Design Thinking in Corporations - A Longterm Research Project

Our team accompanies corporations that integrate Design Thinking as a team based setup in their organizational structure. Since 2011 we observe coporate initiatives and conduct interviews with project teams and managers in order to understand why and how these corporations integrate Design Thinking as part of their working culture. We also measure the impact of Design Thinking projects in terms of their innovative potential. 

Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel and his team approach corporate efforts via two different perspectives:

1. Holger Rhinow  (PI: Christoph Meinel) investigates the perspective of managers that empower its employees via Design Thinking. What are their expectations? How do they plan and control team based work? How do they perceive the cultural change and the impact of their projects?

2. Eva Köppen (PI: Christoph Meinel) investigates the impact of Design Thinking within teams. How do team members perceive their new responsibilities? How do they perceive the growing demand for empathy towards other team members and users alike?

Integrating Design Thinking in Corporations

In my research I accompany corporations that integrate Design Thinking in their processes of organizing. I therefore conducted interviews with top- and middle managers, as well as project managers from different corporations.

From my observations, I conclude that management more and more empowers and demands its employees to become creatively self-responsible. They begin to establish decentralized, team-based setups to empower a creative working culture across units and hierarchies.

From a management perspective, Design Thinking is oftentimes regarded as an alternative setup for user-focused teamwork. It can be shown that Design Thinking teams act creatively self-responsible within a given framework of design principles and therefore develop oftentimes-unforeseen results in non-linear and iterative steps. As a consequence those teams rather develop more innovative and extraordinary outcomes than similar teams within different setups, as perceived by management. However Design Thinking as a setup confronts management with outcomes that are rather challenging to plan with in advance. Iterative and nonlinear developments lead to more efforts in order to synchronize those outcomes with further tasks along the development process. Design Thinking, to a certain degree, may foster oftentimes-productive inconsistencies within a hierarchical organization and therefore triggers organizational changes within the corporation.

Empathy in the Workplace via Design Thinking

Especially within the concept of Design Thinking, empathy plays a crucial role. Developing an “empathic mindset” shall help people to better understand the user’s point of view and to empathize with colleagues in a multidisciplinary team.

Furthermore, one can witness the increased emergence of empathy in the realm of management in the past decades (e.g. within emotional intelligence, other design-led approaches, positive organizational scholarship etc.). This is why it is my intention to focus on the analysis of empathy in the ambit of work and organization by using the example of Design Thinking.

As the literature about empathy in organizations claims, employees “feel right” when they act empathetically and acting empathetically is something that is truly positive. These statements parallel recent publications about the “empathic civilisation” or “the age of empathy”, which are convinced that empathy is genuinely positive and leads to a “better world“. Within my sociological thesis I therefore pose the question, which chances and possibilities for autonomous action for the individual can be demonstrated arising from what I call the “empathy program”. In my interview study I try to identify the manifold and sometimes ambivalent ways in which empathy in the workplace serves or fails to fulfill its purposes for the employee’s activity.

Our Methods

In the last two years we accompagnied various corporate Design Thinking projects and their organizational impact. We conducted over 50 expert interviews with project members, coaches, team-, middle-, and topmanagers in different corporations.

We iteratively develop and validate hypothesises based on the methods of Grounded Theory.


Selected Publications

Here your access our papers in Design Thinking research. All our publications you can access here.

These are papers published in 2012

Eva Köppen, Christoph Meinel (2012): Empathy as a Tool for Knowledge Construction in the Design Thinking Process, European Conference on Knowledge Management, Cartagena, Spain, September 2012.

Holger Rhinow, Eva Köppen,  Christoph  Meinel (2012):  Design Prototypes as Boundary Objects in Innovation Processes. In Proceedings of the 2012 International Conference on Design Research Society (DRS 2012), Bangkok, Thailand, 7, 2012.

Eva Köppen, Christoph Meinel (2012): Knowing people: the empathetic designer, Design Philosophy Papers 1/2012.

Birgit Jobst, Eva Köppen, Tilmann Lindberg, Holger Rhinow, Josephine Moritz and Christoph Meinel (2012):The Faith Factor in Design Thinking Research Studying Co-­‐Creation in Practice, Heidelberg: Springer, September 2012, in press.

Birgit Jobst, Christoph Meinel (2012):How can Creative Self-­‐Efficacy be Fostered in Design Education? in Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education E&PDE12, 2012, in press.

Birgit Jobst, Christoph Meinel (2012):Creative Self-­Efficacy as a Cornerstone for an Innovators Personality. DRS Conference Bangkok, July 2012, in pre

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