Design Thinking criticism

This looks interesting. For those who read academic literature. Sharing it here with you guys.

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My instructor in Theory and Foundation of HCD explained “grad school paper reading” as a muscle to develop. There is just way too much to absorb, and these papers aren’t written like page burner pulp, they are dense.

I’d read the abstract/intro, the discussion, shift gears and look at the illustrations or diagrams, and then 50% skim the body. It’s an active focused process and still exhausting but you can fit in maybe 3 papers in an hour not just one.

Finding that free hour these days…

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This isn’t an academic paper but it fits the title of this thread

Read most of it. Liked the list of cited papers that the author uses for research - paper #40 about the primacy of aesthetics is also pretty good. Could just be me, but I sense a general trend away from ‘complexity’ as portrayed in this paper, toward a realization that good aesthetic judgement is the way to win and doesn’t require all those rules, themes, processes.

(edited: paper number)

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Jenny Nicholson seems to be very awesome.

In the medical world, my largest pet peeve is documentation. We are definitely overkill. FDA and MDR, set guidelines and we set procedure and documenting to that procedure. We have never shot ourselves in the foot by harming a patient. We do continuously shoot ourselves in the foot because of poor documentation of the procedure.

This paper reminds me of that. Creativity and innovation are not a standard operating procedure. If it were, we would have a new “iPhone” every minute of the day. Except we haven’t had one in 12 years and counting.

Design thinking, or whatever you want to call the process, is a guideline, not a fact. There is no such thing as 1,2,3 - innovate! I am the owner of the process in our group. I present to the new folks who join R&D. Our process is 8 phases, although it should be only 4. Management needed to boxes to check and voila, we have 8. And the key thing I stress the most is it is easy to complicate the process, don’t. Your objective should be to simplify it. And in the end, very few listen.

So yes, if you want complicated, overly documented, go for it. But this shit ain’t rocket science, no need to pretend it is.


Isn’t the best process sometimes to have “no process”?

Process regulation is great for things that are repeatable and consistent. Innovation and creativity is rarely that.

I’ve just come from the Zoom session with Aysar Ghassan.

Things like: lived experience, Design Thinking languages, empathy building were among the stand out points shared in the session. Ghassan draws a sharp distinction between traditional and progressive styles of speaking and thinking in both his rhetoric on camera, as well as in this paper.

He also mentions 'intellectual territory" a lot when comparing disciplines.

My two cents is; before the psychologists got a hold of DT and turned new product development into a psychology experiment and social engineering project, DT practitioners and academics were trying to resolve the differences between scientists, engineers and designers and their ability to innovate while trying to juggle the shift of manufacturing over to China . There was a brief period where there was some real progress made with DT between disciplines of science, engineering and design. (think 2000-2010). Since then DT has become politicized and weaponized within government, corporations and education.

Some of the thread comments here reflect a similar dichotomy between fixed process and open experimentation (and who is going to pay for it.)

I’ve been onto other new territory for awhile now, but remain curious of those who still invest so much time in DT methodology.

From what I saw today, many (in academia) are now using DT to wave the white flag trying to understand why the other side is so angry and defensive.

I attended as well - a horrible presentation from a designer. My takeaway was that the only thing that Ghassan’s thesis was about was the language and not the process - a bit on the thin side for a PHD. The process of DT was certainly developed as a marketing tool to get try to get buy-in from customers/management in order to democratize a process that non-designers can justify. DT substitutes language for the scientic method. J Christopher Jones was trying to sell this in 1970 in his book DESIGN METHODS. Industrial designers have always used DT - just without the label.



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Yup. The ‘open experimentation’ is maybe a harder sell as a consultant or as a discipline in a company with “low design maturity”, and the results will likewise be harder to defend. What I’ve found is half the time in the ‘fixed process’ you still need to make some cognitive leap which can also be hard to defend. The difference is you’ve already spent a few 100K so better feel happy with the result.

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I think my biggest frustration with Design is that they try too hard to be relevant. They go off and over-market and over-intellectualize whatever the current word salad is, design-thinking or whatever. The value of design is simple. 1. Is the problem worth solving? 2. Does the solution excite the customer to buy?

That’s it. Show me evidence of the first 2 and the $250k I spend on it will justify the $20M in capital and $5M in soft costs I will need to, 3. Make a million of them and launch. The $250K is the cheap part of the deal, every corporation hiring a design consultancy knows this, the consultancy should also know this and not need marketing gibberish to justify anything. It is and always has been a numbers game. I know I can get a viable 1. and 2. in under 10 tries, to justify the 100x investment. It is simple math, nothing else.



Design is a business function.

Not a philosophical one.

I agree generally. At Apple, on the other hand, prior to the death of Jobs, design was philosophical.


What’s next FastCompany? Ideo imploding amidst the end of the Design Thinking movement.

Do tell, what does one have to do with the other?

I’ll take a stab: its loose correlation not causation. The article and linked articles suggest:

  • Ideo doesn’t have sole mind-space rights to DT any more. It’s ‘just’ HCD now.
  • after evangelizing and monetizing it for decades, other firms/co’s can do it cheaper
  • strategy-wise they’ll never be seen as a McKinsey equal by most firms
  • conversely many other big ID shops were bought-up by management consulting giants
  • maybe they have too many people and too much overhead (too much speculation to support)

I don’t have access to the full article, just a couple paragraphs.

If that is what you say it is, it is a poor marketing choice by Ideo and really not related to the design process at all, whether you call it DT, HCD or whatever the buzzword-du-jour is. Whether it is a business strategy by McKinsey, ad strategy by Ogilvy, product strategy by Ideo, etc, the process is not that different from each other and hasn’t changed much in 70(?) years. I still don’t see it as an implosion of the process, only what the process is called.

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And needless to say, even McKinsey had a very ugly period during the 70s. They bounced, others didn’t. Only time will tell with Ideo. I did very much like working with them on a project 30 years ago.

It wasn’t just the 70s - Mckinsey’s role in the opioid crisis is just a couple of years old. It cost them nearly 600 million. Mckinsey is not a good example.