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Book Review: Design Thinking

Book | Authors | Review

By Gudrun Krebs, SAP AG, SAP User Experience – April 14, 2009

This review takes a personal look at the book Design Thinking by Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel, and Ulrich Weinberg. Since the book is written in German, we offer the review in both languages.

German Version


Cover of Design Thinking     

Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel & Ulrich Weinberg (2009). Design Thinking. mi-Wirtschaftsbuch. ISBN-10: 3868800131, ISBN-13: 978-3868800135

General: Innovation, Design




Photo of Prof. Dr. Hasso PlattnerProf. Hasso Plattner, born in 1944, joined IBM Germany as an IT specialist in 1968. In 1972, he co-founded the software company SAP, along with three other IBM employees. The Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering (HPI) was founded in October 1998 and in 2007 became home to the School of Design Thinking.
Founder Hasso Plattner


Prof. Dr. Christoph MeinelProf. Dr. Christoph Meinel, born 1954, has been scientific and managing director of HPI since 2004 and is professor for Internet technologies and systems.
Biography and fields of study

Photo of Porf. Ulrich Weinberg Prof. Ulrich Weinberg, born 1958, has headed the School of Design Thinking at HPI in Potsdam since June 2007.




The School of Design Thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany was founded to provide a further study program at HPI. Eighteen months after the school was founded, its first report is now available. In some 200 pages, Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel, and Ulrich Weinberg – the initiators of the school – describe how the school came about, what content the program covers, and the core elements of the design thinking method. They also detail examples of projects and offer an outlook on future developments.

Containing a large number of photographs from the HPI, the book does well to convey the atmosphere, excitement, and enthusiasm that are so important for this method.

Focal Points of the Book

Design thinking is a user-oriented, team-based method of inventing and developing. As such, it goes beyond the common thinking and practices for developing user interfaces. On the one hand, design thinking aims to tailor products more closely to users’ needs. On the other, it is intended to enable a new form of team building.

The key points of the book are summarized below.


Following on the heels of a prior exchange with the design agency IDEO, was originally founded at Stanford University. Soon afterwards, D-School at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam was founded. Both of the school’s programs are characterized by the collaboration of students from a variety of faculties, emphasizing mutual respect and linguistic communication that is not weighed down by business and technical jargon.

A team of students working on a project

Figure 1: A team of students working on a project. Source:

For example, one of the school’s projects was to design a reading lamp for use in developing nations. Generally, the programs' results are essentially prototypes, but this particular project is ready for mass production. The open, cooperative approach, and the many feedback loops built into the development process were key to the project’s success.

In addition to the student training program, the students conduct popular mini workshops and demonstrations of solutions. At the CeBIT convention, for example, they worked out solutions during the day and presented them to an audience of business and IT specialists.


With reference to a number of statistical studies of countries’ potential for innovation, the authors of this book show that Germany, unlike some other countries, has not yet sufficiently capitalized on its potential for the future. To improve this situation, the authors assert, it is necessary to provide special training for innovators at specifically supported training “hot spots.” They also highlight the government’s role in this process, particular as part of the initiative “Germany – Land of Ideas."

The authors recommend the design thinking method as the approach to creating new ideas. Incorporating the method into education and training would enable it to take root in the professional world. D-School therefore selects applicants based on their suitable personality and background.

Design thinking projects are aimed not at completing market-ready products but at training innovative team players and fostering cooperation between faculties and industry.

Design Thinking

Design thinking uses a sequence of six process steps, which are performed in multidisciplinary teams, working in a cleverly arranged space, following a set of overall rules and principles.

Interactive Design Thinking Proces

Figure 2: Interactive Design Thinking Process. Source:

The steps in the process are iterative and connected by feedback loops. The “Define Point of View” step is paid particular attention in the overall process. In that step in particular, great emphasis is placed on direct interaction with the future user of the solution.

“You can’t find out how an orangutan thinks by sitting at your desk.” Hasso Plattner

Fictional personas, story telling, and other role plays are used to explain the knowledge that teams have gained. The outcome of the process is ultimately a validated prototype.

Future Development

The authors refer to experiences of various innovative companies and executive development sessions, which have shown design thinking facilitates the development of innovative processes, products and services, and helps to increase buy-in among end users. In this book, its authors introduce a research program that they have devised to validate the design thinking method and iron out issues such as how collaboration is distributed and how the teams following the method are integrated with the traditional engineering areas.

Examples of Projects

Finally, the book examines in detail some of the topics that arose during the students’ 12-week projects. For example, these include “optimized writing of TV series” and “independence of people with learning difficulties.” These projects were carried out with external project partners and focus heavily on the end user. The proposed solutions at their outcome do not necessarily take the form of an IT solution.


What has been achieved so far? There is a detailed description of the process and of numerous projects carried out in a university environment. Some of these projects have reached the stage of being mature products. Furthermore, a means of enhancing and developing the design thinking method has been identified.

The challenge in all of this will be to successfully shift the focus from the training side of shaping and developing personalities to actually achieving productivity. It would be useful to explain which areas the method is suitable for and how it can be adapted to the strict production processes in a real company. While the D-School is able to select its applicants and thereby shape the character of its team and the nature of its range of expertise, this would be far more difficult to do in a company that has to call upon its existing staff of employees. More information about this point would also be useful.

Although the information about the school and the student projects takes up much of the book, the high-quality book is primarily aimed at the executive-level reader. It highlights that it is necessary to integrate practices used to fuel innovation with a company’s production processes. This practical side of implementing the method is touched upon, so experienced professionals can certainly take home some suggestions. Here’s hoping that these ideas are picked up and this promising approach establishes itself for more widespread use.


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