Astonishing creative processes can be set off in multidisciplinary teams with design thinking, the ground-breaking method for innovation development.

How does it work? In principle, the approach is very simple and extremely plausible: If new ideas are pursued, then the search should start from the perspective of those who will benefit in the future from the result. This therefore represents a customer- and consumer-oriented perspective for the development of future products and solutions.

Customer orientation for better products

And this is special. We all know a number of products about which we ask, "For whom was this developed?" Bluetooth functionality that nobody needs, operating instructions the size of a dictionary, TV remote controls that drive one crazy and raise a cold sweat on your forehead because you only wanted to see the news. However, this applies not only to products, but also to bureaucratic routines and process oriented sequences that where obviously developed without the user in mind at all. This can be stopped, according to the ideas of the inventors of design thinking. However, it must be pointed out that the term design, when used in German, is restricted to the design of objects and products under artistic, formal or technical usage aspects. Therefore "design thinking" could also be designated as "inventive thinking."

Core elements of design thinking

Design thinking is a systematic innovation method that can be used in all areas of life. It specifies certain process steps identified as advantageous in practical use and under certain conditions. The multidisciplinary nature of the team plays a central role in the development of its success spectrum.

The design thinking process in six phases

The design thinking process of Stanford (Institute of Design Stanford) runs through six iterative phases (i.e. feedback loops):

  • Phase 1: Initially an attempt is made to understand something fundamentally: the initial position is analyzed in detail.
  • Phase 2: Empathy is very important in the second phase: This is where detailed observations are made and persons, who are affected by the specific problem, are interviewed.
  • Phase 3: The third phase includes the definition and taking of different perspectives.
  • Phase 4: Afterwards, a search for new ideas is started…
  • Phase 5: …and prototypes are created as soon as possible. They do not need to be beautiful, complex or perfect in form.
  • Phase 6: The main goal is to reach the sixth phase as soon as possible: Ultimately to test the prototypes and to finetune them.

It is important to always work with prototypes. Small handicraft-type work for a new product is adequate. Of course prototyping for services is not figurative, but, it should be described in a way that is understandable (e.g., by using role plays). The objective is to use a crude object to collect the strength and weaknesses of an idea, and then create a further much more mature prototype during the improvement phase, check it thoroughly, and so on.

Hard work for brilliant ideas

Many still believe the legend that creative ideas are generated in brilliant heads easily and ready-made. However, they are normally the result of hard work followed by iterative processes, namely prototyping, tests and further improvements.

The importance of beauty and emotional aspects is increasing. The more our basic needs are satisfied, the more we look for products and services that also address our feelings. Design thinking is a tool used to anticipate the experiences that customers want. "Design thinking" is a possible approach for true innovation. Wherever we look, even beyond products and services, we see issues and problems that can only be solved by innovation, (e.g., the unaffordable health care system or our energy demand, which soon will not be covered by the current resources). In all these areas, experts are working to address the problems arising. However, they need a human-centered, creative and practical approach to find the best ideas and solutions.


The Interroll conveyor platform was mainly developed under consideration of customer and user requirements. For example, the objective was to design the configuration and assembly as simply as possible. Numerous prototypes were created, among others on the in-house 3-D printer, and they were again and again tested and refined. Interroll introduced its own guidelines for product design in 2008. The continued improvement based on the user experience is an integral part of the Interroll design.

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