Design thinking fatigue

I cant help but feel like “Design thinking” has become an entirely hollow marketing tactic. Emails whiz into my computer proclaiming how I can learn design thinking in a day from their class. At least here in San Francisco, design thinking has become about as empty as greenwashing your business. Perhaps it is localized fatigue not felt throughout the rest of the world. Is design thinking anything more than a distillation of common sensed applied? Or perhaps I should be in the design thinking workshop business. A few years back design was all about sustainability and then it was about saving the world is it is now design thinking to make your millions. Am I being myopic or fatalist in my views, or is this just a trend?

I am not about knocking sustainability or saving the world or design thinking, just curious if others see this a thinly veiled marketing talk

Perhaps limiting the commentary of design to solely “design thinking” we are ultimately failing to grasp the true ramifications of the design process

It was over before it started.

2010 article titled “Design Stinking”

I always felt like Design Thinking ultimately boiled down to some very practical but common sense tenants around thought process and non-linear thinking, but hey, with lots of cool graphics and charts… Don’t get me wrong, I thin it is great, but it is the beginning to a solution, not the solution itself.

I also always felt the term was very odd. There is no design without thinking… and there is no design without doing. If you separate the thinking from the doing, you just end up with a bunch of platitudes. As Thomas Edison once said, “Vision without implementation is hallucination.” I think the design world has woken from its hallucination.

yeah I think your Right Michael. Design thinking is nothing more than kindling for innovation. I would like to think all business conduct themselves with Business Thinking and marketing thinking and strategy thinking and of course design thinking. A most fitting and excellent quote from Edison. Thanks for sharing

I’ve been lucky that the term “design thinking” has slowly been declining within my company. What I do appreciate is that it has brought up the subject is “How can design help us?”

Not to thread jack, but just a question in regards to design thinking. Which would you rather have, “Lean” thinking or design thinking?

To me much of the lean terminology is mainly focused at manufacturing something, not necessarily at a user focused design method and I often find myself wishing for at LEAST design thinking at my current company.

all great points, and somewhat confirm my suspicion on the topic. @thecuster86 You present a really good question, one which i honestly not sure how I feel about. I think the different question might be " how do we ensure that design does not fall into the design thinking as the term becomes out of vogue?" Would this mean that design is no longer an integral part of the business ecosystem? Perhaps I’m falling off into a philosophical hole, when really I just wanted to call out the hype on “design thinking”

@boosted561 I totally agree, helping people ask better questions is what we do as designers. “How can design help us” is a great jumping off question that lends itself better to the needs of business. Design thinking almost seems like a way of designers vindicating or quantifying their value, a notion I dont think is necessary.

I think this is an excellent result. I’ve noticed more companies hiring designers and other creatives in higher positions, realizing that creative thinking and non-linear problem solving are needed to address today’s complex user/ marketplace/ manufacturing and logistics issues with convergent hardware/software ecosystem solutions that often include multiple partners from brands, to retailers, to technology ingredient brands… I know that reads like a bunch of jargon. Basically you gotta think differently to come up with something differentiated. I think that is the lesson of Design Thinking.

Formalizing non-linear thinking into a linear process I think immediately destroys the whole thing. That is the part I have always struggled with. Most of the clients I’ve worked with have been obsessed with “how” we solved a problem instead of thinking about “who” we brought into the process to open up our thinking.

@yo I think you really make point about trying to stuff it into a linear process. Design is an ugly multifaceted process, that ultimately struggles to be distilled into a linear form

To me I thought the term “design thinking” was always really odd because I felt it was like saying “thinking thinking”. I also found it even odder that at seminars on “design thinking” it never ends with the attendees/managers coming to the conclusion that they should hire people that think like designers/creatively, but rather that they now have some untapped design potential inside them which can miraculously turn their business around.

I will say though that with my company managers (engineers) they have embraced it and it has really changed the overall direction of our company in a really positive way.

@masa yes completely agree. A $600 day long course in design thinking does not make a designer. But perhaps this trend does raise the awareness of design beyond an intangible business expense

Where I work (non-design company) is implementing a lot of ‘design thinking’, which in my opinion is a step forward.

After reading some work memo’s about it and this forum topic however, it unfortunately come across as the latest trend. Even the title of this news report “‘Design’ the latest buzzword in the financial sector”:

'Design' the latest buzzword in the financial sector - ABC News (has video, can’t embed).

On our corporate yammer, the general conversation on ‘design thinking’ seems to focus on Ideo, which makes me think it is more a successful Ideo product than a sea-change in creativity/ thought-process.

I have found that some of the outcomes really are common sense, boiling down to stuff like “If we don’t piss off our customers, they will tend to stay with us”. And also headlines on post-it notes like “Simplification!” without any realistic path to achieve it, or any realisation what the cost/ opportunity cost of “Simplification!” looks like.

Large companies tend to have a lot of people who ‘make decisions’ rather than doing the actual work. I feel that ‘design thinking’ contributes to this.

The term is just a way to “package” a process to make it understandable to those outside of design. My belief is that the term came about as Design Thinking because it was a way to look at a problem that was completely outside the realm of how businesses used to do things - hence the world Design as a differentiator.

As the business world becomes more familiar and comfortable with non-linear processes, I think the term will evolve or at least people’s understanding of it will.

Right now, I’m hearing a lot more about “Test & Learn”, “Iterative Process”, “Human Centered Approach” than “Design Thinking.”


And I think all of those terms are much more helpful and descriptive.

It is amazing how much we have to educate organizations to do things like “test & learn” and to iterate. Understanding that brining innovative products and services to market means making mistakes, learning, and adjusting tactics without abandoning strategy.

I also prefer using the terms “non-linear thinking”, “inter-disciplinary/departmental strategy and implementation” and “creative problem solving” vs “design thinking”

Of course you could say all of those things wrap up into design thinking, but it just doesn’t feel right to me. How can I collaborate on an interdisciplinary strategy that includes engineering, program management, marketing, sales, finance and design using something called design thinking? It seems like it is coming from from a single discipline.

imo, you hit the crux of “design thinking”. This is what separates “us” from everyone else.

My company in the last 40 years has created a vast network of contacts within hospitals across the country. 1-2 times a year, a department within a hospital gets the “innovation” bug. They ask us to give a talk about about our new product development process. While we don’t call it “design thinking”, as you know, it is the same thing. And lately I have been the one “available” to give these talks.

When all is said and done, the number one question by a very large margin over #2 at these talks is, “How do you deal rejection, failure, defeat, etc.?” The first couple of times I was taken aback. After doing this for so long, I, and certainly most every other designer out there, don’t see it as failure. And it was hard those first few times to convince my audience that is was just an idea that didn’t work and I all need to was to move onto the next idea. You could argue the first couple of times I “failed” to communicate the right answer.

That is what I do now when I inevitably get the same question, I tell them this story. And since my audience is typically nurses, I also relate it back to their process of doing blood draws for the first time as compared to an experienced nurse.

Interesting, I have had many products and ideas not be successful but I never considered them failures because I learned something and applied that learning to a more successful project. My current boss has a saying I love “It’s OK to make mistakes, lets just make different mistakes next time”, basically driving a culture that innovates, launches, studies, reassess, and launches again.

One of the best side affects of giving talks is it forces you to think about and articulate how you think and what you do. Maybe some people do that more automatically, but frequently a question produces some latent insight for me like the one you gained in your story.

A related story, after 8 of R&D and development on a program market conditions changes and I we decided to cancel the project because we felt to launch would be to knowingly make a big mistake. We proactively canceled and decided to study why we didn’t see this market condition coming. One of the engineers on the project pulled me aside and said he felt very disheartened and didn’t want to work on anything as innovative because he just “wasted” so much time. After I recovered from my disbelief in his statement, I asked him: Did you learn anything? … yes. Do you think you will apply the learnings on the very next project? … yes. Do you still think it was a “waste of time”… he changed his answer.

Its a hard thing to do, to disengage yourself from the singular idea and instead see the flow of work over a period of years as a single project that results in continuous product launches, and some serious stumbles, and hopefully some serious successes.

We recently launched another product, a first for our company. The sales success was off the charts but an issue quickly revealed itself in the real world we did not encounter. Lots of working nights, weekends, long talks with China and within days we had a roadmap for staged fixes and within a few weeks shipping fixes… if you are going to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.

Circling back to the topic, my biggest issue with design thinking is that I feel it over intellectualizes and academicizes (word?) what should be a very hands on process. Instead of locking themselves in a room doing some mental exercises, the leadership team should be sleeves up and knee deep in it, making, learning and breaking.

@ Michael excellent point in particular the last paragraph. “my biggest issue with design thinking is that I feel it over intellectualizes and academicizes (word?) what should be a very hands on process. Instead of locking themselves in a room doing some mental exercises, the leadership team should be sleeves up and knee deep in it, making, learning and breaking.”

This to me really hits the nail on the proverbial head. less talk, more make.

I feel like we’ve had this discussion in the past, and I still don’t think that the points being made, design thinking vs. doing design are particularly valid because, at least every time I have heard it discussed, “design thinking” is about thought through action. So if we are saying that we should stop “design thinking” and start “design doing” we can say mission accomplished because the term is supposed to refer to a non-linear, iterative problem solving process in which we move forward by making lofty ideas tangible for evaluation and discussion.

Industrial, graphic and now interaction design are experiencing a de-intellectualization so if you feel like some of the things people are doing are “academicizing” (it’s a word now, two of us have used it :slight_smile: design that feeling is actually that the rest of what we do is so devoid of any theoretical backing that when it does show up it feels weird.

If you don’t like the term, don’t use it, but design is a different way of knowing something and of coming to a conclusion than the process used in other fields. What we lose in being able to generalize across multiple situations we make up for in validity in that design works in the real world, and not just in a lab.

The most recent good article that I’ve read that sums some of this up is the one Don Norman and Scott Klemmer co-wrote and posted in of all places Linkedin.

Here is where I start to disagree with you. How can you assert that? I know plenty of designers who are terribly non-linear challenged, and I know creative problem solvers who are not designers. Are you certain this way of working is a design attribute? If not, the term is not fitting.

Here we call it Analytical Thinking. From wikipedia:

Analytical skill is the ability to visualize, articulate, and solve both complex and uncomplicated problems and concepts and make decisions that are sensible and based on available information. Such skills include demonstration of the ability to apply logical thinking to gathering and analyzing information, designing and testing solutions to problems, and formulating plans.

In 1999, Richards J. Heuer Jr., explained that: “Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But like many other skills, such as riding a bike, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”[1]

Though Synthetic Thinking might actually be a better term.

The world does not need another Don N article :slight_smile: Talk about academicizing…

I’m going to have to disagree with yo and concur with this.

I will say that yo is correct in that “design thinking” is not exclusive to design, but if you made it a spectrum “linear thinking” on the left and “design thinking” on the right, most people lean left as a rule of thumb.

Over the years interacting with different departments, (of course these are generalizations and there are always exceptions), RA/QA are on the far, far, far left. Any deviation from an SOP is heresy. Those idiots want a DHR in the development process, never mind if we did it would take a decade to launch any product. Accounting and purchasing are similar but not necessarily as rigid in orthodoxy. Manufacturing & shipping would be the next move right, but still comfortably left. I’d call engineering and marketing moderates but still left of center. And surprisingly, while still moderate, but leaning a bit right of center and towards “design thinking” is sales and customer service. C-suite is just a pain in my ass.