Düsseldorf, August 08, 2018

Digital Product Development: Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an approach for solving problems and finding new innovative ideas creatively. Products, which are developed that way, always consider the requirements of the user and how the product can fulfill them best.  Interdisciplinary teams work together in iterative processes, involve the customer right from the start and quickly develop first prototypes. Based on that, the product is continuously being refined or adjusted to the changing requirements – as the example of Smart Alarm shows. 

Design Thinking is a methodology for agile software development. Characterized, among another things by a focus on clearly defined values: visualizing everything, welcoming crazy ideas, holding back on criticism, strict focus on one topic and building up new ideas upon the ideas of others’. Furthermore, a flexible room design plays an important role, as you work standing up and illustrate problems and solutions on whiteboards.
The novelty is that this approach puts the focus on the user and not the product. Thus, the aim is to identify the customer’s problem as precisely as possible, to profoundly understand and develop an optimal product for the customer. The approach of Design Thinking follows six steps that keep recurring.

Design Thinking in practice

We are going to explain Design Thinking with a practical example, namely Smart Alarm, an intelligent solution for alarm management.


First of all, it is necessary to understand the problems of the customer. For this purpose, the team does research and interrogates experts. This is how SMS digital learned that industrial companies are often inundated by thousands of alarm messages of their machines. Furthermore, a lacking overview of all messages prevents reasonable processing of the alarms. In addition, it became difficult to determine which machine or plant triggered the main alarm initially.


This next step is about an in-depth research of the issues and finding out as much as possible about the problem. To achieve that, the team interrogated customers, visited them at work and witnessed their pain points first hand.

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Common Pain-Point: very unintuitive visualization of the alarm messages

The pain point lay within an extremely confusing representation of the alarm messages. Consequently, important alarms were ignored, and it was impossible to detect coherences between the alarm messages. Apart from a lacking overview, there was no useful documentation. Thus, solving a problem in case of an alarm became much more difficult.

Point of view

During that stage, the collected information is gathered, filtered and summarized. The various insights, are combined to one common point of view by asking targeted questions. Scribbles visualize the existing knowledge and make it communicable. During this process, the clearly defined values as well as the flexible room design become important. At that point, contradictory observations within the team can arise.


Now ideas have to be generated to solve the customer’s problems. To do this, creative techniques such as brainstorming are applied. Then, all propositions are structured and summarized as far as possible. The most promising ideas are elaborated afterwards. The first scribble of Smart Alarm showed that the alarm can be clearly assigned to a particular machine tree. The beginning and the end of the events is marked by a bar on a timeline.
This allows the customer an intuitive utilization and a quick overview of the duration of an alarm. Additional filters situated in the upper bar make a directed research of individual alarm messages possible.

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First scribble of Smart Alarm


During the next Design-Thinking step the chosen ideas have to be quickly transformed into a prototype. The idea has to be understood profoundly and improved continuously. That is the reason why there are often several repetitions of this step.
SMS digital then developed a click dummy of Smart Alarm. That interactive prototype allowed the customer to get a first impression of the future application.


In the last step, the product has to be tested together with the customer, to improve and finalize it or develop alternatives. The realization of the Smart Alarm click dummy was primarily meant for demonstration purposes. As no actual programming was necessary, more customer feedback could be incorporated fast and cost-effectively. Thus, customer interviews have shown that the filter for event-type and plaintext search was less relevant. These features have been discarded in the next development step. The machine tree and the alarm display in bars remained.

Fast development of digital products

Thanks to Design Thinking, SMS digital was able to develop Smart Alarm to a complete product in close collaboration with the customer and within a short time span. From the very beginning of the process up until the first implementation of the app at the customer only 3 moths passed by. The result is an app, that is easy to use by the customer on a daily basis.
In our next article, we will introduce SCRUM to you. This working method is also based on principles of agile software development.

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First prototype implemented as Click Dummy