Project Description



  • Develop digital business models based on cutting-edge technologies
  • Learn and apply user-centric methods to facilitate their future innovation efforts


Using methods like Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas or LEGO play led to new business opportunities, methodical knowledge, and experience for DENSO.


A solid, well-developed, and implementable business case. More importantly, DENSO is now enabled to independently use the applied methods as a toolbox for their future innovation efforts.


  • Design Thinking
  • User-Centric Design
  • Rapid Prototypting



  • 2018-2020


To start, let’s have look at our project partner, the automotive components manufacturer DENSO: throughout their impressive company history, they have achieved tremendous growth and are now the second-largest company in their field. With around 170,000 employees worldwide, there is no doubt about their huge relevance for the automotive industry.

With their industry expertise, DENSO develops various automotive systems, ranging from powertrain to safety and cockpit systems, air-conditioning systems as well as service stations and accessories.

Interested in further insights?

Daniel Weiß
Co-Founder & CFO

Not only is DENSO a key player in their field, but they are also heavily committed to pushing innovation: Their long-term policy for 2030 aims at becoming “a company that continuously generates value to enrich mobility that achieves sustainability, happiness and peace of mind for everyone”. How have they been backing this goal? With yearly R&D spending of more than $4 billion.

As a part of their plan, they set out to take another important step: diversify its business, i.e. develop digital business models. Within such efforts, they follow their lead principles to innovation which includes an open approach and collaborating closely with diverse partners to develop solutions addressing mobility and society’s broader needs.

R&D, open innovation, emerging technologies – three terms that basically describe what we at Motius do. With a mixture of a community of over 800 talented techies with competences in computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering and an experienced management team, we use new tech do develop innovative products and solve technical problems with world-renowned clients.

As our expertise perfectly aligns with DENSO’s innovation effort and industry expertise, we both quickly realized the potential in a collaborative project. For Wolfgang, project owner at DENSO, the project started like this:

“We specialize in automotive development and recently started looking into the opportunity of digital services. To accelerate the move into the digital space, we opened up for partnerships and explored new methodologies that have been different from our current processes. In order to tap into and explore the whole range of those possibilities, we were looking for an expert innovation partner, a company that we could explore new opportunities with. Motius was exactly the enabler we were looking for.”


The goal of this project was two-sided. On the one hand, we wanted to develop digital business models based on cutting-edge technologies. On the other hand, DENSO wanted to learn and apply user-centric methods, in this case Design Thinking, which would also facilitate their future innovation efforts. How did we approach these goals? Based on our expertise, we could perfectly align them by engaging in user-centric design methods.

As Johannes Hussak, our Tech Executive of the project, describes: “Using methods like Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas or LEGO play would lead to both new business opportunities and rich methodical knowledge and experience for DENSO. Naturally, we combined DENSO’s industry expertise with our methodology expertise in order to get the best possible results.”


What is the first thing that you have to do when you want to develop something that is user-centric? Right, you have to talk to the users in order to empathize. That means DENSO and Motius got out of the office, went to six different locations, and overall spent more than 25 hours listening to their problems and needs. With those insights, we had a great foundation for the next steps of the Design Thinking process.

We at Motius have our own tech-based Design Thinking process, specifically built to create user-centric innovations with emerging technologies. Obviously, this process was perfect for our project with DENSO as they wanted to develop new digital business models with users right in the center of their products and services.


The Motius Design Thinking process. It extends the usual “double-diamond” with two phases that focus on tech and allows for technology education which expands the technological solution space.

How does the process work and allows us to create user-centric business models? To answer that, let’s have an exemplary look at it.

The goal of the define phase, for instance, is to define the user’s view of the problem. For that, we needed the user insights that we got before. With those, we could then create personas, i.e. role model customers that represent a customer segment. “Empathy maps enabled us to put ourselves into the position of these personas and create their point-of-view statement, based on what they think, feel, say and do,” explains Johannes Hussak. Wolfgang Folting adds: “These statements also allowed us to always stay user-centric in the following phases of the Design Thinking process.”

Further, the point-of-view statements are the basis for the ideation phase, which is all about creating solutions for the challenges defined in the point-of-view statement – we will introduce you to some concrete methods in the next section.

Afterwards, it was time to develop prototypes for the best solutions and heavily engage in testing. Again, for testing we got out of the office and got insights from actual users. As you see, the whole process keeps the user in its center.

The result of the Design Thinking process was that we exactly knew the user’s problems and already knew what possible solutions for those problems were. With those insights, it was time to go ahead and develop concepts for user-centric digital business models.


In order to develop user-centric digital business models with DENSO, we first had to switch perspective again. Why? Because we had to understand all parties involved in a business model, not just the end-user. So, we got out of the office again and talked to a range of different businesses from the automotive sector. Throughout the discussion with a variety of stakeholders within the automotive ecosystem, we gathered the needed insights to proceed our project.

Knowing their problems, we then engaged in our Motius Design Thinking process again. This time coming from the business side with the end-user in mind, creating a customer-centric solution based on defined needs.

“The methods that we used in the second empathize-phase were different as the perspective of user had changed. For example, the ‘define’ phase was complemented with a workflow analysis in order to make sure that we can address the market need,” says Johannes Hussak.

Then we took our new point-of-view statements and developed solution ideas using methods like Crazy 8 or the 635 methods. Whereas the former method makes you come up with eight different visual solutions in a short amount of time, the latter perfectly complements the Crazy 8 by allowing 6 people to further develop 3 methods for 5 minutes.

Last but not least, prototyping and testing led us to the final concept for a digital, user-centric business model. At this point, many Design Thinking processes just and the project is over. But we wanted to take the whole project one step further, i.e. we took the business model and made a concrete business case out of it. For DENSO, that meant founding a startup within a corporate:

“At this point, we realized the great opportunity in taking this step towards a concrete business case. What if we pretended to actually build a new brand? How could we solve the challenges that come with realizing a business model? We wanted to simulate being a startup and with Motius’ expertise, we were sure that this would enable us to learn even more about how agile project management, user-centric methods, and lean development can be applied”, says Wolfgang Foltin from DENSO.


Based on a Business Model Canvas, a tool that visualizes business models in a comprehensible way, including the diverse relationships, information flows and incentive schemes, we most and for all used different Lean Startup methods.

For instance, we used “hypothesis Jenga” to visualize and test our critical business model hypotheses. This playful approach allowed us to literally see what hypotheses the business model is built on. And this was not the only playful approach that we used to develop the business case for DENSO.

Together with the business creators from our innovation ecosystem partner B.NEO, DENSO engaged in LEGO Serious play. Never heard about that? In LEGO Serious play, you use LEGO to build, explain, and evaluate business models by building a LEGO model of your business and simulate customer journeys.

Although skeptical in the beginning, the DENSO team ended up liking the effect of LEGO Serious Play, as Wolfgang Foltin explains: “On the one hand, it is a simple way to make sure that everyone understands and knows the “pros” and “cons” of the business model. On the other hand, it significantly helps to explore relationships, dynamics, hypothetical scenarios, and hidden opportunities within a business model. It was extremely helpful for us as it visualizes the process in a very simple way.”

As a startup, of course, you do not just have to develop a business model but also create the whole brand itself, including e.g. company name, logo, and corporate design. Further, you need to have initial strategies for different parts of your business, you need to know your competitors and identify your USPs. For some of those steps, especially the marketing-related ones, we used Simon Sinek’s “golden circle”.

The golden circle urges you to always “start with why”, which means putting the reason for why you are building a product or service in the center of your actions. This keeps all efforts user-centric and makes sure that all the startup’s activities are aligned. For DENSO, this was another method that they learned how to apply now and in the future.

“At the end of the project, we had gone all the way from an idea to a solid, well-developed business case. More importantly, since DENSO actually walked that whole way with us, they were able to just start implementing the results whenever they wanted to. All the methods that we used throughout the process also provide DENSO with a new toolbox for approaching their future innovation efforts”, recaptures Johannes Hussak from Motius.

“Altogether, the collaboration worked out really well for everyone involved,” states Wolfgang Foltin. “Motius was exactly the kind of innovation partner we were looking for. We tested ideas, we developed business models and even the brand is ready to go.”


Key to this successful project were the constantly applied user-centric methods – some of them playful but all of them well thought out and highly effective. Combined with DENSO’s and Motius’ expertise, the collaboration resulted in a whole range of new opportunities for DENSO: innovative, user-centric, digital business models with emerging technologies at its core.