HACK WEEK: Design Thinking Applied

Learn about Design Thinking principles.

photo of Carina Kuhr
Carina Kuhr

Senior UX Researcher

Posted on Jun 12, 2014

When I was walking around in the Zalando offices searching for a Hack Week project to write about, I passed by a meeting room that instantly caught my attention. The door to the room had been left open and the team seemed to have gone out for lunch. I had actually already decided what to write about and wanted to visit the team that I had looked up in our Hack Week Wiki and interview them.

But then I stopped and took a closer look at the room. The walls were full of colored post-it’s, posters, work-flows and other sorts of map-like visualizations. I tried to figure out what this project could be about, but all I understood was that the team had made some effort in trying to understand what Zalando customers want. I saw interview insights that were clustered in a matrix, posters of personas and what seemed to be a detailed collection of all possible stakeholders. This is the stuff that makes my user research heart beat faster.

Since it was lunchtime and the room was deserted I started asking around if somebody knew what kind of project was taking place here and eventually I found two project team members that had just come back from lunch and had 10 minutes time to give me a brief intro to the project. So apparently the purpose of the product is to create a new shopping experience with the Zalando catalog filters. With the support of a Design Thinking coach they are using the four days of Hack Week to come up with ideas for the experience, they want to design for. And what made me really happy was that they involve users from day 1. They showed me their schedule for the four days of Hack Week and explained how the Design Thinking principles are applied in their project process which can be summarized as “Understand, Observe, Synthesize/Ideate, Prototype and Test”. They told me how they started on Tuesday with a detailed mapping of their stakeholders and went on with recruiting and (telephone-) interviewing different types of customers. They also collected internal information from Zalando colleagues and market research findings. When I was talking to them they had just finished the first two phases and were about to start synthesizing their data. They invited me to join the session and I understood that now was the time to aggregate all the insights they gathered to some sort of leading question which in turn will form the basis for the next phase.


As soon as the team was complete after lunch break they started a discussion in which they recapped their learnings from the stakeholder mapping, telephone interviewing different customer types and tapping other sources of information with the goal of finding out as much as possible about the customers they want to design for. They had already figured out the biggest needs and fears of their typical customer and now the challenge was to combine this to a statement for the following design phases. At this point the so-called “how-might-we”-phrase comes into play. This seems to be a simple but powerful technique, as it brings problem-solving in the focus of design. It reads: “How might we help _______ (name) to _____ (need), _______ (problem/barrier)”. As the team already discussed and agreed on the motivations, needs, fears and possible problems of their Zalando persona it didn't take long until they came up with a good “how-might-we” phrase and were ready for the next phase: ideation.