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Summary: Design Thinking For Dummies by Christian Müller-Roterberg


Every day, larger and more complex problems arise in the business world. People who seek innovative, meaningful solutions in varying fields turn to design thinking to figure out solutions. Professor Christian Müller-Roterberg details the design thinking benefits, tools and structures that will help you answer tough business questions. From centering your focus around your customers’ needs to being sure you’ve identified the right problem to using creative methods to brainstorm solutions, Müller-Roterberg offers the know-how you need to design better solutions, better products and a better future.


  • The world needs design thinking.
  • Design thinking centers around your customers’ needs.
  • Use empathy to analyze customer problems.
  • Identify and evaluate your target audience’s needs.
  • Apply design thinking to explore a problem from various angles and uncover a resolution.
  • Create prototypes of your solution.
  • Gather feedback by testing your assumptions.

Summary: Design Thinking For Dummies by Christian Müller-Roterberg


The world needs design thinking.

New ideas are essential for tackling big challenges such as climate change or health care, as well as smaller but important ones, such as how your organization can solve problems and innovate. Design thinking helps generate creative solutions for major and minor problems.

For example, GE HealthCare used design thinking to address children’s fear of high-tech medical equipment such as MRI machines. After studying children’s perspectives on the experience, GE created a user-friendly, engaging environment that turned the medical procedure into an adventure game for kids.

“Design thinking is a human-based approach to innovation.”

Design thinking starts with understanding people’s needs in order to solve their problems or make business improvements that serve them. Design thinking considers issues from the user’s perspective, generates ideas, creates prototypes and applies feedback to refine the best solutions. Apply design thinking methodology to tackle complex problems – such as how to improve your customer service or change your corporate culture – and to derive innovative solutions.

Design thinking centers around your customers’ needs.

You can approach design thinking in varied ways. For example, the “Persona method” targets the behaviors of a specific audience. The “Customer Journey method” enables you to empathize with customers’ interactions with your product. Whichever model you use, incorporate these “5 Ps” of design:

  • Practices – Use established techniques from diverse fields such as design, market research, ethnology, psychology, engineering sciences and strategic management.
  • People – Build a team of people with diverse skills and viewpoints.
  • Principles – Adhere to guiding tenets that shape the team’s mind-set and provide directions for collaboration.
  • Processes – Maintain flexibility by managing work and decision-making procedures in an adaptable manner.
  • Places – Provide environments that foster creativity for group and individual work, and support focused efforts.

“The path toward creating an attractive solution for your target users’ needs can be complex and can carry great uncertainties regarding its success.”

Design thinking asks what and why in “the problem space” to analyze challenges and, in “the solution space,” it asks how to find answers to them. Within those two spaces, problem solvers use “divergent thinking,” which is collecting information and generating ideas, and “convergent thinking,” which is making choices and refining the results.

The six phases of this two-space design thinking process are:

  1. Understand the problem.
  2. Observe customers to gain knowledge of the user’s perspective.
  3. Define the question of what the customer actually needs.
  4. Find and select ideas or solutions that solve those needs.
  5. Develop prototypes of those solutions.
  6. Test the prototypes.

This process focuses in its early stages on people and their needs, instead of concentrating on technology. Users’ influence drives decision-making in design thinking. Focusing on people early in the process prevents over-engineering and helps avoid complicated, costly products.

For example, a company tried to sell a $700 juice press that turned out to be slower and more expensive than simply manually crushing prepackaged fruit and veggies. The firm’s misfire demonstrates the importance of aligning a product with users’ real-life needs. Many innovative products fall into similar traps due to the designers’ failure to correctly identify the customer problems they are trying to solve.

Use empathy to analyze customer problems.

Empathy is a crucial principle at the heart of design thinking. Cognitive and emotive empathy means walking in other people’s shoes, so you can come to understand their feelings, thoughts, needs and desires. Strive to know your audience members so well that you can anticipate their behavior. Direct personal contact with people provides a number of advantages, but it isn’t always necessary. Learn to see the world as they do, in order to devise solutions you can tailor to them.

“You create an emotional bond with the people and look at the world from their perspective.”

Empathy provides insight into how people feel, think and act; knowledge of their problems and desires; and an understanding of what matters most to them. It results in greater certainty about what would bring them satisfaction. An empathetic foundation is essential for developing sustainable solutions customers will embrace. Exhibit empathy for the customer with these techniques.

  • Showing genuine interest and curiosity in people’s problems.
  • Resist immediate judgments.
  • Actively observe small details in everyday situations.
  • Discount your own ideas and biases to stay impartial.
  • Accept observation and survey results without the filter of preconceived notions.

For example, perhaps your target customer is a pregnant woman in a shopping center with her young child. Placing yourself in her role, you realize the importance of being near a bathroom and a comfortable seating area. When you put yourself in the toddler’s shoes, you realize the importance of having a playground for young children so the adults with them can relax for a while. Thus, solutions for a better shopping experience for this customer and her child might call for putting play areas near restrooms and creating in-store seating areas with a few toys on hand.

Identify and evaluate your target audience’s needs.

Other design thinking approaches include using existing information such as articles, studies or social media data as starting points for your analysis. Create surveys that allow customers to share their stories and experiences. Vest in real-time observations, whether in real-life situations or controlled environments, that can reveal unspoken needs and innovative ideas.

Observing how people behave in real situations can generate new product and service ideas. These observations can reveal genuine, spontaneous behavior and uncover issues that written questionnaires can’t capture. Study people’s unconscious actions and body language to identify problems and start developing solutions.

“Careful preparation is a significant success factor.”

These observations promote objectivity because they don’t rely on people’s verbal skills or their willingness to share. Observation can provide a continuous, realistic understanding of customers’ needs, which proves especially useful in complex situations involving multiple interactions.

Prepare well, follow a systematic approach and use appropriate observation methods. For example, before you start your observations, map out which kinds of behaviors you wish to observe, how you will observe them and how you will record your findings. Conduct your observations methodically. Focus on a few specific actions so that input doesn’t overwhelm you.

Apply design thinking to explore a problem from various angles and uncover a resolution.

Design thinking is a great way to solve complex or “wicked” problems. These tricky dilemmas come with unclear or conflicting background information, and no easy fixes. For example, how can policymakers provide energy and resources for a growing population on a planet of finite resources? This challenge touches on many variables and constantly changing factors in society, government, law, the environment and the economy.

Yet even smaller problems, such as creating a stable, light and flexible industrial material or user-friendly software, can be tough to crack. To tackle such problems, your brainstorming techniques must spur creative thinking and generate new ideas. These techniques should connect disparate ideas and bring out your hidden knowledge. They should enable you to break free from traditional thinking and see problems from fresh angles.

“Brainstorming, which is the mother of all creativity techniques, involves spontaneously expressing ideas about a question or the solution to a problem in a group setting.”

One approach is the “Walt Disney method,” a creativity technique that involves looking at a problem from three different perspectives: those of the dreamer, the realist and the critic. Pretend to be three different people with distinct viewpoints. First, dream big and find the ideal solution without worrying about practical constraints. For example, you might imagine a 3D printer that makes food at the push of a button. Then, as the realist, you consider what it would take to make this idea a reality. Plan the steps, resources and budget needed.

Then, examine the idea as a critic. Question its feasibility, sustainability and usefulness. For example, you might doubt that making food with a 3D printer is technically feasible or you could counter the idea by reporting on the trend toward natural food processing. The Walt Disney method explores a problem from all angles as you seek solutions that are both creative and practical.

Create prototypes of your solution.

Creating a prototype is like running an experiment to check if potential customers find your idea useful. Do this early to avoid thinking you already know everything your customers want. Prototypes give you experience that generates real data – not opinions – that you can use to make decisions. Prototypes obviate confirmation bias, which tends to make people focus only on information that confirms what they already think. To create effective prototypes, clarify their goals in advance, choose simple models and conduct organized testing.

“You must design your prototype in line with the type of feedback you want from your customer.”

Create a functional prototype for each development stage of your idea so customers can try it. For example, to design an efficient electric car, start with prototypes for smaller things such as skateboards, scooters or bicycles before moving to larger vehicles. Timing is crucial, so don’t create prototypes too early or wait too long. To make feasible prototypes:

  1. Don’t go into too much detail. Experiment and learn on the go.
  2. Create a minimal viable product, something quick, easy and cheap, with just enough detail to test your theory.
  3. Make changes in the early stages of production as you gain customer feedback.
  4. Embrace failures or mistakes as valuable insights for improving your product.

Gather feedback by testing your assumptions.

After creating the prototype, gather feedback on whether your solution to your customers’ problem works. Design thinking thrives on early feedback that refines your processes and prototypes.

“In the test phase, you should proceed like a researcher.”

Consider this process as an anthropological study in which you create assumptions and test them by engaging with your target users. Define your learning objectives. Formulate assumptions about your users’ behavior, issues and desires. Conduct tests through interviews and online studies. For successful testing:

  1. Target your audience – Choose people who have a common problem or need that your solution can address.
  2. Locate the problem – Identify your assumptions about the customers, their problems, your product idea or your business plan. Use these assumptions to create clear and measurable hypotheses.
  3. Set the stage – Design a test, which can be a list of questions or a prototype you derive based on assumptions you want to check.
  4. Set controls – Choose a measurement criterion. For example, track how often customers mention a specific problem.
  5. Conduct the test – Conduct an experiment by observing or surveying your customers.
  6. Gather data – Measure the results and learn from them. If the test confirms your first hypothesis, move on to the next step. If the results are unclear, reformulate your hypothesis and test again. If nothing works, go back to basics by reevaluating your target users and their problems.
  7. Make changes – If you cannot confirm your hypothesis, change your concept or pivot to a different idea.

About the Author

Christian Müller-Roterberg, PhD, is a technology, innovation management and entrepreneurship professor at the Ruhr West University of Applied Science in Mülheim, Germany.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Part 1: Getting Started with Design Thinking 7
Chapter 1: Everything You Need to Know About Design Thinking 9
Chapter 2: Understanding the Principles of Design Thinking 29
Chapter 3: Creating Ideal Conditions 43
Chapter 4: Planning a Design Thinking Project 59
Chapter 5: Supporting Teamwork in the Project 77
Part 2: The Problem Phases 93
Chapter 6: Understanding the Task 95
Chapter 7: Putting Yourself in the Roles of Others 117
Chapter 8: Observing People in Action 137
Chapter 9: Redefining the Problem 159
Part 3: The Solution Phases 177
Chapter 10: Finding Ideas 179
Chapter 11: Developing Ideas Intuitively and Creatively 195
Chapter 12: Evaluating Ideas 211
Chapter 13: Designing Prototypes 227
Chapter 14: Testing Ideas and Assumptions 241
Part 4: The Part of Tens 255
Chapter 15: Ten Success Factors for Interviews 257
Chapter 16: Ten Success Factors for Implementing Your Idea 263
Index 275


The book is a comprehensive guide to the principles and practices of design thinking, a creative and human-centered approach to innovation and problem-solving. The book is divided into four parts: Part 1: Getting Started with Design Thinking, Part 2: The Problem Phases, Part 3: The Solution Phases, and Part 4: The Part of Tens.

In Part 1, the author introduces the concept and benefits of design thinking, as well as the mindset and skills required to apply it. He also explains how to create ideal conditions for design thinking, such as building creative environments, planning design thinking projects, and facilitating design thinking workshops.

In Part 2, the author covers the first two phases of the design thinking cycle: understanding and observing. He shows how to use various methods and tools to empathize with users, define their needs and problems, and gain insights from their perspectives.

In Part 3, the author covers the last two phases of the design thinking cycle: ideating and testing. He demonstrates how to generate, evaluate, and select ideas that are intuitive and creative, as well as how to prototype, test, and implement solutions that are feasible and desirable.

In Part 4, the author provides ten tips for successful design thinking, ten common pitfalls to avoid, and ten examples of design thinking in action.

I found this book to be very useful and informative for anyone who wants to learn more about design thinking or apply it to their own projects. The book is well-written, easy to follow, and full of examples and illustrations. The author is an expert in the field of design thinking and shares his insights and experiences in a clear and engaging way.

I liked how the book covers both the theory and practice of design thinking in a balanced way. It explains the concepts and principles behind design thinking as well as the steps and techniques involved in doing it. It also provides practical tips and tools for applying design thinking to different scenarios and challenges.

I think this book is a great resource for beginners who want to get started with design thinking as well as for practitioners who want to improve their skills or refresh their knowledge. It is a book that can be read from cover to cover or used as a reference guide for specific topics or phases. It is a book that will help you think like a designer and innovate like a pro.

Overall, Design Thinking For Dummies is a great starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about design thinking and how it can be used to drive innovation in their organization. The book provides a comprehensive overview of the design thinking process and offers practical guidance on how to implement it in practice.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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