What is Design Thinking?


Engineering – Design

Whether developing products or optimizing production processes, creativity is required in the job. Design thinking can help to find new solutions. For many people, design thinking is synonymous with brainstorming, post-it, and imaginary personas based on confused ideas. But that’s not true. Those who get involved in the creative work process can learn a lot about themselves, product development, and working in a team. Put yourself in another professional area: Think like a designer, why not? In addition to the approach of an engineer, completely new aspects can arise that advance your project. Design thinking is about adopting ways of thinking from creative professions. The goal is to systematically produce creative ideas and innovative products. How does a designer think?

  • Designers are deeply concerned with products, services, and the user experience
  • The focus of designers is on people
  • Designers work with prototypes and test them on users
  • Work processes do not run in a straight line but in loops
  • Errors are welcome and expedient

In this way, designers eliminate the weaknesses of a product. Engineers can use these approaches to think outside the box on the one hand, but also to really create products that people need on the other.

How Does Design Thinking Differ From Traditional Methods of Product Development?

There is no uniform definition for Design Thinking, but the basic principle is always the same: An interdisciplinary team is put together for the process that combines different areas of expertise. The focus is on the needs of the customers. The entire development is based on them, from the first idea through the prototypes to the finished product. At first glance, this may sound familiar to most engineers. In practice, however, the methods differ significantly from the typical approach in companies:

In design thinking, the interdisciplinary team is involved in the entire development process and not, as usual, only selectively when it comes to topics from their own specialist area. The needs of the customers are not obtained through marketing analyzes or statements from the sales force. Instead, the team goes straight to the customer who later also assess the first prototypes. The different phases mean that creativity is not restricted at the beginning by counter-arguments such as feasibility or profitability. There is a focus on the development process, which otherwise can rarely be implemented in everyday work. Design thinking means that the creative processes in the company are given space and time to make them possible at all. In this sense, it is not just a method of product development, but a change in corporate culture.

How Does Design Thinking Work?

Design thinking begins with an examination of how one’s own workspaces encourage instead of hindering creativity and teamwork, and how team success can be placed above individual performance. But also with how products are developed that users really need and inspire. As an engineer, you should take a step back and put the success of the team above your own concerns.

  • Phase 1: How Does the Design Thinking Process Start?

If the team comes together for the first time, the first step should be to clarify the framework conditions for cooperation, for example: There are no hierarchies during the design thinking process. The word of the trainee carries just as much weight as that of the head of the development department. Everyone lets other interlocutors finish speaking. Nobody expresses themselves negatively or even disparagingly about ideas and suggestions.

Here’s a tip: In design thinking, new impulses also arise from breaking out of the usual structures. However, many employees and managers find it difficult to abandon hierarchical thinking and see themselves as team members on an equal footing. Small changes can make it easier to rethink. For example, it makes sense for all team members to wear casual clothing. A different seating arrangement can also be advantageous – managers should never sit at the head end. Once the rules have been clarified, it is important to define the topic or problem for design thinking.

  • Phase 2: Design Thinking Doesn’t Work Without The Customer

Many engineers are familiar with the phenomenon that a sophisticated product comes onto the market that looks good and works perfectly but hardly anyone wants it. Because the needs of customers do not always match the ideas of product developers and marketing experts. An important process in design thinking is therefore the actual wishes of the future users get to know. It starts with the team members taking a little distance in design thinking and asking themselves what they would like for themselves as users.

This phase should also include making contact with potential users outside the team. This is not about marketing studies, but about real experiences and opinions. So they don’t have to be asked the representative for Design Thinking. Brief interviews with colleagues, family, friends, customers, and business partners, for example, can be informative. The results are then presented to the team and compiled for all to see, for example using index cards with keywords, drawings, icons, and the like. As a rule, clusters on various topics quickly form so that the priorities of the users become clear. These needs remain visually in the room during the entire design thinking process. Additional flipcharts or magnetic boards should therefore be available for further phases.

  • Phase 3: Allow Creative Ideas For Design Thinking

In this phase of design thinking, creativity is required. Even the most absurd ideas are welcome. Because under certain circumstances, these are exactly the approaches that can later be broken down into a completely new solution. Thoughts, drafts, small ideas, big concepts everything is initially only collected and in no way evaluated. Because the meaning behind the Design Thinking method is, among other things, to get involved in the thoughts of colleagues from outside the field in order to gain a new perspective. In principle, the process of collecting ideas should not take place in a single meeting, but in several meetings at appropriate intervals. So every member of the design thinking team has the opportunity to let the topic and the needs of the customers sink in and maybe come up with a good idea while jogging or in the shower.

  • Phase 4: Prototyping As A Test Run Of The Ideas In Design Thinking

Of course, in the process of design thinking, ideas arise that have to be discarded because they are actually not technically feasible or, for example, the legal framework does not allow a corresponding application. Feasibility and profitability must be checked, but always from the point of view:

Could the implementation succeed despite the difficulties?

How can economic production be realized?

So it must not happen that counter-arguments are discussed until all ideas have been rejected. Instead, team members choose the most interesting approaches and begin prototyping.

In contrast to conventional development processes, however, design thinking should be about greatly reduced prototypes, i.e. rapid prototyping (rapid production of prototypes). The first thing is to grasp the principle of the approach. Basic shapes can be made from wooden sticks, cardboard, or modeling clay. If necessary, a simple simulation on the computer makes sense, but this should only be done additionally. Because touching and possibly even trying out the products is an important aspect of design thinking.

  • Phase 5: Present Prototypes To The Customer

The team members first test the simply made prototypes themselves. Could the principle work? Does it correspond to your ideas about the solution? Would you buy it? In this phase, of course, prototypes are sorted out. It may be possible to tinker again immediately afterward. If prototypes have been developed that are to be further elaborated in the design thinking process, the next step is to see the potential customer. As with the basic idea, the immediate environment can be included in order to show the prototype and obtain opinions.

Then the members of the design thinking team come together and exchange ideas about the results again. If these were already positive, the suggestions are taken up and the prototype adapted. If necessary, it may also be necessary to start further ahead and return to the creativity phase in order to collect ideas again after the customer feedback and to build further prototypes. Design thinking is an iterative process , the processes are repeated until the desired result is achieved.

Design thinking always requires a profitability analysis. It must be clear whether your own area has any need for innovation at all. Time and resources must be invested in the process itself. The company’s management needs to stand behind this method and provide four to six people. If you can afford these resources, nothing stands in the way of creative work. Design thinking encompasses a creative, playful, and hierarchy-free new work culture and that is far more than describing colorful post-it.

Book a Free Consultation

Let us know a tiny bit about your business, then we will explain to you in-depth how Growth Art can assist.