Potsdam. In the business sector, Design Thinking has developed from a creative technique into a driver of corporate change. This is one of the main results of the first large-scale scientific study on the effect of Design Thinking in daily work. Researchers at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) found that companies and organizations are using this innovation concept in an even more extensive and diverse way than was previously thought. Achievements have been primarily determined in improvements in the working culture and in the efficiency of innovation processes. According to the Potsdam researchers, an open-minded management is a crucial factor in the success of Design Thinking.
“The concept enjoys such great popularity because it is not only limited to certain sectors, but it rather represents a mindset for solving complex problems in all areas of an organization,” said HPI director Prof. Christoph Meinel. Outwardly a company changes its offer with Design Thinking, and inwardly itself, said Meinel. As one of the researchers in the just published study “Parts Without a Whole?”, he evaluated with HPI researchers Jan Schmiedgen, Holger Rhinow and Eva Köppen responses from 235 participants using semi-structured questionnaires. Qualitative interviews were also conducted with eight experts.
A large majority of respondents (71 percent) stated that Design Thinking had improved the working culture particularly in the team. Innovation processes have become significantly more efficient for many users (69 percent) and the involvement of users occurs more frequently (48 percent). Cost savings (18 percent) or profit increase (29 percent) were less prominent. “It is naturally difficult to measure the financial benefits of Design Thinking precisely and directly. The answers, however, show that the company processes and customer experiences are sustainably improved, which in the long run increases profitability. This increases the economic perspective in the long run,” said Jan Schmiedgen one of the authors of the study. Only one respondent in 20 said that Design Thinking had no influence on their organization.
Growing demand in companies and organizations
The positive figures for Design Thinking are completely understandable. In the past ten years Design Thinking has been increasingly sought after as an innovative approach and not only by institutions with a clear attraction to Design Thinking as formation method. “About half of the largest companies in Germany now practice some form of Design Thinking,” said Dr. Timm Krohn, HPI proxy and business director of the HPI Academy, the Institute’s provider of professional education. The concept is about to conquer organizations of all sizes and industries. The number of those interested in business is climbing steadily year for year. “In the meantime the demand for courses for professionals has already exceeded our capacity,” said Krohn.
Design Thinking finds broad application in all areas
It was surprising for the HPI researchers that Design Thinking is not only applied in the development of new products and services but also for the improvement of internal processes and services. For Prof. Uli Weinberg, one of the two directors of the HPI School of Design Thinking, it is therefore critical to understand Design Thinking as a holistic concept: “Not only should customers be understood better but also internal processes. The basic idea is that all business factors work together in the innovation processes.”
The study revealed that besides being used in daily work to develop products and services, Design Thinking is used in facilitating knowledge transfer, working collaboratively and raising customer awareness. At the end of the Design Thinking process are, for instance, new business models, creative products, user-friendly digital applications or innovative software systems. The results range from an intuitive car-sharing platform to ergonomic medical devices up through easy-to-understand ice hockey statistics. Users include Airbnb, BMW, DekaBank, DHL, Freeletics, and SAP, said HPI.
Management is the key to success
The HPI study also revealed big differences among respondents in how they classify Design Thinking. Some see it as an extremely accurate tool, while others view it as a methodology. SAP co-founder and HPI benefactor Hasso Plattner, who was instrumental in founding the d.school in Stanford ten years ago, is convinced that “The potential of Design Thinking can only then be fully exploited when it is integrated into the organizational structure of a company holistically and with a business-minded spirit.” The majority of the organizations surveyed (72 percent), however, viewed Design Thinking in a more traditional sense, i.e.—in isolated areas such as marketing or research departments.
Nearly one tenth of those surveyed said they had abandoned the use of Design Thinking in their organization. The main reasons were that a structural integration was not carried out and that there was a lack of support on the side of management. “Without the necessary time, facilities and financial resources a productive implementation of the concept becomes difficult,” said co-author Eva Köppen.
As a supplement to study, the HPI researchers have launched the website www.thisisdesignthinking.net. Individual cases and specialized strategies are presented there that companies and public institutions have used to adapt Design Thinking to their unique issues. According to researcher Holger Rhinow “the aim of the platform is to give the constantly growing Design Thinking community a platform for a constructive and clear mutual exchange of experiences, where failures are at least as important as success stories.”
Differentiated and diverse experiences with Design Thinking in business, research, and education are presented by the three authors Christoph Meinel, Uli Weinberg, and Timm Krohn in their recently published book, Design Thinking Live. The English edition will be available this fall.