Design Thinking is Dead

Maybe they value ideas over execution.

I don’t think it has anything to do with ideas but rather understanding the problem a creating strategies to solve them. Isn’t this what ID is?

I would also add that I think we can all agree that designers have a huge opportunity at the moment. Our world is all F,d up and someone with our skill set and the way we work can help to solve these problems. If we say that design thinking is dead then we are leaving quite a bit on the table and taking ourselves out of the solutions.

Atohms, is the user always the client? Is it ever? And do you need to wait for a problem in order to act? Is design reactionary?

Yo, why would you divorce the thinking from the making? What about the dialectics of sketching theories, and the cyclical process of thinking, prototyping, evaluating? I can’t see what you see here.

Here’s my take (also applies to the scoping thread).

  1. Call it whatever you want. I’m not a big fan of buzzwords.

  2. Design Thinking (strategy, big picture thinking, broad scoping, etc.) is different than design thinking (no caps, meaning - creativity, problem solving, having new ideas, etc.).

  3. All designers should have the capability to do design thinking (creativity). Non designers have some ability to, but like anything it is learned and focused by practice and experience. Some part may be in fact innate in how we are wired just as some people have different body compositions that lend to sports.

  4. Not all designers have Design Thinking ability. There are lots of good designers out there, with great skills at all levels (junior to Design Director) that do not have big picture, strategic thinking skills.

  5. Not everyone needs to have Design Thinking skills. Even at top levels, it really depends on the organization and scope of the projects, clients, etc. if broader strategic skills are needed. I’ve seen many Creative Directors that while they may have more experience and are better in skills and execution/management than someone at a lower position, the CD role is not one in which bigger picture strategy skills are needed or asked for. It’s not any less of a position, just a different one.


The world has always been all F’d up. It will always be. In a thousand years when all our problems have been solved, there will be new problems and someone will say the world is all F’d up. Not that I’m advocating inaction, but relishing job security.

DT is not something that was once invented and has now died. It is a description of a process that designers have used for eons, and was explained to the business side as a way for process thinkers to think more creatively.

DT as we have used it will never die because it comes naturally to us. Teaching this type of thinking to non creatives has been a disaster, according to Nussbaum’s article, except for a few bright spots. It gets strange looks and has run it’s course in effectiveness among businesses. The problem, he says, was in execution, not theory. I think of it like giving a box of tools to a child and asking him to build something. The child has no idea how to use the tools, and mental blocks prevent him from mastering them. So he gives up in frustration and blames the problem on the tools, not his own incompetence. No amount of explanation or training will ever bring him to use those tools again. So you redsign the tools an make them more intuitive to so he can be successful.

In one of his responses to a comment, Nussbaum says he doesn’t care if you call Creative Intelligence a banana, as long as the benefits are realized.

I don’t know if I’m buying into Creative Intelligence at this point, I’m just explaining what I got from Nussbaum’s article.

Sorry, I was making a snarky referential joke to another discussion:

no problem, I have an outlet for serious discussion of design and associated theory, I don’t need to make this one too. lol

The entire design thinking thing is just silly to me. I think iab is closest to my opinion in that it is a marketing tool developed to attract non designers.

I have no issue with that. The fared is when designers (or designmarketers) try to sell it as a learnable skill set.

R, I have to disagree with you on divorcing design strategy from being a good designer. I don’t believe you can really be a full fledged good designer if you don’t have the ability to understand and affect the big picture. You may be good at some elements of design, maybe even great at them, but I think affecting the strategy is just a solid part of good design. And this is my biggest beef with design thinking, design strategy, and design research: by labeling activities, they give the impression that those activities have the ability to be their own profession, or specialization, when then need to be intertwined with design… It doesn’t happen in neat linear phases, with “design thinking” and strategy up front with research, and then design doing and implementation following. Nothing innovative happens in a linear fashion. Instead it is a beautiful chaotic mess, researching, coming up with a concept, thinking through a strategy, designig, failing, researching some more, designing some more, figuring out another strategy and so on. We tend to post rationalize into a story once we discover something great.

Why we do we do that?

My point was really that there are different levels of design strategy. Not all big pictures are the same. I’m not saying that no critical thinking skills are necessary, but that you can still be a good designer in a certain role with limited big picture thinking skills as it’s not always required. It’s like the difference between functioning as a C level executive vs. a Design Director, you just affect different things. You can be a great designer at a Director level or Senior level and just not have the same scope, but it’s still good design.

I of course think that larger strategic skills are very good and important, but really I think if you look at most designers, 85% don’t have these. This doesn’t mean they aren’t designers.


That is true. I think I got narrow minded after the third cocktail last night… :wink:

I am not saying anything you don’t know, but there will be a ceiling for those designers who don’t have the ability to think more broadly… and a credibility gap for designers who have the ability to think broadly, but don’t have the track record for executing and delivering.

It is tough to have both, but I think that is what it takes.

I think we’re on the same page.

So, by way of example, do you think designers like Marc Newson, Karim, Starck have those higher level strategic Design Thinking skills/approaches? I’d say perhaps not, though they certainly have the creative and execution skills and are indeed good designers in their own right…

The way I would define DT is more from a strategic approach that concerns the things that are NOT design related. Brand, position, marketing, etc. as complimentary to design skills of form, problem solving, execution, etc. More than just broad thinking. As such it is how design can be implemented for a higher purpose, not just for design’s sake. These skills are rare, though important, and as mentioned I think are relevant when the position of the designer is one in which they can affect bigger the bigger picture.


Do you think those guys aply strategic thinking to their own brand though? That is really what they sell in a way, and they carefully craft their brand.

I wonder how much of that is them versus clever marketing by their marketing dept. They are really selling a name or a brand. I don’t know how much these guys are really involve. I wonder if it is more of a licensing deal.

I’ve indirectly worked with a couple of them when I was corporate… They are super involved with setting the deal up, and it wasn’t a licensing agreement.

I’m sure they do think strategically about their own brand. But I think that is different. Maybe it’s just because they aren’t called in for it, but I don’t otherwise see more broad design thinking and would suspect that if they truly had the skills and interest they could easily work together with a brand to shape its entire direction further than just product design.


Can’t more agree with that. The ones who are big fans of DT, the should be comfortable with a real design skill sets in certain fields to fully utilize the concept and power within. If not, it is just bragging with big words…
I have been a client side PM at a stereotyped project “new concept development project” with one of top innovation/design consultancy. Even though their work was awesome and enough to move key top management team, many people in my company simply could not be resonated with the firm’s process based on The Design Thinking since they haven’t been exposed to context of real design things.

Besides on that, I think current accomplishments made by some representative companies like IDEO, Continuum, Frog Design…etc are good enough to expand designer and other creative thinkers/doers’ range of engagement in various fields. I mean, they are doing great now. (Who could have even imagined that a mere design firm participate big global outreach projects happening in many underdeveloped countries 10 years before?) Although they may suffer some “general” problems coming from business / organization expansion, I hope they can actually substitue management consultancies like McKinsey, BCG and others surely in specific topics like new business/product/service development.

I would like to listen how you guys are thinking about this :slight_smile:

Design is thinking . . .
Design takes thinking . . .
Design pursues diverse thinking . . .
Design identifies and synthesizes diverse, but only salient facts . . .

But, don’t forget:
Design is also intuition and imagination . . .

And, finally:
Design has many philosophies (or approaches)


Let me try this another way:

  1. Which of the following do you believe?
    a) A deity touched you on the head and gave you designer qualities.
    b) As a designer you are using a part of the mind that most people have had little training in using.

If, you answered “a” forget about reading further.

  1. When people create business plans, strategies, policies, services, etc these are things that will impact users and affect the future?
    a) Yes
    b) No

If you say “No” then no reason to read any further.

  1. The items in #2 above are being designed and therefore need to use the mindsets, methods and tools of designers in order to make them the most useful?
    a) Yes
    b) No

If you answer yes then you understand what Design Thinking is about.

+1 TimF

I think the Design Thinking approach provides a means for employing the type of creative problem solving designers are comfortable with, in hazy situations that are not necessarily driven by “thing” outcomes. In other words, projects where drawings, models, and CAD aren’t central to the final result fall under the purview of the designer in a DT scenario. This is great because it makes the pie of possible work that much bigger as a designer’s influence isn’t limited to widgets. It also means we get to own our job descriptions rather than the other way around.