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design thinking.

Carla Märkl

Carla Märkl

“You have to think outside the box” or “We have to look beyond the obvious!” are frequently said and well-meant tips when it comes to finding the solution to an existing problem. How exactly this works in practice is usually not said. One approach to developing new ways of thinking that do not adhere to the prevailing or more common problem-solving methods is called design thinking. Unlike the name suggests, this is not about visual design, but rather about adopting the conceptual thinking and iterative approach of a design process when solving problems.

At the heart of design thinking is the goal of improving products by analyzing and understanding exactly how users interact with products and the problems they encounter. Existing assumptions are questioned to find out whether they are still correct or not. This often turns out to be quite difficult, as we naturally develop thought patterns that are hard to break out of.

Design thinking is an innovation approach that combines traditional analysis with intuitive creativity. It is characterized by experimentation and prototyping, while always focusing on the most important part of the product: the user.

when and how to use design thinking.

Do you want to understand how innovation happens in a business environment or are you developing new products and services? Or maybe you are just in the process of creating a more experimental and innovative culture in your company? Whatever the case, Design Thinking will help you. In this process, the problem-solving journey is broken down into phases called exploration, ideation, prototyping, and validation.

phase 1: take a close look at the problem

The phase exploration is concerned first with investigating the initial situation of the process: the problem. In this phase, everything revolves around what makes up the product or service, who the user is, and what his or her problem might be. This involves defining these four points from as many angles as possible:

You may get several results for the individual items. However, these are usually only assumptions that have not yet been proven. You should therefore examine them for accuracy, preferably in an interview with the user. Helpful are often questions like:

Based on the answers, you can tell if your assumptions are being proven or disproven. If new assumptions are made after the interview, challenge them in another interview until you have validated insights for all four areas of exploration.

phase 2: now it’s time to rack your brains

In phase two, the ideation, the idea is formulated. A user journey map that describes the individual steps of your clientele in their interaction with the product is a good way to do this. Highlight the step at which the problem occurs and try to identify further weaknesses that may be related to the problem based on the preceding steps and the subsequent step. Also, directly record suggestions for improvement, as these can later be used to derive features for your product.

Once the journey map has been created, the next step is to define a user flow. This shows the individual steps of the journey and displays them in a sketch. Don’t go into too much detail, but the individual sketches should show the most important elements needed to complete each step.

phase 3: just my (proto)type

In the third phase, called protoyping, you turn the knowledge gained from the first two phases into a prototype. After all, the only way to really know if an idea makes sense is to test it. Now, create a prototype or mockup of the solution; these can be pencil sketches, foam and cardboard models, or pictures that represent the solution in a simplified way. The most important aspect here is to put the insights from the first two phases into a visible form so that you can later validate the assumptions with the user and ensure that the problem has been solved effectively and efficiently.

phase 4: put it through its paces

The final phase in the design thinking process is called validation. Now engage in direct conversation with your customer and make the prototype available for testing. Give your customers a sample task that they should solve with the prototype and ask them to describe each step he or she takes. In doing so, the subject should not be interrupted or influenced. Thinking aloud helps to notice positive and negative experiences while interacting with the solution. Any negative experience indicates a flaw that should be reconsidered. Positive experiences reinforce your assumptions. Afterwards there is room for your questions. These questions can, for example, be aimed at finding out why a certain task was difficult or where there was something missing. Now improve the discovered weaknesses in the prototype and run the test again.

it’s your turn now!

Design thinking is best done in a small, interdisciplinary team. Make sure that there is a member from each of the different areas of your company. Don’t forget that it’s perfectly acceptable to try out different approaches and be creative at first. Give even solutions that initially seem unusual a chance. At the latest in validation, you will then find out what your customers really need. Good luck!

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