Design Thinking – strategic methodology rather than just a makeover

It's an well-known problem – in order to make a better impression on the market, a product is given a couple of new features, a new colour or an additional finishing touch in the final stages, backed up by an extra portion of marketing. In contrast to this scenario, the buzzword Design Thinking can now be found now doing the rounds. This approach uses a strategic and methodological course of action that goes beyond specific changes in design, form or technology. 

Solving problems with a focus on the user

The renowned Hass Plattner Institute talks of placing "user wishes and needs as well as user-focused invention right at the centre of the process". With this approach, Design Thinkers look at the problem through the eyes of the user and try to put themselves in the shoes of the end user, as the think tank explains. This is nothing new in itself – after all, it has always been the case that you need to use bait that the fish will like the taste of. A new factor, however, is the clear methodology which is used to identify innovative solutions to problems – this uses the overlap between technological feasibility, economic sustainability and the desirability of a product for the customer. 

New team culture of thinking and working

In order to identify a complex problem, for example in the form of a new product, Design Thinking demands a radical departure from the experts and their departments who were employed up until now. Instead, a joint culture of thinking and working is needed that functions on an interdisciplinary level. For this purpose, in addition to the technical developers, it is also necessary to bring together, for example, buyers, specialists from production, sales staff, personnel from the customer hotline and CSR managers, so that a concrete solution can be developed under supervision, looking at the issue from as many perspectives as possible.

Spaces for experimentation to shape the future 

The work is carried out in flexible-use rooms that have space for visualisation and that promote an exchange of information and ideas between the teams. These may, for example, be experimentation rooms, as described by the Federal Ministry for Work and Social Affairs in the portal of the same name – those who are seeking new solutions need transparency and curiosity, courage and creativity, an open exchange of ideas and information, and they need to be prepared to make mistakes. The Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) has likewise identified some success factors for new ways of working in the new age of working environments for their project "New Work". Another example, the office solution "InnOffice Lab" from Biella and Bigla Office in Switzerland, offers suitable spaces for Design Thinking workshops with their ideas for the office of the future.

The six phases of the Design Thinking process

The Design Thinking process is based on six phases: 

  1. Understanding the problem
  2. Observation of users
  3. Defining and consolidating the point of view
  4. Finding ideas
  5. Developing prototypes
  6. Target group tests 

The process has been set up in such a way that feedback is repeatedly given between the various phases. For example, do the ideas still correspond with the observations? Or, does a prototype really fulfil the defined point of view?

Award for candle, cutting board and intelligent care patch 


The Institute for Universal Design (IUD) goes one step further. In their approach to Design Thinking, they not only focus on solving problems successfully from a customer and company point of view. Rather they also believe that functionality, ergonomics, materials, visualisation of use, user interfaces and aesthetics should all be incorporated into the process in a meaningful way. Products, architecture and services are scrutinised on an annual basis with regard to these criteria. Here you can find an overview and the IUD 2018 Yearbook.

Service Design

In the same way as product development is achieved through Design Thinking, Service Design, also known as Service Design Thinking, ensures that services can be operated intuitively. US giants like Airbnb, Apple or Uber are perfect examples of the way the complete process for a service can be designed in a user-friendly way. From registration and the user experience, right through to payment – all the services seem to be extremely easy and self-explanatory. 

This learned and familiar way of guiding customers represents the benchmark, in particular for B2C offerings in the digital world. Online shop providers, banks and insurance companies and transportation providers need to use it as a basis when they are designing their range of services. Offline problems at customer interfaces can also be approached using the same principles and can be solved using systematic and strategic methodology.

About the author

Thomas Tjiang is business and local journalist and communication consultant. Since the start of the  1990s,  he  has  worked  for  all  types  of  media,  such  as  daily  and  monthly press, the radio, TV, news agencies and on-line editorial offices. The freelance expert for literature and communication science has lived in Nuremberg for 30 years. 

Would you like to learn more about the industry?

Expert knowledge, practical tips for retailers and the latest industry developments. Stay well informed at all times with the Insights-X newsletter.

I am interested as a: