Design Thinking is taking over the business world

Innovation following a plan

Design Thinking is currently one of the most popular methods when it comes to systematically creative, customer centric innovation. In combination with the proved core competencies of market research, this approach successfully leads to innovative products and services that are tailored precisely to the customers’ wants and needs.  

What exactly does Design Thinking even mean?

Design Thinking is about thinking and designing ingeniously; at the beginning of the process, this also includes not knowing where the journey will lead. Complex problems are approached systematically, always focusing on the human being and his needs. Therefore it is necessary to allow for constant feedback between the developer of the idea and the target group.

What does this look like specifically?

Design Thinking develops tangible ideas. As early as possible, prototypes are used to achieve this kind of tangibility. The target group immediately examines them closely with regard to their practicality. Subsequently, potential flaws may be eliminated. The goal is to identify flaws and weaknesses as early as possible and to make appropriate changes.

Modelling clay, toy blocks, pens, or Legos – a creative environment is particularly essential to create the aforementioned prototypes. Hence it is perfectly fine if the room suddenly looks like a children’s playroom. Everything imaginable is allowed – from crafting to building to scribbling.

Additionally, the composition of the group of people participating in the Design Thinking workshop is also a crucial factor. In order to facilitate the widest possible range of approaches to the task at hand, it is recommended to have participants from as many different disciplines involved (e.g. occupational groups) as possible.

How exactly does the Design Thinking process work?

The Design Thinking process consists of five stages: Empathy, defining the Design Thinking challenge, ideation, prototyping, as well as test and feedback.

1 Empathy

First of all, the participants need to empathise with the target group and gain an understanding of the people. One must recognise and understand the problems of the customers and identify their needs. This may be achieved by observing their environment or in in-depth interviews for example. The participants of the Design Thinking workshop are also able to immerse themselves in the living environment of the target group to experience first hand how the respective focus topic feels for them.

Let us use an example from the energy sector. For instance, during the empathy stage, participants could conduct in-depth interviews with energy customers in order to identify regular touch points with the topic “energy” in their daily lives, or to explore unmet needs of the target group or troubling issues in general. Furthermore, participants could also immerse themselves in the daily lives of the energy customers to observe the respective aspects first hand. For example, an issue or need one could possibly identify would be that energy consumption is hardly fathomable for customers in their everyday lives, making it extremely difficult for them to estimate the total amount of their electricity bill. Hence a lot of people are in for a shock when they receive their annual billing account statement from their energy provider.

2 Define your Design Thinking Challenge

So what exactly is our goal? During the next stage it is time to verbalise a so-called Design Thinking Challenge, which is basically the specific goal of the workshop. During this stage everybody is more than welcome to use superlatives; after all, we are not looking for mediocre, but outstanding ideas. Going back to our example, the challenge could be worded like this: “How can we make the concept of energy consumption absolutely transparent to customers, so that they always know the exact amount of energy costs that has been incurred so far?”.

3 Ideation

Now the participants develop ideas by means of various creativity techniques. For example, one may draw inspiration from innovations from other industries, whose core benefits are subsequently transferred to the problem at hand. Or one might apply the mash-up method, combining elements from two completely different categories in order to expand the scope of thinking. For example, first of all, one would collect all associations regarding the topic “energy”, before doing the same for a completely different topic, like “holidays” or “hotel” for example. Linking elements from both thematic worlds may produce a whole new set of ideas.

4 Prototyping

The participants create prototypes from the most promising ideas and then demonstrate them live to the target group. In terms of creativity, the sky is the limit! In addition to an infinite variety of materials, role-plays are just as appropriate. Everything is allowed as long as it facilitates an authentic experience. Going back to our energy example, one i.e. might develop the cost structure of an energy flat rate. Or the participants could craft a prototype of a power meter that is accurate to the day; instead of only metering kWh consumption, it would also show the actual incurred costs of electricity on a daily basis.

5 Test and feedback

Now the prototypes undergo a live test by the target group. Possible flaws and weak points or any uncertainties become directly visible at this stage. After the live test, the developers receive immediate and effective feedback from the target group.

The participants may now “jump back” to an earlier stage of the process in order to optimise and refine. For example, if needs have been misunderstood, one could jump back to the empathy stage. If the developed idea is basically a good one but could still use some tweaking and refinement, one may jump back to a new round of prototyping. After that, one will run through the subsequent process stages again.

Market research makes Design Thinking even more successful! 

Market researchers are well accustomed to empathise with a respective target group and to understand their needs in detail. Particularly the factors relevant during the empathy stage of the Design Thinking process form part of the core business of market research. We know how to identify customer needs and are also very familiar with innovation research – the ideation stage of the Design Thinking process. Therefore it is only logical that Design Thinking complements the market research Portfolio.


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