Design Thinking - a customer-centric method for visible successes

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Design Thinking - a customer-centric method for visible successes

With the method, which is described as iterative and user-oriented, it should be possible to solve complex problems in a wide variety of areas of life and develop superior solutions. What is special about design thinking is the customer-centric approach.

In design thinking, economic viability, feasibility and desirability play an essential role. However, the concept not only includes classic design disciplines such as shaping and design, but above all takes into account user wishes and the needs of customers, so that one can speak of a user-oriented method.

What is Design Thinking?

"What is design thinking?" - this question is not only asked by marketing experts, but by everyone involved with the method or process. The official definition of design thinking describes it as a methodology and a way of thinking at the same time. As a coach or decision-maker in marketing, it helps you to develop your creative thinking. Potential to solve complex tasks or problems better and more efficiently.

The design thinking process is usually about innovation projects. These can be developments of new products or services, but also optimizations of operational processes as well as changes to existing procedures. In design thinking, all proposals and actions are considered from the user's (customer's) point of view. In order to achieve the desired goal, various methods are applied. The Setting Goals is to identify the wishes and needs of target groups and to be guided by the needs of customers and companies when developing possible solutions.

Origin and history

Design thinking literally means design thinking. The method originally comes from agile working and owes its name to the way designers work. These creative professionals rely entirely on their intuition when observing trends and looking at the prospects for success of their projects from their clients' point of view.

Officially, the method was developed by Larry Leifera professor at Stanford University in the USA, the computer scientist Terry Winograd and David Kelley, the founder of the innovation agency IDEO. In 1991, the first conference, the "Design Thinking Research Symposia" took place on this topic. Since then, the research and implementation of Design Thinking has been promoted.

Even though the origins of Design Thinking go back several years, the method is considered a trendy tool that aims to make the user-centered approach accessible to other fields as well. At the time, it was only available in the Innovation Management common.

design thinking process

How does Design Thinking work?

Design thinking is about developing products, services and measures or optimizing them so that they meet the actual needs of the users. To achieve the goals, you first analyse the expectations of those who want a solution.

A design thinking process consists of several phases. For example, you start by re-evaluating the different aspects of a problem. You do this by analyzing and questioning the knowledge you already have. In this way, you look at problems or situations from different angles, so that new or alternative solutions emerge.

Design thinking is a modern form of corporate strategy. With it, you ensure that customer needs and desires are sufficiently considered when developing new products, services or processes. In this context, design thinking is referred to as:

  • Mindset
  • Approach
  • Method set
  • Process

is described. The definition of design thinking also addresses the methodological aspect. Through a methodical setting, creative thinking should be encouraged and promoted so that innovative ideas can be used in a goal-oriented manner.

Design thinking to produce practical results

Design thinking requires a constant examination of the needs and mindset of the target groups, the company's own perceptions and goals. Behaviours and processes are therefore closely scrutinised. First, ideas and solutions are developed in the form of prototypes so that they can be tested by potential users and evaluated by feedback before they are completed, launched or implemented. The aim is to generate practical results.

The aim of this method is to develop creative solutions to problems or tasks and to enable the development of new products, services or business areas. Design thinking is thus about innovation, although this does not necessarily have to be an invention.

Optimizations of existing processes can also be meaningful innovations if the company can save time and money as a result. If ideas lead to internal company processes and procedures being designed more effectively, this is definitely a worthwhile innovation for a company.

Design Thinking procedure, structure and processes

The exact processes in Design Thinking are not uniformly defined and can differ slightly depending on the respective company and the objective. Stanford University/USA has used the following design thinking process as an example:

  1. Understand
  2. Watch
  3. Focus
  4. Find ideas
  5. Develop prototypes
  6. Test phase

The Design Thinking process begins with the first step, understanding the problem. Now possible solutions or improvements have to be developed. In this phase, a lot of research is done, observations are made, interviews are conducted and statistics are evaluated. Alone or in a team, one looks at the problem from the user's point of view.

The second step is to observe. Questions are asked, arguments are collected and the information brought to light is discussed. It is important to ask precise questions. The approach can be very different, as the first step is to collect alternative suggestions that can help optimise processes and develop individual solutions.

Promising approaches

In the subsequent focusing, the third phase in design thinking, one concentrates on particularly promising approaches that could enable a solution to the problem and further development. As soon as ideas are found and classified as feasible, the production of physical prototypes (for product manufacturing) or the development of various solution proposals (for services) is started.

The fifth phase is dedicated to "design thinking prototyping". Prototyping is the active core in the design thinking process and is intended to present the developed ideas with as little effort as possible. A prototype is not necessarily an object. Prototypes developed in design thinking also include new applications (paper prototypes), workflows and processes (storyboards), role plays (social interaction) and business models.

Flexible application

The production of a video clip as a prototype for the presentation of a product idea is also conceivable. In the subsequent test phase, the prototypes developed for this purpose are checked for their practical suitability before a decision is made.

In order to find suitable solutions and achieve improvements, the individual process steps are applied very flexibly in the respective Design Thinking projects. It can therefore happen that certain phases are run through several times.

To achieve the goals in design thinking, creating valuable solutions to problems and implementing innovation, these three components are of particular importance:

  1. technological or practical feasibility
  2. economic viability
  3. human desirability

In particular, the human perspective is considered important in design thinking as a benchmark for designing innovative products, services or experiences that are feasible and marketable.

What design thinking methods are there?

A distinction is made between different methods that have emerged over time. Thus, the process flow can sometimes consist of five phases, and in other cases - seven. However, the basic content is always the same.

Regardless of the method, design thinking is about developing possible solutions for complex problems or for problems and challenges that are not yet clearly defined. Therefore, different ways of thinking and working are used in Design Thinking, which we briefly explain here.


Mind mapping belongs to the visual possibilities. With the help of representations, the so-called mind maps, ideas are visually mapped and then analyzed. This methodology should help to better understand connections and relationships. In addition, mindmapping is said to be helpful in pointing out and documenting ideas and ways of thinking. Mindmaps can also serve as a summary and visualization of information.

conduct interviews

An interview is an arranged conversation involving at least two parties, namely the questioner and the person being interviewed. However, several interviewees can also participate in an interview. In design thinking, the team elicits information as holistically as possible through contextual interviews. Specific questions are used to gain detailed insights that can later be analyzed and classified accordingly.

When talking to customers, it's important to think about the topics you want to focus on in the interview. Are there any questions to clarify? Prepare for customer interviews by making a list of the key questions you want your counterpart to answer. The information and answers gathered during the interview are recorded in writing and then edited. This way you can name the most interesting insights and statements.


Brainstorming is an essential part of idea generation and is not only used in design thinking. This established technique generates as many new ideas as possible. The correct formulation of the question is crucial for the quality of the results.

It is important that every participant in the team is actively involved in the brainstorming process and contributes to the brainstorming and solution development with their own creative ideas. Brainstorming is used as a method when the highest possible number of ideas is desired. Since the process can help overcome creative blocks, it is often used in design thinking to develop innovative ideas.

design thinking methods

Where is design thinking used?

In principle, design thinking can be used in every area of business and daily life as well as in a wide variety of industries. The range of applications of this method is constantly expanding. In a company, for example, the methodology is taken into account in the development of product, service and process innovations.

Design thinking is often used for future-oriented topics such as economic and organizational development, new business models, strategic planning and digitalization processes.

Design sprints are a special variant that promise quick solutions for the development of new products or the improvement of existing ones. By creating prototypes and testing ideas with volunteers, months of research processes are compressed into a few days.

What are the benefits of design thinking?

This is intended to shorten long processes and enable agile working. The advantages of this method include:

Areas of application

The areas of application for design thinking are very diverse. With its creative, open and systematic approach, this method is an ideal procedure model for the most diverse questions and problem areas. Therefore, Design Thinking can be found in almost all industries, areas and Business Models. The
The basic philosophy of this method, the user orientation and the iteration have proven themselves in practice for a wide variety of topics.

Criticism of Design Thinking

Although many advantages are attributed to this method, there are also some critical remarks. Cause for criticism are, for example, the higher expenditure of time and personnel that this approach requires. The weakness of the method is also said to be that further possibilities for improvement are constantly sought and the solution development is neglected.

It is therefore advisable to only allow a certain selection of ideas at an early stage and to focus on feasible solution approaches. The classic Design Thinking process also lacks the implementation of a proposed solution as a final step. Another point of criticism is the fact that it is a very creative method, but there is no guarantee of success.

Design Thinking Examples

As a coach you use this innovative method in the following areas:

  • Teambuilding
  • Creativity Training
  • Innovation training
  • Workshops

With your Training as a Business Coach you will learn further methods and business coaching skills that will help you to advance in the business environment and to produce visible successes!

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