The Design Thinking Playbook

Michael LewrickRecently I had the opportunity to interview Michael Lewrick, author of The Design Thinking Playbook. The book has been released recently in English and has become the preferred book for many Universities which aim to teach students about Design Thinking in Europe, Asia and the US. Many organizations use the playbook as reference to kick-start the digital transformation or to build new capabilities needed to create for example new business ecosystems. We had the chance to interview Michael and we had some very specific questions about Design Thinking, he was happy to answer.

Without further ado, here is the transcript of that interview:

1. Obviously, personas can be a useful tool during the different phases of Design Thinking. What are some of the keys to creating valuable personas?

Personas are a key concept for building empathy with the user. Even “The Design Thinking Playbook” starts with three diverse personas to generate a real experience for the reader. The personas we have used have different “job-to-be-done” applying Design Thinking. Lilly, for example, is a facilitator and Design Thinking coach at a university in Singapore. Another persona, Peter, has the challenge to apply a new mindset as innovation manager at a IT Company in Switzerland and Marc, a young Blockchain entrepreneur, is utilizing the power of “Business Ecosystem Design” to provide a unique value proposition to the targeted customer group. In general, personas really help us to understand the user. I encourage my colleagues and students always to bring a person close to persona to the innovation lab and show them prototypes and functions. Only the real interactions will help us to overcome assumptions and working with real user pains, gains and the associated job-to-be-done.

2. You highlight several different categories of prototypes in the book. What are the main flavors of prototypes that people should be aware of and what are they?

Tangible prototypes are key to interact with the user. In most of my design challenges it becomes useful to focus on the critical experiences and functions as a prototype. The material is not mattering as long the user is able to interact with the prototype. A big challenge are prototypes in the digital space. Imaging you design an Artificial Intelligence solution for the perfect dinner at a restaurant meeting all customer expectations. In the past it was a mix between searching, selecting, arriving and eating. In the future it might be only the voice interaction of the user having the wish to eat for example Thai. There might be one recommendation for a restaurant and all the following interactions are automatically organized for you, like departure time, transfer, payment etc.
Also digital prototypes can be made tangible, e.g. with wireframes, role play or “Wizard of Oz”-prototypes, where the digital functionality is faked/simulated by a human being.

3. What is the “groan zone” and why is it an important part of the Design Thinking process?

The “groan zone” is the time when the design team switch from divergent thinking to convergent thinking. It is always easier to generate more ideas and putting more effort in revealing the creative power of teams (diverge), than having the right timing to focus and following a specific path to succeed (converge). There are no KPIs indicating when you should switch. It is more based on experience and the intuition of the facilitator and the team to make it happen.

4. These days people are trying to apply Design Thinking to everything. When shouldn’t people use Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a great tool when it used in the right setting. I have seen many times that design tools and methods are used by teams because someone told them to use for example a persona early in any problem to solve. There a many well-defined problems that easily can be used by standard reasoning and logic as well experience. Design Thinking works better for ill-defined of wicked problem. I use many times a combination of system thinking and design thinking to solve problems in the digital space.

5. Why is it important to describe existing approaches to solving the problem in the design brief?

We save plenty of time, if we know already what exits and what has been not working. And it always depends on the objectives of the project. Sometimes products have just too many functions and customers feel are overwhelmed by the choice. In such a scenario, we should go back and test every single function and experience to find out what is critical for the user, before “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

6. Why is it so important to understand assumptions as we go through the Design Thinking process?

We constantly assume something about everything. It starts with ourselves assuming about how people think about us, about how great we lead teams and how thankful we are for the good things happening to us. Our self-image is most of the time wrong and asking others how they feel about how we interact reveals many insights. The same counts for customer interactions, product functions and services. We can only design for humans, if we understand their motivation, needs and objectives. In the process of building empathy, we are creating more insights and overwriting the hard-wired assumptions we had.

7. Anyone doing true Design Thinking will attempt to Understand and Empathize, but what do they often do poorly or leave out?

I always encourage design teams to reflect how they overserve, understand and most important how they share the point of views within the design team. Further, I am a big fan of applying a hybrid mindset using Dig Data Analytics and Design Thinking tools to obtain both deep learnings and deep experiences.

8. What is the key to a good problem statement or point-of-view (POV)?

The Design Thinking PlaybookA good problem statement must first and foremost be understood by everyone in the team. It should also be focused on people and their needs. We often tend to focus on other criteria such as function, turnover, profit or a particular technology. Such attributes can be very valuable in addition to a problem statement, but they should not be in the focus. A typical example is the design of a digital solution, here it can make sense to add that a certain problem should be solved using Artificial Intelligence, because it can become important for later solution finding. The disadvantage is that this also limits the number of possible ideas and we may miss out on market opportunities because we have let ourselves be guided too much by one technology.

In this way, two rules can be defined for the problem statement, which must be observed in addition to the focus on people:

The problem statement must be broad enough to allow creative freedom to unfold.

The problem statement must be tight enough that we can solve it with the available resources (team size, time, budget).

9. Where do people tend to go wrong during the Ideation phase of Design Thinking?

I have not seen too many times that people went wrong in the ideation space, if the facilitation is performing. The biggest problem is switching from a divergence phase to a convergence phase. I always refer to the “groan zone” because it the hardest part for the times to get focused on a potential solution.

10. If you could give people three and only three tips about how to do good Prototyping and Testing, what would they be?

1) Show your prototype to many as possible user
2) Ask a lot of WH-Questions and avoid structured interview questions
3) Be friendly and patient with the test users and might need them again


The Design Thinking Playbook by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link and Larry Leifer describes how Design Thinking is applied across a variety of industries, enriched with other proven approaches as well as the necessary tools, and the knowledge to use them effectively. Packed with solutions for common challenges including digital transformation, this practical, highly visual discussion shows you how Design Thinking fits into agile methods within management, innovation, and startups. Design Thinking is about approaching things differently with a strong user orientation and fast iterations with multidisciplinary teams to solve wicked problems. It is equally applicable to (re-)design products, services, processes, business models, and ecosystems. It inspires radical innovation as a matter of course, and ignites capabilities beyond mere potential. That’s why the innovation services group we’re building at Oracle uses Design Thinking as one of the tools to help Oracle customers innovate or to identify and solve wicked problems that matter. But, more about that later…

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[author image=””]Braden Kelley is a Director of Innovation and Human-Centered Design at Oracle, and a popular innovation speaker and workshop facilitator. He is the author of two five-star books, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and Charting Change, and the creator of a revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter (@innovate).[/author]

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