Design ThinkingInnovation of MeaningCreative Problem SolvingHuman-Centered Design

Relying on Design Thinking to foster creativity and innovation in InterConnect

Design Thinking has become – especially in the last decade – a matter of tangible interest for the management and business world.

May 4, 2020

On April two Factories have been organised by EEBUS, Yncrea and POLIMI with the aim of fostering creativity and innovation in the development of energy and non-energy services. More precisely seven InterConnect pilot teams have intensively relied on the Design Thinking methodology in order to initially envision the direction to follow and then to conceive innovative service concepts.


Introducing Design Thinking


Scholars and practitioners acknowledge the central role of design as a driver of innovation and change. The importance of design as a source of value creation has been scrutinized for decades. Design Thinking, in particular, is making headlines, spreading extremely rapidly both in terms of interest and practices. Far from being linked to the “form” of products, Design Thinking is accepted as a formal Creative Problem Solving method fostering innovation. Design Thinking has become – especially in the last decade – a matter of tangible interest for the management and business world. Several features distinguish Design Thinking from other innovation approaches.

  • Wicked problems: Design Thinking is a problem-solving methodology adopted to address very ambiguous problems; a wicked problem is defined as a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize;
  • Human-centered perspective: Design Thinking adopts the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process; human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within the context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution;
  • Abductive reasoning: Design Thinking integrates analytical thinking (deductive and inductive logical thinking that utilizes quantitative methodologies to arrive at conclusions) and intuitive thinking (knowing without reasoning). The ideation process in Design Thinking projects aims to support creativity in generating a large quantity of ideas that the team can then filter and cut down into the best, most practical, or most innovative. It entails a divergent, broadening phase of unexpected idea gathering, followed by a convergent phase in which the most promising ideas are selected and put into practice;
  • Engagement: Finally, Design Thinking is an engagement-driven cognitive process, engaging both the problem solver and the recipient of the problem solution. Engagement with users, customers, or any targeted individuals has been widely discussed, especially with the emergence of human-centered design. Design Thinking also engages problem solvers, since it demands imagination and abstraction efforts at the same time, as well as requiring training in synthesizing information.



Design Thinking: a journey from Meanings to Solutions


The incredible opportunities that digital technologies provide allow us to access an unprecedented amount of novel solutions.
Idea Management Systems and Crowdsourcing Platforms significantly support both creation and access to innovative ideas. As a consequence, in a world overcrowded by ideas, real value comes from a different kind of innovation.
Innovation of meaning is about a novel purpose that redefines the problems worth addressing. It takes innovation one level higher—not only a new how, but especially a new why. A new value proposition. A new interpretation of what is meaningful.


In a world where options are abundant, without a shared purpose, companies fall into the paradox of ideas: the more ideas they create, the more they move in different directions, the less innovation happens. Furthermore, in a rapidly and continuously changing world, what is considered meaningful by people also changes.
Innovation of Meaning advocates designing meaningful directions through the inside-out paradigm. Hence, this entails a personal recombination of cues from society, technology and people to pursue a creative act – a new recombination of “signs” that make the solution meaningful. It starts from the innovator’s interpretations, intentions, associations and intuitions.


When the innovative meanings are clearly identified the Creative Problem Solving approach can support the development of innovative solutions. Creative processes are usually characterized by a mix of the divergent phase, where several ideas and proposals can be created, and the convergent phase, where ideas and proposals need to be refined and narrowed down to identify the most promising one.


The Design Thinking paradigm suggests applying these creative dynamics (divergent + convergent) not only to developing the solution, but also to defining the problem. Indeed, by reframing the problem, new opportunities can come to surface.

Adopting Design Thinking in the “H2020 Interoperable Smart Homes and Grids” project


In the “H2020 Interoperable Smart Homes and Grids” project, the Design Thinking methodology can support several activities:

  1. Identification of the user profiles. Each user profile has to be connoted in terms of people (addressed users’ needs), house (typology of residential structure), context (territory where the house is located);
  2. Development of new meanings. The user profiles have to be enriched by the identification of desired meanings, which for instance intercept and provide an answer to emerging lifestyles;
  3. Development of new service solutions. The user profiles has to be finalized through the development of innovative services in terms of service journey, involved stakeholders, business models and enabling technologies.




Next article

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Marco Signa
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