Design Thinking was founded in America and now often sounds like a wonderful IT-Start-Up fairy tale: managers are sitting in a play corner and play with building bricks and developers visit their customers directly and design new products together with them. This way the company develops incomparably innovative products and earns a lot of money as well. We asked the Design Thinking trainer Ursula Weixlbaumer-Norz: What is Design Thinking actually and how does a company profit from it?

Design Thinking – Which values does the concept have?

Ursula Weixlbaumer-Norz: Design Thinking originally comes from America but is nowadays established in Europe as well. Together with the in Stanford, the HPI School in Potsdam plays a pioneering role in the development and dissemination of Design Thinking.

The benefits of the concept are explained quite easily: the designers of the IDEO innovation agency developed Design Thinking as a method for solving complex problems in modern times. First of all they explained and illustrated the innovation process to make it more understandable and learnable. This is one main characteristic of Design Thinking. All in all Design Thinking is an innovation process with 6 different levels. Each level includes different methods, which can be selected according to the specific challenge and the problem-solving competence of the participating leaders and teams. The concept works across all industries and business sectors.

So Design Thinking is “just“ a new creative process?

Only in the first moment – but if managers and companies are ready to use and to exploit its full potential, it can be much more than that. Therefore I would like to quote the HPI school: “What was first developed in Stanford as an innovation method for products and services, turned out to be much more than this. It is a new way to see people in relation to work, to think about the concept of work and to ask how we want to live, learn and work in the 21st century. The aim of Design Thinking is to provide new and surprising forms of a creative collaboration. We-intelligence is the new slogan and collaboration becomes the basis for a new work-awareness*.” (*Translation of the original quotation in German)

6 levels of the design process

Design Thinking – a new design process consisting of 6 levels

What is the difference between Design Thinking and other innovation and creation techniques?

Design Thinking is often named together with agile management methods, “Lean Start-Up” or “Scrum”. As already mentioned, the special feature is that it is not only a technique, but also a whole new kind of collaboration where you can work with flexible rooms and especially profit from interdisciplinarity. At a current customer project which I am doing as a MDI trainer, the participants of the Design Thinking workshop were not only the employees and leaders of the client, but according to the concept of Design Thinking also entrepreneurs, start-ups, students and experts from other companies. They all contributed actively on different challenges – it was incredible to see what it triggered in the participants.


As a way of thinking, Design Thinking contributes to the solution of complex problems in all areas and can be applied to a variety of questions – not just for the development of new products and services but also for the improvement of internal processes and services.

Keyword Agile Leadership: What does it mean to you personally? Why do you deal with agile methods such as Design Thinking?  

I am an entrepreneur myself for a long time and a former start-up. And also before that I have already been working in a very agile and international working environment. That is the reason why I am always looking for new innovative methods for myself but especially for all the leaders I meet in my workshops. And I am convinced that Design Thinking can help leaders and teams to deal with complex problems in a strategic and structured way.

From the perspective of HR departments: For which leaders is Design Thinking suitable and what is the benefit for the company?

The method suits especially leaders who have to deal with complex issues. I am teaching Design Thinking at MDI as a tool for those leaders. And one thing I am very happy about at the moment: the HPI School just published a study on the effectiveness of Design Thinking. A large majority of the respondents (71 percent) say that Design Thinking has improved the working culture, especially in the team. Innovative processes have become much more efficient for many users (69 percent) and the involvement of users or consumers is more frequent (48 percent). Cost savings (18 percent) or profit growth (29 percent) were less important. “It is, of course, difficult to measure the exact and direct financial value of Design Thinking. However, the responses show that business processes and customer experiences are sustainably improved which increases the profitability in the long term*” said Jan Schmiedgen, one of the three authors of the study. (*Translation of original quotation in German)

Interview Partner

MDI trainer Ursula Weixlbaumer-Norz answered our questions about Design Thinking. She is working together with MDI Management Development International as an international Management and Leadership trainer for many years.

Since 2016 she improves herself within agile Leadership at IDEO, Strategyzer/Business Model Canvas and the HPI School of Design Thinking. Since 2017 she is offering workshops on Design Thinking, some of them especially designed for leaders.

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