Design thinking – sharpening innovative ideas for more sustainability

This article is interesting for @graduates @young professionals @students @young entrepreneurs


Structure of the article:

1.)    Challenges of sustainability and what HPI d-school has got to do with it.
2.)    How we get innovations for more sustainability to the forefront
3.)    Hands-on: why design thinking can help and how it must adapt
4.)    Our offers at d-school: a common experimental path


By 2045, Germany aims to be climate neutral. That is in 21 years. This sounds like a long time ahead. But at a second glance, it isn’t. Consider that innovations need two to four years to find a business model relevant to the market. Secondly, it might take up to ten or more years until the new products scale to many users. Even tech stars like Apple, founded in 1976, were nearly bankrupt twenty years later. Adding all this, it is a short spell we have left to start innovating hands-on solutions for more sustainability in all kinds of sectors. A high potential for innovation lies in information technology, one of our core competencies at HPI. Combined with the expertise in design thinking at HPI d-school, it is the perfect set to foster innovations for climate protection. That led to a research project called “digistainable NOW!” in cooperation with Deutsche Unternehmensinitiative Energieeffizienz e.V. (DENEFF), funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action, aiming to reveal innovative potential through a series of design thinking formats, like Innovation Circle workshops, for students and young professionals. The project will continue in 2024. What are our takeaways?


Facing the innovation challenge for more sustainability

Talking to firms and initiatives that want to leap towards more sustainability, “we don’t know where and how to start” is often heard. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by the United Nations (UN) are difficult to grasp. Random ideas seem to get stuck in everyday business. Young professionals become desperate when they see their new approaches dissolved in what they perceive as a foggy wall in their enterprises. Task forces forming business cases wrapped around a new sustainable product or service deflate before reaching the goal. “I am taking part in the Innovation Circle workshops within this project at HPI d-school to learn how design thinking can help me to be more effective when it comes to implementing ideas and innovations,” one workshop participant said. She had over fifteen years of experience in the industry.


Developing a new approach to Design Thinking

Innovations in the realm of sustainability are complex. The effects are diverse, aims are often unspecific, and the future field of application is blurred. Who could foresee people's needs in ten, twelve, or fifteen years in this complex and ever-changing world? The design thinking method provides a great toolbox, for example, to bring people in flow together, generating ideas out of the box. It helps to bring the human conditions of living into developers' mindset. Design Thinking allows quick and iterative loops to prototypes that can be tested from the user's perspective. This toolbox works for most innovation processes, especially those aiming for immediate implementation. But an additional toolset is needed when imagining future scenarios of life and work or handling a world-wide network of openly innovating partners. This is what our new Design Thinking Studios at HPI d-school are for.


Invitation to experimental learning within new design thinking formats

“Give material an identity because material without identity is waste.” This paradigm brought in by two participants to the Innovation Circle Workshop in February 2024 on sustainability in the field of construction and building might save tons of CO2 in the future. Build on this mindset if they succeed in developing sustainable products and services. If secondly, they succeed in influencing the future behavior of builders and owners to take up a sustainable point of view when planning a building. And if thirdly, they succeed in putting together multiple sellers of construction materials providing their data.
In our Design Thinking Studios at Academic Programs, we invite students, young professionals, and partner organizations with concrete sustainability challenges to open their minds to experiment with us at d-school for a better and sustainable future. Well-proven design thinking tools are combined with new methods within an experimental learning setting. Design Thinking Studios for sustainability and open innovation in education are starting twice a year in April and October from 2024 on. Apply here.
Do you want to become a project partner and hand in a challenge to be solved by the participants? Please contact us.


Bring in your ideas. Join us crafting the future.


The perspective we wrote this article:

We are on the way to new approaches and want to share the questions and obstacles we encounter, as well as insights and findings, with the public. We assume our readers face similar problems and challenges when applying design thinking. We bring our competence in a human- and life-centered perspective for solving problems and are open to experimenting with new approaches. We want to let others participate in these experiences. Enjoy reading!