Design Thinking is Dead

…or so says Bruce Nussbaum: Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next?

I agree. Wholeheartedly. I’ve thought the whole discussion that is/was Design Thinking was great Marketing. I have never really thought of it much more than good window dressing. Although I must admit that there was a while where I was being swayed by the strong message and the raising of Design awareness that DT brought to the world.

So, I am not here saying I told you so. While I never was a proponent of DT, I couldn’t articulate well enough what it was that I thought flawed with the “system” that was DT. I actually bristle at the idea that Nussbaum is the one that may be leading Design into a new direction. But, credit where its due, I think he’s on to something.

But it was creativity that Design Thinking was originally supposed to deliver and it is to creativity that I now turn directly and purposefully. Creativity is an old concept, far older than “design.” But it is an inclusive concept. In my experience, when you say the word “design” to people across a table, they tend to smile politely and think “fashion." Say “design thinking,” and they stop smiling and tend to lean away from you. But say “creativity” and people light up and lean in toward you.

The idea of Creativity is the core of Design. The other angle I believe he’s on to is that it can be learned. Industrial Designers aren’t superhuman creators. Like most things, there are some of us who are much better at it. The Olympians of Design, so to speak. But every human has the capacity for Creativity. DT, for me, had an arrogance to it. The idea that if you don’t follow the mantras of DT, you’re not creative. Or you’re incapable of doing it right.

I know I am not alone in this feeling that DT was more of a Fraternity, than a honest to goodness methodology that should be spread around the world. I also know I am going to irritate many who support DT.

So, with all that said, I’m opening the discussion here around DT again because I think Nussbaum has done a good job of bringing the discussion into a different light.

What do you think?

I think design thinking is completely misunderstood by a lot of the design community. It is a part of everyone’s brain just like analytical thinking, and humanities thinking. It has been with the human race for a long time and will continue to be. It is how we deal with questions such as “what could be”.

I have to respectfully disagree on this one. I’ve been hearing this same comment from many sources. “It’s misunderstood”?

Poorly communicated? Maybe. But, I tend to lean towards not able to hold water as a full-fledged methodology. The argument of “misunderstood” is exactly why I see DT as having the trappings of a Fraternity, not a community.

What is DT? Never heard of it.

I think the problem with design thinking is that it does not merge thinking and making of design. Designers are natural synthesizers and are the best at solving complex problems or finding connections/opportunity spaces within those complex problems.

We need to use it, but also deliver. Design thinking has proved great in identifying but not delivering.

I saw an amazing presentation by a newly formed group Industry (pdx). They talk about “Adaptive Innovation”. Being able to quickly adapt and deliver, Very cool presentation. Especially, for someone like me who crafts bikes.

This team broke off from ziba design. Apparently, most of the talent from Ziba design has left earlier this year. Steve McCallion (fast company’s master of design), Industry PDX who did the TDK collection, and 3 more creative directors have left Ziba. Apparently its a big change. I feel bad they have such a good building.

But this happens (Fitch, HLB etc)

This fastco article also caught my eye this morning.

I always saw DT as branding for the outside world, and I do have to agree that within the design community there is a slight sense of arrogance with it. To me DT is a way design firms got clients to take them seriously and realize that designers offer more than designing a new toothbrush.

Coming from a program where many people aspired to be “strategist” “design thinkers” “story tellers” I always had an issue with the effects of DT on the community. For one it sounds very inspiring as a student and I think many rush to this aspiration with out nailing down the basic skill sets.

I never really saw strategist, thinker, or story teller as a profession, but rather as one of the many skill sets a designer should have in his or her toolbox.

I think this might be a good turn, but only if the people talking about it actually understands how “creativity” works. Most designers can’t describe how they create, so I have serious doubts about journos ability to. Probably, that’s what lead to the term “design thinking”. What it really meant was, “I know this is good, but I have no idea what it is or how to do it.”

I am still very disappointed how most social debates occur. Whether in politics or with my gf talking about how we want to decorate our apartment, people are bred to take a side and defend it versus experiment with the thought and build on the other’s idea. That’s the positive aspect of “design thinking” to me.

I agree it is an exciting time and I feel there is a lot of change on the way!
And we get to craft it!

I read up on what DT is and find it very boring. I think over-intellectualizing the design process is ridiculous. My schooling was in Graphic Design but the way I create is always the same.

Whether I designing a poster, scratch-built model, water bottle or a logo, the process is all the same. It’s all about asking yourself or your client the right questions.

This article unsettles me slightly.

Bruce Nussbaum is a writer, not a designer.

His aim is to sell books and this article feels like an advert, fuelled by link-bait.

The birth of a buzzword - ‘Creative Intelligence’

At this point, I am defining Creative Intelligence as the ability to frame problems in new ways and to make original solutions.

Isn’t that just ‘creativity’?

Whether IDEO are originators of the term or not, it is their sales pitch. One they sell brilliantly, even convincing the design community that the term is open-source, some companies even adopt the term themselves. Yet it’s one big IDEO plug. Google it, ‘design thinking’, top 2 links (excluding Wikpedia) send you straight to

Though I’m not complaining, IDEO have done a great job, designers talking design at the World Economic Forum is great for everyone.

It’s all bla bla bla blablabla bla :mrgreen:

Find a problem > Fix it!! ( I don’t care how you do it)

That’s my methodology :smiley:

There’s wisdom in your words, Atohms. Where I find it falls short is to the point The_Boogey_Man is making towards the idea that this is all Marketing. As an owner of a Design Firm, it is getting tougher rather than easier to justify the value Design carries. It is virtually impossible to quantify the impact Design has on a process. Especially when the only real way to quantify it to a customer is to apply an hourly dollar figure to it.

So, where that leaves me, is agreeing with Boogey (or is Boogey agreeing with me? :slight_smile: ) on the idea that Design Thinking is nothing more than a very well executed Marketing Campaign by IDEO. Nussbaum is doing what he can to leverage that campaign into another Marketing Campaign to promote his book.

IP: I’m curious about how you sell your services. 99% of my work has been corporate and people looked for me, so I don’t have a lot of design sales experience.

How much do you tell clients about your creative process? Are they interested?

Do your clients want quantitative data showing the impact of design?

Design Thinking just like every other term that has been thrown into the design scrap heap has a lot to say but there is not a whole lot of doing. Design Thinking much like Green Design or Social Design is just another movement that gives people a reason to talk about design. People write about how need to be more sustainable, we need to be green, we need to standardize the design process, we need to do ethnographic style research. Enough, quit talking about it and go out and do it. My issue with Design Thinking or with any of the other movements in design is not really with the ideals of the movement but instead with the people that just sit around and talk about it and prosper from it but do absolutely nothing to implement it. As for me, I take what I can from all of the ideas that are thrown out there and then think about how I can best implement ideas that I think will be beneficial to my team and business. I don’t believe that there is any term out there that will ever quantify what design has to offer because we are a group that constantly adapts and evolves, it is the nature of our profession. So prepare yourself for years and years of terms that attempt to describe the value of design.

There have been a lot of articles talking about how DT is dead. I thought I read something from Naussbaum years ago talking about replacing the term ‘design’ with ‘creativity’. I’m already tired of the term Creative Intelligence and I’ve only read it a couple times on this post. Remember when every show on HGTV had the term ‘Design’ in it’s title? It was so over used that I eventually tried to walk away from the term. I started using different forms of the word ‘creativity’ a couple years ago just so I could avoid saying ‘design’. It seems like the backlash has been building for a while. I’ve never been a big crowd follower, sometimes to my disadvantage, but one of my pet peeves falls in the same sphere as Foss_Charlie’s. I don’t hate green design or social design, but it grates on my nerves when the people in those areas suddenly take on the greater than thou attitude, on the one hand, seeking to stretch the limits of human potential while at the same time limiting that potential by creating one size fits all utopian solutions. Like the post on Core77 a few months ago about those do-gooder designers from Denmark (I think) who designed a theoretical central location in the middle of the street where, to save electricity, everyone would to go to watch TV, like some kind of Orwellian wet dream.

Creativity has always been a natural human trait, instrumental to our survival. To oversimplify a complicated discussion, creativity seems to be a one-off kind of solution, whereas design is the mass implementation or production of a creation. It seems to me that intelligence is a prerequisite of human creativity, and the term Creative Intelligence is just redundant.

isn’t the ‘design thinking’ term and associated messaging an attempt to gain a stronger claim/voice in the room? though the battle over the importance/merit of design is no longer in question, there is/was a feeling amongst designers that the process of design does not get the respect due and get away from that overly dreaded"sylists" moniker…mainly a way to advocate for & to get more respect for design, designers, & the design process…

In my experience, when you say the word “design” to people across a table, they tend to smile politely and think “fashion." Say “design thinking,” and they stop smiling and tend to lean away from you. But say “creativity” and people light up and lean in toward you.

isn’t the problem there really semantics and their understanding? i can say that the response i would get when i would tell people i was studying to be an architect was very different than it was when i went over to design, lack of understanding of what design really entails was something that always came up and architecture was almost always granted more respect; even though these are in many entirely similar professions. it was my experience that design was looked at as being in some ways less serious than architecture.

if there is a problem with the wording of that “every human has the capacity…” stuff, no disrespect to anyone but isn’t that a given? doesn’t every human have the capacity to do anything? we could all be de facto lawyers, after it is essentially just arguing/defending a point, but we trust the people whose profession it is to know the law. design in a way is similar to politics these days, lots of opinions and everyone seems to think their opinion is just as valid as every other even though (and because) they may be all on various points on the knowledge/expertise spectrum with different points of view…if everyone is creative, do designers start to get pushed out of making creative decisions? if anything, design could stand a lil’ more arrogance…

The idea of Creativity is the core of Design. The other angle I believe he’s on to is that it can be learned. Industrial Designers aren’t superhuman creators. Like most things, there are some of us who are much better at it. The Olympians of Design, so to speak. But every human has the capacity for Creativity. DT, for me, had an arrogance to it. The idea that if you don’t follow the mantras of DT, you’re not creative. Or you’re incapable of doing it right.

something i am beginning to understand that isn’t creativity/being creative is kind of the easy part? EVERYONE has ideas…but are they good? and are they able to communicate the idea effectively, and can the implement those ideas with the necessary level of detail & quality? making the ideas tangible and into the object (or whatever the end result is) would be the core of design. the thinking through and evaluating of ideas and laying out of a plan/process to get the right idea or solution to the problem is the part that really defines design. solutions do not have to necessarily be creative, only needed…

in short, there is an upcoming book to be sold and thiss sounds like another one of those terms/topics to get people outside of design to talk

I saw this in a weekly email from the dean of the college of design at the university of minnesota, where I am a grad student, a couple weeks back.

“The quote by Friedrich Nietzsche in today’s Star Tribune reinforced that for me. Nietzsche asked: “What is originality? To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us all in the face. The way men (sic) usually are, it takes a name to make something visible for them.” We have great stores of originality among the faculty, staff, and students in our college, and there may be no better demonstration of that than in naming the sense of humanity that has no name and yet stares us all in the face.”
-Tom Fisher

Why is this important to this conversation? Because it talks about how people need to name things in order to better understand them. If you have a better name for what some people are calling design thinking, that is helpful, to deny something that obviously “stares us all in the face” is less than helpful.

I think there is something that maybe all people can do, and that designers have honed over time and through work that has something to offer to humanity. I don’t know what it’s called, or if design thinking even accurately describes it, but I have to think there is some reason we are doing this, because if not, then what is the point?

Some of us are beginning to sound a bit cynical…


Marketing has a minor link to the group it represents. It is intended to pull people from outside of the group, to the group. Preaching to the choir is somewhat a waste of energy.

Is “design thinking” the best tag for what we do? I dunno. But it certainly blows “out of the box” , “paradigm shift” and “innovation” out of the water.

Very well stated. I have been following these DT threads for quote some time and have never posted due to my strong thought on this issue.

Is DT dead?? I certainly hope not. DT thinking to me is nothing more than the fuzzy front end part of ID. It is understanding your consumer/customer,s behaviors, emotions, rituals, etc… And creating opportunities and strategies to meet those challenges. Without it your design has no value. Those solutions do NOT have to always be physical products. They can be campaigns, marketing strategies, behavioral changes etc…

If we are saying that it is dead than we are saying that a large part of our job and profession is dead. Service design and design research is a great example. Something that I think Industrial Designers can do AND lead very well.

Do I think Design Thinking is the right name? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. It has brought more attention to ID and that is cool with me. We now get much more respect than we did 10-20 years ago and it can only help us not hurt us.

Edit: I will say that I am a bit conflicted with Roger Martin And P&G on that other functions can be trained to do this.

Can’t kill what was never really alive.