes, our society, and thus our economic life, is becoming more complex. The way we live and work is diversified, faster and therefore more demanding. The increasing pressure for change also affects private sector companies, which must learn to deal with the new complexity and at the same time remain effective.
Not only lean management,but also design thinking helps.

While Lean Management aims to identify and reduce waste potentials so that values can be created without unnecessary costs, design thinking is even more concrete about laying down outdated ways of thinking, learning and working and finding creative solutions to complex problems. But how can Design Thinking help you identify and exploit untapped potential in your company? We will give you answers about this below.

Design Thinking – what can we learn from it?

Lean, Agile and Design Thinking – however different the innovation methods may be, they all aim to create added value for the user. Innovation efforts can vary widely from one company to another and even within a single company; for example, it may be about researching abstract problems or developing the status quo in a particular market area.

Design Thinking systematically approaches problems and assumes that they can be solved better when people work in a creative environment. While the needs and motivations of all are taken into account and promoted, a question and solutions are developed together, which are reviewed in several processes.

The focus of the method and thus the basis for solving tasks is thus the human being – concrete technical solutions follow step by step and with the recognition of the challenges on the side of the customer.

The approach to tricky innovation problems in this way reveals needs that the user is not even aware of and therefore cannot address himself.

Through the step-by-step approach to design thinking, the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a solution or innovation are examined in a fact-based and systematic manner. As its name suggests, the process is based on the work of designers, i.e. a mixture of observation, understanding, finding ideas, refining, implementing and learning.

So far, so good – but how can you use design thinking in your company to instill a more innovative way of thinking and better meet the challenges of our time?

Properly applied, Design Thinking helps you create a work and think culture in your organization that is needed to master digital transformation. The next two sections show how to do this.

Success Factors of Design Thinking

Depending on the application area, design thinking can use a variety of user-oriented methods, which are characterized by visualization and simulation as well as by an iterative, almost researching procedure. Especially in marketing, methods of design thinking are increasingly used, which are suitable for increasing customer loyalty and sales success. This includes in particular the so-called “Customer Journey Map”, which, based on feedback and interviews, presents the most important interaction surgeus with the customer.

The map captures the emotions and preferences experienced by the customer at the various touchpoints – i.e. interfaces and sales channels such as online shop, telephone, e-mail and app.

Based on the digitalization of communication with the customer and the increasing diversification of distribution channels, individual user profiles and general models for customer groups can be developed. These models share certain characteristics and behaviours.

The design-thinking method succeeds in developing innovations more closely to the actual needs of the users. For this purpose, the design thinking uses some working methods from the design sector, which is explicitly user-oriented when developing solutions.

The community culture of work and thought, which is so important for design thinking, is therefore based on three elements:

Multidisciplinary Teams (People):New ideas and solutions for complex questions can best be found in heterogeneous teams. Teams are specifically put together in an interdisciplinary manner, so that ideas that go beyond the respective specialist boundaries can fertilize each other. Diversity can also go beyond professional boundaries and be cultural, national or gendered. It is important to have different perspectives on the same subject. Competitive thinking is replaced by awareness of a common culture that aims to develop innovative ideas together.

Variable Spaces (Place): The best way to develop creative ideas is in an open, flexible working environment that can be spontaneously adapted to the needs of the respective project. Presentation surfaces, white boards and materials for designing ideas are part of this as well as mobile furniture and standing work.

Innovation process (process): The design-thinking process that the work teams go through consists of iterative loops in six different phases. Since this is a process that aims at innovation and therefore also moves into impossibility, an open culture of error is needed. The user experience is always the focus of development; it is about empathic empathy and creative and analytical thinking.

The Design Thinking Components

The clearly structured, iterative process of design thinking ensures the early development of prototypes and helps you to recapitulate and, if necessary, rethink findings several times. Have you already studied agile management methods to minimize risks in the development process? Then you will find that design thinking and agile methods overlap in some basic assumptions. The design-thinking process usually consists of six steps or phases:

Understand: The first step is to gain an in-depth understanding of the problem and to choose a question based on it that addresses the needs and challenges of the project.

Observe: The question is followed by research and observations in order to define the status quo on the one hand and to gain important basic insights on the other.

Point-of-view: This is followed by the interruption of the observations to a prototypical user. Its needs are filtered out on the basis of a clearly defined question and in-depth brainstorming.

Finding ideas: Innovation is at the heart of design thinking and arises primarily in the process of brainstorming and during the development and visualization of different concepts.

The Thiking design defines clear values for the brainstorming phase:

  • Work visually! (Be visual)
  • Only one speaks! (One conversation at a time)
  • Promote crazy ideas! (Encourage wild ideas)
  • Reset criticism! (Defer judgement)
  • Quantity is important! (Go for quantity)
  • Stay on the subject! (Stay on topic)
  • Build on the ideas of others! (Build on the ideas of others)

Prototyping: In order to test the ideas, prototypes are developed and tested on the respective target group.

Refine: Based on the insights gained from the prototypes, the concept will be improved until the optimal, user-oriented product emerges. Refining can also take place within each of the preceding steps.


While Lean stands for the whole way of thinking and working methods that contribute to greater efficiency throughout the value chain, Design Thinking is a method that can be used in all areas of life to solve complex problems.

Thanks to the iterative approach and the application of means and ways of thinking, which are also used in the customer-centric design area, it is better to recognize new opportunities and be directly inspired by the user.

Design thinking is about allowing prototypical thinking by “just doing it.” In addition to prototyping, the rapid revision of ideas is also a key to the design thinking process.

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