Design Thinking: Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Issue 1, 2013 Download pdf


”If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem 
and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein
Some software design pundits believe Design Thinking is the most effective means for software producers to become innovatively different from the rest and, quite notably, is the next complimentary phase of agile product development. Regardless of trends, the focus of Design Thinking is fundamentally a thorough understanding of the problem trying to be solved in order to come up with the most effective solution. This article explains Design Thinking at Software AG and elaborates on its importance in quality engineering.  At the end of the article, users are encouraged to engage further in Design Thinking by interacting with our User Experience team. 

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is all about understanding human intricacies and gaining the emotional aspect of the user experience. For Software AG, it is a development methodology that begins with an investment in researching user behavior and reaction with the focus on building a complete and thorough understanding of a customer problem. This key understanding is the fundamental basis that theoreticallytransposes from customer need to evident use-cases that are common elements of agile development and continuous improvement. 

"Design” in this context relishes both the organization that serves the customer and the customer experience that it delivers. And the “thinking” is a lot more creatively generated than what is typically expected from a GUI engineer. A “design thinker” is intensely collaborative, empathetic and able to hone generalities down to their least-common denominator by unraveling both the underlying problem to be solved and the context in which it will be used.

Figure 1. From push to pull: Design Thinking puts the human factor in the forefront of innovation strategy
Source: Adapted from IDEO HCD Toolkit Intro

Frequently used to describe Apple’s most recent design and quality engineering success, Design Thinking (as described in Change by Design by Tim Brown) has become a new paradigm for software designers, one that ranges over a wider landscape with the purpose of extreme innovation. If innovation is the key to success, then it is essential to step back and look at new ideas as a way to effectively describe the underlying problem. The goal of this innovation is to realize that we are not just creating a nice product for the customer but a good experience. “Thinking through the process of serving a meal is the difference between cooking and designing an experience…”   

Brown likes to say “convert need into demand” by first focusing on the context of users and having a thorough understanding of their needs. Once you have properly addressed their needs, they are more likely to become happy customers.

Design Thinking cannot be a process in a silo disconnected from the rest of the organization. Embracing Design Thinking at all levels will re-invent the organization structurally and culturally. Successful Design Thinking typically germinates from a collective ownership of ideas along with commitment from the top.

“Design Thinking, then, isn't a panacea to business woes - innovation is.” And that's where Design Thinking comes into play. It helps people and brands map out and focus their energies into innovation.

--Tim Brown, author of Change by Design, in interview with Iliyas Ong

Design Thinking allows software designers to focus attention on understanding the real problems users face. With a clear understanding, solutions are eminent.

Design Thinking Evolution at Software AG
Software AG is making investments in Design Thinking as a means to innovate our software products in solving complex customer problems. It’s an approach that changes the whole development lifecycle since it starts with understanding the customer problem before proposing any solutions.

Let’s first take a step back and look at usability at Software AG whereby usability typically started with jumping into a technology discussion from the get go. What can we use it for? Who could use it? Where would it fit?

Most topics started with a feature by feature Market comparison and then it was off to the implementation phase followed by a test phase where we would look at user interfaces and assess the quality based on anticipated usage as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Traditional usability focused on user interfaces (UI) after implementation

Quality UI design was judged by checking and verifying the user language, correctness and adjusting the tags appropriately. Consistency within UI elements and across products is also a very important quality measure. Typically the notions of ‘don’t make me think’ and ‘do I really understand every item’ are used to assess the degree of difficulty for user interfaces. The organization of menus and message script effectiveness along with error handling and documentation are all important product quality assessments and part of our continuous improvement objectives.

The next phase of usability was to start with design (prototyping) and evaluation (usability tests) steps before the implementation since testing after the implementation is very expensive. So we created paper prototypes for every little feature and had them tested by every stakeholder (as shown in Figure 3).

Figure 3: Prototyping and usability testing are used to improve product effectiveness and implementation efficiency

Prototyping has become one of the keys to effective Design Thinking. We have used prototyping tools such as Balsamiq to generate static UI examples that can be collaboratively analyzed and redesigned to find the right solution. In many cases, taking away non-essential components is the key to simplifying sophistic interfaces. (Reference: Standish Group analysis, ~50% of most product features are not used by the majority of users.)

Figure 4: Design Thinking incorporates radical prototyping for analyzing every little feature

A thinking-aloud approach along with simply watching users doing real work has proven to be extremely beneficial for
understanding how users work and for profiling the interface areas that need improving.

Figure 5: Emphasizing the importance of understanding the real problem to be solved

The next step was to begin with the understanding step before defining the problems to solve because it gave us a clear picture of the user’s needs.

Software AG has used the Software Usability Measurement Inventory (SUMI) questionnaire in order to ascertain the usability of our products by surveying customer values. In one SUMI study, customers expressed concerns of learning curve efficiency but noted they really liked the overall affect as shown in Figure 6. This clearly showed us what to focus on for the next version of this product.

Figure 6: SUMI is a tool used for gauging usability effectiveness through user satisfaction surveys

Another way to understand the user’s needs is to conduct context inquiry interviews with real users, not to find out what problems they have with the product, but rather to have a deeper understanding of the user. Who is the user? What are his/her tasks? Who does he/she work with? What are their concerns? Etc.

Sometimes what users don’t say is important — in one interview, the backup feature was not discussed during a context inquiry because it was completely automated on the user’s side but it was clearly the most important job responsibility. Sometimes the most important things are the things taken for granted.

Now with Design Thinking, everything starts with defining the problem after the understanding phase, perfectly, such that the solution simply is the natural (no puns intended) progression.

Figure 7. Proper Design Thinking starts with a clear understanding of the problem

The secret to Design Thinking, however, is finding the right problem to solve first and then creating prototypes that can be collectively shared across user types, designers, and developers as a second step. Essentially, Design Thinking is all about finding the right solution to the right problem.

To ask a question or if you are looking for more information about Design Thinking at Software AG, please send an e-mail to: Thank you!