Design Thinking and Digital Solutions of Tomorrow

Zurich, 2008: As Hannah began her master's degree in visual design, the design community was experiencing a gold rush. Apple’s iPhone was revolutionizing the world, and the increasing number of apps and online services was changing the way we live. They all followed the same principle: websites and apps must be easy to use. If the design is not user-centric, clicks and customers will be lost. “After all, design is so much more than ‘just making things look pretty’,” says Hannah.

But instead of learning how to design meaningful digital solutions, Hannah spent her time at the university, making her way through mechanical typesetting courses. Every Monday from 8 pm and sometimes lasting until midnight. This is how she learned the basics of typography.

“With all my appreciation for design history, I often thought, ‘This can't be all there is’,” Hannah says. “If there’s so much more to design, how do you develop products and services that people really need and value – that solve their problems?”

Design thinking is more than a process, it's an attitude, a way of working that I truly believe in – and one that is also constantly evolving.

More than just a method

She found the answer in the approach that still shapes her working world today: design thinking. “When I learned about it during college, it opened up a whole new world for me,” she says.

In order to create really innovative services and products with the help of design thinking, people with different perspectives have to come together: from designers to coders, from sales employees to research staff – and, of course, the potential users. “In the beginning, the question is: What will people really need in the future? How can we simplify and improve their daily lives? Most of the time, the users themselves don't even know that yet.” People are often used to certain routines, so they easily overlook the potential for improvement in their daily lives.

The team develops an especially deep understanding of and empathy with potential users through qualitative interviews and on-site observations. “That's how you identify actual problems and can then develop concrete solutions.” And these solutions now offer significant added value in many companies. McKinsey, for example, has shown in a study The Business Value of Design (2018) that companies, which operate according to certain design criteria, generate higher revenues as well as shareholder returns compared to competitors. This is not just about setting up projects or developing products. Anchoring this mindset in management structures, i.e. the importance given to design in the company, is also critical for success.

Becoming an expert due to experience

Hannah wants to design ‒ and not just visually. She found an approach and the toolset for it in design thinking. “You have to be completely open to new solutions, meet people with an open mind and who are interested so that they give you valuable insights into their world.” What started as curiosity about a working method is increasingly becoming an inner attitude with which she now approaches new challenges.

During her time at the agency IDEO, she gained experience with design thinking. Intensive project phases, many different industries and exciting topics have made her an expert. “But in agencies, projects that you put your heart and soul into often disappear into a file drawer ‒ and you never really know why. So, I eventually wanted to be closer to the business and work at an interesting company for a longer period of time.”

Open to new things

At ZEISS Digital Innovation Partners, which supports all ZEISS business units, she is helping to shape the digital transformation for the benefit of the customers. Products are becoming increasingly connected, and services are shifting to digital formats and overarching platforms. This requires new solutions. And Hannah knows how to create them.

“ZEISS was founded with innovation in mind. That’s why our colleagues quickly become enthusiastic about new ways of working,” she says. The broad product portfolio from ZEISS offers many starting points for developing new offerings. Along with the various business units, Hannah can make a significant difference. “For example, we are shaping digital experiences of tomorrow together with the healthcare industry. It's really exciting and absolutely relevant.”

In addition to her project work, Hannah is building the ‘Business Design Thinking Competence Center’ together with her team at ZEISS. Among other things, they compile toolkits for different project phases to make the customer-centric approach scalable within the company. So that even more ZEISS teams can utilize a method that shows: design is more than “just making things look pretty.”

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