das magazin / 29 March

    Design Thinking – Innovation Method & Innovation Culture

    Design Thinking is a systematic innovation approach to complex problems in all areas of life.

    Design Thinking is a systematic innovation approach to complex problems in all areas of life. Instead of starting with the issue of feasibility like a lot of companies do, the users’ wishes and needs are the focus of the process. Design Thinkers see the problem with the eyes of the user and try to immerse into their situation.

    Design Thinking calls for constant feedback between the team designing a solution and the target group. Design Thinkers talk to the users and observe their behaviour and routines closely. Solutions and ideas are communicated and made tangible in the form of prototypes early on. Through this process, potential users can test them and give valuable feedback long before completion or market launch. This is how Design Thinking generates user-friendly results.

    Design Thinking starts with a challenge that focuses on human needs and wishes, in order to design innovative products, services and experiences that are not only attractive but also feasible and viable.

    Three important factors make Design Thinking successful: the collaboration in multidisciplinary and decisive teams, a Design Thinking working process and variable spaces that foster collaboration. Prof. Uli Weinberg, Director of the School of Design Thinking, emphasises that “Design Thinking is more than a creative process: its power lies in the new and surprising forms of creative collaboration. With the focus on collaborative abilities, iterative processes and variable spaces it offers the necessary culture change elements.”


    Silo-thinking was yesterday. Innovation and answers to complex challenges develop best in hierarchyirrelevant multidisciplinary teams. Diversity in skills, functions, curiosity and openness for other perspectives are the basis for the creative and failuretolerant working culture. Teams always work towards tangible and concrete experiences that are then tested with real users to have the biggest learning effect possible. Working in small groups makes sure that all perspectives are taken into account. The teams develop a strong team spirit and a high acceptance for the developed concepts, which has a long lasting impact.


    The Design Thinking Process is based on the working process designers follow intuitively. It leads teams in iterative loops through six different phases. In order to arrive at a solution, first you must really understand the problem. Each project starts with a concrete design challenge like: “How can we redesign first aid for nonprofessionals?” First we start with the understanding phase in which the team discovers and defines the problem. In the observation phase, the team dives into the world of the user and develops empathy. Methods like interviews, observation of behaviours and routines and immersion into the user’s life enable this access. In phase three the research insights are gathered and synthesised and a common point of view is defined.

    In the ideation phase the team first develops a quantity of ideas and then focuses on the quality of them. Finally the ideas are made tangible through prototyping. The prototypes are then tested with the users and iterated. Iteration means constantly improving ideas or even rejecting them and starting afresh.


    In order to work in a creative and collaborative way the team needs variable spaces that also support the flexibility and dynamic of innovative thinking. This is achieved with, for example, movable furniture, enough space for whiteboards and presentation space as well as prototyping materials like Lego, clothes or pipe cleaners. Design Thinkers work a lot standing up in order to keep an active body posture. Innovation spaces in the Design Thinking culture are not secret and lonely labs but places for collaboration in which teams can meet and exchange ideas any time. Because of this, collaboration becomes a dynamic and creative experience for all.

    About Flavia Bleuel

    As a programme manager at the HPI Academy, Flavia Bleuel designs and leads innovation workshops for professionals, and coaches students at the HPI School of Design Thinking. She is a co-founder of the Coobeya Expert Network for Innovation and lectures in User and Communication Research as well as Media Psychology. Additionally she offers training in the analysis of Nonverbal Communication.