Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Design Thinking: Interview w/ Prof. Ihl

Shift perspectives, work creatively, think differently. Design Thinking delivers all of these. With this innovative method users solve problems from the users’ viewpoint. The aim is to develop and test ideas and prototypes faster. Trying out new ideas and making mistakes in the process is explicitly encouraged.

Design Thinking was developed by David Kelley, founder of the well-known Silicon Valley design agency IDEO. His method is based on the systematic approach of designers who focus on the users’ needs. In six phases teams of developers analyze problems and test ideas. There is constant feedback between developer and target group. Working in multidisciplinary teams and using unusual materials such as Lego bricks ensure a dynamic working method.

In recent years Design Thinking has triggered an outright hype. Professor Christoph Ihl, Design Thinking trainer at the NIT Northern Institute of Technology Management, explains why.


What is new about Design Thinking, Professor Ihl?

Design Thinking is not really all that new. It originated in architecture and urban planning in the 1980s. In the 1990s the method was popularized mainly in the corporate IT and business context by Stanford University and the design agency IDEO. In today’s era of digitization, business model innovation and startups, Design Thinking continues to gain in importance in connection with other method such as lean startups and agile development. What is new is the open, interdisciplinary, communicative, and empathetic way in which it approaches problems and their solution.


What added value does Design Thinking offer entrepreneurs and for whom is the method suitable?

Design Thinking enables entrepreneurs to structure problems in a targeted way in different areas of business and to devise solutions systematically from the user’s perspective. The added value consists of focusing on user acceptance from the start when working on potential solutions. In practice, solutions come a cropper on user acceptance much more frequently than on technical barriers. The method is outstandingly suitable for temporary project teams dealing with a specific problem in which uncertainties about user acceptance play a major role.


In Design Thinking, developers work in very short cycles. Why does that make sense?

At the outset of a project there is usually a great deal of uncertainty about which kind of solution the actors involved will accept. This uncertainty can relate to many different aspects and may prove impossible to eliminate in one step. That is why Design Thinking seeks to establish a frame of reference in which different aspects of uncertainty can be reduced gradually. After each step assumptions can be either rejected or further specified in order to come a little closer to the true user behavior.


What role do unusual materials like Lego and movable furniture play?

Design Thinking is very visual. Visual stimuli say more than a thousand words. That is why Design Thinking attempts to describe the problem context and potential solutions visually by means of prototypes. Anything can be used in the process, from cardboard via Lego to digital prototypes. That is an enormous help in communication, both within the team and with externally involved actors.


To what extent is Design Thinking a method that teams can use in a company on a long-term basis?

Design Thinking ought always to be applied to specific problems that are to be solved within a certain time horizon, but problems of this kind constantly recur in all areas of a company. So it is very helpful if companies acquire and develop Design Thinking knowledge systematically and by means of repeated use. Problem solving can thereby become one of the company’s core competences.


In the NIT Northern Institute of Technology Management’s Design Thinking Space, companies can learn and use this innovative method. This specially laid-out room can be booked both with and without a trainer. For further information visit


Professor Christoph Ihl

Christoph Ihl is head of the Institute of Entrepreneurship at the Hamburg University of Technology and Academic Director of the Startup Dock. His research deals with the origins and success of new ideas, teams, and enterprises in the area of digital innovation, science, and the creative industries.


Interview published in Business & People Magazine on September 22, 2017.

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