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Different Concepts of Human Needs and Their Relation to Innovation Outcomes

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Design Thinking Research

Part of the book series: Understanding Innovation ((UNDINNO))

Abstract

While design thinking has been described in different ways, there is widespread agreement about two characteristics of the approach: Design thinking involves a “focus on needs” and works towards “radical innovation”. However, some authors have argued that these two characteristics actually antagonize each other. According to their assessment, a focus on needs reduces the innovation potential of projects, rather than fostering new breakthrough solutions. What is the logic of these arguments and is design thinking in trouble? The purpose of this chapter is to shed further light on the concept of needs in design thinking. We review need theories by three authors—John Arnold, Abraham Maslow and Robert McKim—who have prominently shaped design thinking theory and practices from the 1950s onwards. In each case, we summarize the author’s basic statements and trace relations to present-day methodologies of working with human needs. The chapter highlights notable agreement among all discussants concerning favourable approaches to foster radical innovation. We further emphasize the importance of distinguishing between narrow versus wide accounts of needs, where design projects with narrow accounts stick closely to user statements that are often highly context-bound, while projects with wider accounts include re-framing and visionary contextualisation. Design thinking education as offered at the d.school in Stanford and the D-School at Potsdam involves a wide account of human needs. In this context, two important skills in order to move from need assessments to worthwhile, radical innovation are the abilities to uncover need hierarchies from context-dependent desires stated by users to basic human needs, and to identify conflicts in need hierarchies that call for different and better solutions in society.

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Correspondence to Julia von Thienen .

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von Thienen, J., Hartmann, C., Meinel, C. (2022). Different Concepts of Human Needs and Their Relation to Innovation Outcomes. In: Meinel, C., Leifer, L. (eds) Design Thinking Research . Understanding Innovation. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-09297-8_11

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