Design Thinking – Solving Problems Simply, Empathically, and Creatively

Jan Schauenberg
13 September 2019

Thinking outside the box, and developing new solutions to highly complex problems from the point of view of the customer, are essential elements of Design Thinking.

Digital transformation in particular poses highly complex problems for companies of all sizes, as well as for society as a whole. Traditional approaches are no longer sufficient when it comes to mastering those challenges.

Design Thinking is aimed at shaping thought processes in new ways, thereby developing new approaches to solving problems. Its basic premise is that problems can be solved better if contributors from various different disciplines collaborate within a creative environment, if the customer’s motivations are comprehensively taken into account, and if the finished solution is being put to the test multiple times.

Design Thinking is modelled after how designers work; this is understood as a combination of comprehending, observing, finding ideas, refining, implementing, and learning. Companies worldwide are therefore able to derive tremendous benefits from this.

Successfully mastering digitalisation requires new methods

Digitalisation creates new expectations and attitudes of customers with regards to products and services. While in the past the focus was on product innovation and services, nowadays it is all about direct customer experience. What a product or service can do is no longer the main point of interest, but rather it is about what the customer experiences when using the product or service. This means that customer experience determines future competitive advantage as well as market share.

Design Thinking enables us to shift our perspective away from the product, and towards the customer. This is done by implementing a variety of new methods, e.g. Customer Journey Mapping, which means tracing interactions at the various customer interfaces, ideally combined with the development of buyer personas, being models of typical customers types with all their specific characteristics and behaviours.

Design Thinking comprises four main components:

  • An iterative process with clear structure, which requires the use of prototypes early on in the process, and focuses on taking into account the customer.

  • Clear values for Design-Thinking workshops, which are centred around visualising shared ideas, strengthening wild ideas, acting democratically, and – if possible – staying on topic.

  • Interdisciplinary teams, in order to facilitate the sharing of expertise and methodical knowledge, thereby making use of broad knowledge and varied solution approaches. In addition, an increasing culture of “we” within collaborating teams enables quicker access to individuals’ potentials, more efficient work processes, and the generation of innovative results.

  • Flexible use of spaces facilitates the blossoming of creative ideas. Examples are: working while standing, shelves full of colourful materials as well as mobile spaces, in order to visualise ideas more quickly, and render them experiential.

This requires management support, as well as support from those wishing to try out such innovations, while recognising their benefits.

Design-Thinking process defines the parameters for digital transformation process

In particular, maintaining a consistent focus on the customer determines the value of Design Thinking in actively implementing digital transformations: genuine customer problems and needs are not lost in the process of product and solution development. Without that, there is a real danger that the developed innovations offer no added value, meaning that, at the end of an intensive process like that, there emerges a solution that the markets do not need.

Using Design Thinking, abstract problems and questions are concretised by the customer, resulting in the insights gained becoming a starting point for the development of products and services aimed at addressing specific needs and problems.


Even now, Design Thinking is already used in large companies in order to breath new life into the development of solutions. However, it requires leaving behind traditional approaches, which entailed honing products and services to a point of perfection, before introducing them to the customer. Instead, solutions should address customers’ pain points, which requires involving the customer early within the process of developing such solutions. Try it out!

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