How we use design thinking as a guiding principle | Part I: The Design Challenge

It's up to you whether you think Design Thinking is valuable. Whatever your opinion, Design Thinking helps you work collaboratively with others and grow together as a team in no time.

Today we will give you some insights into how we use Design Thinking to organize innovation processes. The focus is on the design challenge - the question that our customers come to us with that needs to be solved.

Design Thinking - Method, Tool, or Mindset and Attitude?

Design Thinking offers a comprehensive set of methods you and your team can use to develop new ideas for business models, services, products, software solutions, and processes oriented toward your customers' needs.

Change of perspective, responsiveness, creativity, and empathy for your team members and your customers are in the foreground - so: Your attitude counts, too!

The Co-Fathers of Design Thinking

Computer scientists Terry Winograd and Larry Leifer (Stanford University) and David Kelley, later founder of the design and innovation agency IDEO in Palo Alto, modified the approach, which originated in the 1960s, and developed the process further. The Hasso Plattner Institute supports the research and implementation of this concept as part of the in Potsdam.

The Design Thinking Process

Design thinking involves an iterative process divided into six phases:

In the first three phases(understanding, observing, and defining the point of view), one deals intensively with the so-called design challenge - the problem to be solved - and approaches the actual needs of the potential users and customers.

As a problem expert, you then move into the so-called solution space(finding ideas, developing prototypes, testing): In brainstorming, you collect various opinions for solving the problem and then evaluate and prioritize them.

The important thing is to produce something tangible to make things discussable. You then develop a prototype from the prioritized idea: a concept, a wireframe, a cardboard or Lego model, customer journeys, or role plays. Your customers test the prototype, and the feedback feeds into the iteration process.

And right at the beginning is the Design Challenge.

The Design Challenge is our customer's problem - rephrased into a question.

One of my favorite authors - Warren Berger, author of "A More Beautiful Question" - has studied how designers, inventors, and engineers develop ideas and solve problems. He interviewed the world's leading innovators and found a common denominator:

For some of them, their greatest successes - their groundbreaking inventions (...) can be traced back to a question (or a series of questions) that they formulated and then answered.

How to formulate the right question.

A Design Challenge should be neither too broad nor too narrow. The Goldilocks principle helps us define these questions, which ideally are neither systemic and abstract nor too specific and thus uninspiring.

(Our tip: Let experts from the QLab help you to formulate your design challenge because it is not that easy to ask the right question!)

Design Challenge: Examples from the QLab

  • How must Stadtwerke Verden be positioned to be sustainably successful in terms of climate targets and to ensure a climate-neutral energy supply in the urban area of Verden?
  • How can we support companies in the German photovoltaic industry to strengthen their business capabilities in order to accelerate the energy transition?
  • How can we monetize AWATREE's business model to create a scalable way to save a million city trees by collecting data?
  • How can we contribute to the sustainability of construction projects through agile ways of working?
  • How can we bring the topic of e-fuels to the public in a thoughtful, transparent, and winning way?

These were the design challenges that we have worked on for our customers in recent months and for which we have produced a variety of solutions. (You can find the project results on our website).

The Design Challenge as a leitmotif

The Design Challenge is the compact version of the customer briefing and the basis for a joint approach and our guiding star during our five-week QLab Design Sprint. The Design Challenge addresses the problem, the stakeholders, and the goal we want to achieve.

Phase 1 - Understanding

To develop a shared vision, we break down the Design Challenge during the next step, the starting point of the Design Thinking process.

First, team members individually collect their thoughts, research findings, information, and ideas on post-its, focusing on the highlighted components of the Design Challenge.

Let's just clarify this approach based on our last question.

How must the Verden municipal utilities be positioned in the future to achieve sustainable success in terms of climate goals and a climate-neutral energy supply in the urban area of Verden?

  • What kind of company is Stadtwerke Verden?
  • What do we know about the city of Verden?
  • How do we define the future?
  • What are the climate targets?
  • What is a climate-neutral energy supply?
  • Who are the citizens?

You guessed it, the answers are many!

Every question is the door to a new world!

Within a short time, we gain valuable insights. As we consolidate our work, we begin to develop a shared vision, we discover differences in our approaches, we share our knowledge and ideas, and as we discuss, we ask more questions.

This approach helps us shift perspective and develop empathy - essential ingredients to initiate a successful Design Thinking process.

We gather as much information as possible. We make assumptions that we need to verify through additional desktop research. Above all, interviews and observations are crucial for developing user-centered thinking.

Phase 2 of the Design Thinking Process - Observing - I will present to you in my next article.

Andrea Kuhfuss, Co-Founder and CEO of QLab Think Tank GmbH

Design Thinking Method Training

Online Workshop | QLab Think Tank GmbH

Language: German

Price: €450,- (€150,- for students)

November 22, 2023
09:30 - 17:30

Casino Futur, Bremen

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