The positive effects of Design Thinking

How can we provat that Design Thinking is useful for companies?

from  Shenja Jeworek

Everyone is talking about Design Thinking. But how can we prove that it makes sense for companies? How can companies justify an investment in training and workshops? The first scientific research results bring clarity!

Design Thinking has been widely used for years. Companies of all kinds invest in the development and application of Design Thinking methods. But what exactly is Design Thinking and is this investment even worth it?

Design Thinking?

According to Wikipedia, Design Thinking is "an approach to solving problems and developing new ideas. The goal is to find solutions that are convincing from the user's point of view". For companies this translates into putting together cross-functional teams. These teams work collaborate on problem solutions or new ideas using different methods in a workshop format. 

The entire process is based on the sequence of "understanding, observing, defining the view, finding ideas, executing and testing". By means of observation, a basic understanding of a topic is created. From this, ideas are generated thanks to different points of view. From this pool of ideas more refined ideas are developed, tested and, if necessary, further refined or discarded in subsequent iteration cycles. The goal is to develop ideas within a very short time and to test them for feasibility and sense.

Understand - Observe - Define Perspective - Find Ideas - Develop Prototypes - Test (Design Thinking-Model, HPI Academy)


Investing in Design Thinking - is it worth it? 

Yes, various research results indicate that investing in Design Thinking is definitely worth it. Forrester examined IBM's IBM’s Investment in Design Thinking competencies. The result: The ROI amounts to 300%! McKinsey prepared a report with the results of more than 300 companies. Their results: an average revenue increase of 32% and up to 56% higher payout to shareholders.

But measuring the actual impact of design thinking is difficult. The reason for this is the way in which Design Thinking mainly affects itself: namely in a changed way of thinking, perception and the way of discussing problems and opportunities. All these things are difficult to grasp. 


Scientifc resuluts on the effects of Design Thinking

Recently, the first scientific research results on this topic have become available: Jeanne Liedtka from the University of Virginia and Darden School of Business Charlottesville, VA and Kristina Jaskyte Bahr from the University of Georgia, School of Social Work and the Institute for Nonprofit Organizations published the 48-page paper Exploring the Impact of Design Thinking in Action in November.

The results are extremely significant, as the first scientific evidence is now available that the sole use of less simple Design Thinking methods (can) have measurable positive effects.


Research framework

A total of 471 questionnaires were filled out. Of these, 66% were distributed among companies, 18% among public authorities and 16% among non-profit organizations. The answers were rated on a scale of 1 (no positive impact) to 5 (strong positive impact).

The level of experience with Design Thinking was distributed as follows:

  • 1% have no experience,
  • 15 % have some experience,
  • 50 % have moderate experience and
  • 34% have advanced experience.

The following factors were examined:

  • Increased actual implementation of projects and increased adaptability in terms of user-centricity
  • Positive individual psychological effects on users of Design Thinking (increased sense of security, support, openness and increased confidence in their own abilities)
  • Improved utilization of existing resources and networks
  • Increased quality level of solutions
  • Increased trust within teams and at stakeholder level

*Blue = improved implementation and adaption, Red = individual psychological effects, Green = mproved usage of resources and networks, Orange = increased quality level of solutions, Yellow = increased trust within teams and on stakeholder level in comparison between companies (left), non-profit organisations (middle) and authorities (right).

Broken down, the following results could be assigned to these factors:

Improved implementation quality of projects and increased adaptability in terms of user-centricity

  • Improved ability to develop and apply alternative solutions

  • Increased implementation rate of new solutions

  • Increased willingness to discard solutions that did not work as planned

  • Increased change in organizational culture to make it more customer-oriented

  • Increased changes in organizational culture that made taking risks more acceptable

  • Increased employee motivation to work on a project to achieve an impact

  • Expanded definition of the concept of innovation within the organization

  • Increasing the sense of responsibility and acceptance of a solution

  • Increased appreciation of the use of data for decision making 

Positive individual psychological effects on users of Design Thinking

  • Increased sense of security to try new things

  • Increase the employees' confidence in their own creative abilities

  • Supporting those who are interested in trying new things, networking and supporting each other

Improved utilization of existing resources and networks

  • Establishment of new internal relationships, which continued even after a project was completed

  • Extended access to new resources for individuals and teams

  • Pooling of resources to achieve greater impact

  • The willingness of other stakeholders to collaborate on new solutions was increased

Increased quality level of solutiosn

  • Teams that were supported saw problems in new ways, which led to more promising solutions

  • Increased commitment of the employees involved in the Design Thinking process

  • New and better solutions were created, which were not visible at the beginning of the process

  • Increased involvement of user knowledge

  • Design Thinking helped the participants to question their own prejudices

Increased trust within teams and at stakeholder level

  • Building trust between team members

  • Building trust between problem-solving teams and other stakeholders

These results are all self-assessments. This should always be considered. Nevertheless, the results are a very good indicator that Design Thinking achieves positive effects.

Results consistently positive

But now finally to the research results. What concrete effects could be identified through the use of Design Thinking?

Improvements in team development, collaboration and the ideation process were noticed across all forms of companies. Prototyping and experimentation also improved, but lagged far behind. This is probably due to the fact that prototyping requires technical knowledge that cannot be replaced by Design Thinking.

In addition, five "superpractices" were identified, which were increasingly applied through the implementation of various Design Thinking methods:

  • Building versatile teams
  • Emphasis on active listening
  • Real experiments
  • Development of versatile ideas
  • Focusing the problems on the user perspective

Depending on how much experience was gained with Design Thinking in the run-up to the project, this also had different effects on the results. Very experienced Design Thinkers could achieve the best results. But also little or no experienced DTs could achieve positive results.

*Inspiration and idea process (blue), creation of prototypes (green) and team development and cooperation (red) in comparison between companies (left), non-profit organisations (middle) and authorities (right).

Conclusion: it pays off to use Design Thinking

The results clearly show that positive effects can be expected when Design Thinking is integrated into workflows. A comparison to other methods was not worked out and therefore cannot be drawn. 

It can also be assumed that the test persons used for this study had already been involved with Design Thinking before the survey and may even have already achieved positive results with it. Subjects who tested Design Thinking and did not continue with it are most likely not represented in the results. 

Nevertheless, the research results show that it is always worth trying out Design Thinking methods and testing to what extent positive effects are achieved. Even if you have had no or only moderate experience with the methodology so far.

We at REWE digital regularly use Design Thinking methods successfully. For example, we use design sprints to generate ideas for problems and test them as quickly as possible. In addition, various brainstorming tools or ideation workshops are used in our daily business.

User-centered solutions are thus tested by us at an early stage. The results are better and more diverse thanks to cross-functional teams. The human being is moved further into focus and unnecessary development effort is saved. Design Thinking is therefore a win-win situation for the people who use our products and REWE digital.

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