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What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words “Design Thinking?

You probably think that these words are related to designers or the design industry, right? Well, you’re right… but only partially. After all, the person who coined this “problem-solving methodology” is none other than David Kelley, the founder of the world-renowned design consultancy, IDEO. Currently, Design Thinking has over 3.6 million search results on Google, and many of the world’s leading companies have adopted this methodology as an integral part of their business model. Design Thinking is one of the hottest topics in business and has grown and evolved beyond the field of design.

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Design Thinking steps are defined and applied differently for each company. At SAP, the steps include Understand, Observe, Derive Insights, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.


The name Design Thinking can be misleading because with each step of the methodology, there is less “design”, but more “thinking,” which allows for creativity. It is a common assumption that only people who work in the arts and the design industry are creative. In reality, everyone can be creative regardless of his or her occupation or business industry. Believing that you are creative, and letting go of the barrier that says otherwise, is the first and essential tenet of Design Thinking.

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It doesn’t matter if you are a good drawer. In every Design Thinking workshop, we encouraged all participants to be visually expressive, as we believe that sometimes images can unleash things that words cannot.

The work carried out by the Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC) at SAP demonstrates how Design Thinking can be an effective problem-solving method regardless of the nature or size of a business. Clients come from various industries across the globe, including the food and beverage, agriculture, oil, biotech, news, and retail industries, just to name a few. To co-innovate with clients effectively, the DCC breaks down the complexity of Design Thinking into concise workshop experiences, also known as “DT Workshops.” Our resident DT facilitation expert, Sally Lawler Kennedy, describes 3 types of DT workshops that DCC commonly facilitates as:


Experience Workshop

Timeframe: 0.5-2 days

Design Challenge Example: “Redesign the café experience to promote better networking”

     This first type of workshop includes a brief introduction of Design Thinking and the steps in the methodology. It explains the meaning behind each step of Design Thinking and how all of the steps come together to create a real, tangible solution. The focus is on the methodology with a goal to give each participant enough exposure to allow them to apply the steps in their own business. This is a hands-on workshop where you experience Design Thinking as part of a team with a concrete design challenge.


Design Workshop

Timeframe: 2-3 days

Design Challenge Example: “Redesign the process for hiring maintenance contractors”
     This type of workshop will be about solving current business issues of finding today’s business opportunity. The design challenge for this workshop is specific to client’s needs. This type of workshop usually takes longer than the Experience Workshop because the goal is to come up with designs rather than experience the methodology. Exploring, understanding, and prioritizing areas of issues can take as much time as ideating solutions.


Vision Workshop

Timeframe: 1.5-3 days

Design Challenge Example: “Create the 2017 vision for Direct Store Delivery”
     The third type of workshop focuses on envisioning the client’s company in 3-5 years and planning a roadmap to their goal. We often call this workshop “blue sky” in order to encourage the participants to think broadly, be free of current limitations, and think of their company as the innovation leader of their industry. The design challenge here is broader than the Design workshop, but maintains focus to the client’s business.

We have had positive experiences in conducting different types of DT Workshops. Workshop participants include different levels from company executives, managers, ITs, and end users. Each participant contributes a different point of view, which adds diversity that is valuable in findings solutions and creativity.

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Regardless of our client’s current business model, all of the participants found Design Thinking methodology useful and flexible enough for them to apply to their work. A smile and a “wow” are common expressions that we often saw at the end of each workshop.

There are two main factors that contribute to a successful Design Thinking workshop. First, the participants must realize that the workshop is not a substitute for the rest of the design process. Coming up with brilliant ideas and a roadmap to success during the workshop remains just that: ideas and a roadmap. Following through and being proactive is key. Second, Design Thinking is a flexible methodology. Even if a client’s current work model does not support the whole process of Design Thinking (e.g. Waterfall model where the emphasis is on requirement specifications), valuable elements within Design Thinking such as iterating frequently based on feedback and building on top of one another’s ideas can be pulled out and utilized in any work methodologies.

Besides Experience, Design, and Vision workshops, our team at the DCC also offers the type of workshop that teaches people how to teach others about Design Thinking. Through our DT Facilitation workshop, we will teach many skills and techniques that will empower and enable potential DT facilitators to spread the Design Thinking methodology throughout the community and/or corporation of their choice. Learning about Design Thinking steps and their significance is just the beginning of the journey.

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