First of all, you should consider: What are my (potential) customers looking for? After all, they are the ones whom you are developing solutions for. Design thinking is an approach to idea development that clearly focuses on customer centricity.
Design thinking is a method that completely focuses on the needs of the customer. Originally, it was a way of working used by industrial designers to stimulate their creative process and develop customer-centric products.
Larry Leifer, Larry Leifer, Terry Winograd and David Kelley from Stanford University eventually transferred the creative process into a larger context and thus established design thinking as a method that can be applied in many industries, to the most diverse questions and in many companies. Design thinking’s goal is always to produce an innovation – one that the customer really wants.
The term “hidden needs” is also used here, i.e. the hidden needs of the target group or users that you have to find out. In short: Give your customers something they need but have perhaps not yet expressed. Observe and put yourself in the perspective of the people you want to support with your solution.
Design thinking is one of the agile methods in project management, as the working method is very open and leaves room for creativity and independent work. Inflexible thought patterns and outdated structures are overcome. Independent teams come to the fore, whose members are in constant exchange with each other and can thus react quickly to changes.
Design thinking is dynamic – and deliberately plays with the unattainable. After all, if you only think within the fixed framework of what you already know, you are unlikely to come up with a new idea. And certainly not develop an innovation. Design thinking therefore pushes the limits of what is possible, at least in thought.
No concept is too crazy, no approach too unrealistic – nothing is impossible! First of all, when it comes to fulfilling customer wishes, every new flash of inspiration is welcome. This is exactly what distinguishes Design Thinking from other methods: There are no limits to creativity. What really works in the end turns out later in the process. In the beginning, the following applies: Thoughts are free.
Three special features contribute to Design Thinking producing successful results:
According to the method of the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), the iterative process used in Design Thinking consists of six steps. The whole process begins with everyone becoming aware: I know that I know nothing (“Beginner’s mind”). So everyone should start development with a fresh mind instead of making pre-assumptions. In the beginning, you don’t know what your clients want – you have to find out. Keep an open mind to the learning and creative process that follows.
Whereas in many industries and companies teams consist only of people who have the same or at least a similar professional background, Design Thinking recognises the strength of mixed teams and makes interdisciplinarity a core competence: the more different focal points and disciplines are included in the team, the more perspectives open up.
To solve problems, design thinking does not rely on a single technical expertise. Rather, the focus is on ideas from a wide variety of sectors and subject areas. It is therefore only an advantage when social scientists and mathematicians, business scientists and journalists or engineers and linguists come into contact with each other and work together on a solution. So many different approaches and such diverse background knowledge – that means lots of new ideas.
When working alone, you should at least try to leave your usual knowledge bubble and think outside the box. For this, you can try out some creative techniques. These will spark new ideas and show you other perspectives.
Variable rooms are basically just the continuation of the many perspectives you get by using creative techniques: Everything is intermixed, flexible and open – so why should the space in which the new concepts emerge be stiff and confining? Spatially, too, space must be created for ideas and creativity in design thinking.
Whiteboards, notes, flipcharts and blackboards should find a place wherever they are needed. No area of free space should be wasted on unnecessary furniture. Chairs are unnecessary – when standing and walking around, thoughts may flow a little more freely. In short: Design Thinking needs space, and you should give it to the
The iterative process in design thinking consists of six steps that follow one another. The first step is to really get to know the customer and identify their needs. This is achieved with an empathetic approach. And this is how it works:
In the beginning, it is necessary to define the initial situation in the Design Thinking process. That means: Think about what problem you want to solve:
So you make assumptions about what problems your customers have. Important: This is only about defining the problem. Possible solutions to problems are not yet relevant! These will only become concrete in the next steps.
The core of the whole method is this step: you engage directly with your customers. In this phase of design thinking, you try to understand their needs and put yourself in their shoes. Try to find out what fears, feelings and needs your target group or potential users of an innovation have.
Instead of making assumptions, find out! How do your customers see the problem? The best way to do this is to actually ask them. It is also helpful if you immerse yourself in the reality of other people’s lives.
Really get to know your customers in this step – and leave your point of view completely out of it! The focus is on your (potential) customers and their problems and wishes.
Now you have to compile the knowledge you have gained about your customers’ needs. Form an overall picture and bring the wishes of your target group to a point. What were the most important findings? What surprised you? Where were your assumptions confirmed or not confirmed?
Based on these findings, you can now create a persona – that is, you describe the typical customer you want to help with your solution. Describe in detail how old this customer is, what he does for a living, what his hobbies are, what he is annoyed about or what makes him happy. Put yourself in his or her shoes as much as possible. Also give him or her a name. The persona you describe is your ideal first customer who will buy the solution you have developed for his or her problem.
Now you have a problem that you have defined and had confirmed by your target group. And you have your ideal customer in front of you in the form of a persona. You can now use this to find solutions to the problem. Proceed in three steps:
Prototyping? At first, that sounds very technical. However, a prototype does not have to be something material. It is simply about developing your solution in a way that it could actually look like in the end. It doesn’t have to be perfect yet, but you should give it a first form. The solution should become tangible.
This is the serious part: presenting the result of the prototyping to your client. But it’s not about convincing the client or selling your idea. The goal of this phase in Design Thinking is to collect feedback. Observe how the customer deals with your solution and ask him specifically what he thinks of it.
Important: Keep an open mind about the result! If you notice that the client can’t do anything with your solution, then you should admit to yourself that you still have to change a lot or even discard the idea altogether. Prepare yourself for the fact that negative criticism can and may follow. You should put your ego behind you – after all, it’s about your customers’ needs, not your own.
Then you have to reflect: Does the whole idea have to be thrown over or is it enough to improve a few things in the prototype? Depending on how the feedback turned out, you have to start again – either with the development of a completely new idea, with the revision of an existing idea or only with the adaptation of the prototype.
The important thing is to take the feedback seriously. But be aware that even if you have to start all over again, it is a process that sometimes takes longer, sometimes shorter. See it as a path to success, not failure. When you feel that your customers like your prototype, then you can start to actually implement your solution. You have done it!
Design thinking is a customer- or user-centred method with which you can get to know your customers very precisely. In the process, you find out what they want and develop a customised solution for problems. No matter what industry or company you work in – the absolute customer-centricity benefits everyone. Design thinking awakens creativity and gets you closer to your target group – and that is of central importance for sustainable success. Try it out and dare to apply the method!
As Customer Success Manager and certified Master Coach (DBCA), I experience daily how important customer-centred thought processes and openness to change are for innovative idea development.
Effective tools and a team open to experimentation will help you get your company on the road to success through Design Thinking.
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