Design Thinking Is Dead

2 September 2016

Design thinking is not a new idea - it has actually a long history dating back to 60s, but has turned into a global mega-trend over the past few years. The term has gained a lot of attention in a wide range of contexts, and has been embraced by organisations of all stripes - big and small corporations, NGOs and governments alike.

Design Thinking Interest: 2005 - Present

‘Failed Experiment’

With this rapid growth, criticism has also intensified. Bruce Nussbaum, who describes himself as one of design thinking’s biggest supporters, calls it a ‘failed experiment’. Others claim that design thinking has become a ‘buzz phrase’ that is hyped, over-used, and should be dismissed.

Design thinking has been declared dead.

Do We Really Need Design Thinking?

In a nutshell, design thinking is a user-centered way of problem solving that helps businesses (not necessarily working within the design industry) produce outstanding results. “Design thinking has become established as the way to build products, services and experiences with a focus on the people who use them. It’s the way that both startups and large corporations are fusing their work,” says Doug Powell, design principal at IBM. The design thinking process draws upon the logic and imagination of a designer, and encourages multi-disciplinary teams of designers, engineers, marketing, product managers, and many other to collaborate, and explore all possibilities how to reach a result that improves the lives of the users.

In fact, design thinking has produced thousands of success stories. It has helped non-design companies, both small and large, to start thinking in a new way and apply principles of design to foster innovation. Johnson & Johnson, P&G, GE, Uber, and IBM are only few examples of large companies that changed their mindsets and integrated design thinking throughout the entire business. They recognised the potential of design thinking, and found an alternative way to discover new opportunities, uncover issues and catalyse the process of solving problems. Using the mantra of IBM, design thinking helps them reach for ‘smarter teams, better ideas, and happier users’.

Everything’s Great, What’s the Problem?

If design thinking is delivering success then why are people claiming it should be dismissed or forgotten? The ‘death of design thinking’ lies less with the method itself than with the way it is being implemented.

Design thinking was established as a set of principles that guide how teams should focus more on the end users than on the product itself. However principles are hard to implement. As design thinking was being adopted at a large scale rules and procedures were drafted which enabled companies to track whether they were implementing the new way of working correctly. However, much of the original intent of the guiding principles was lost in this translation. Unfortunately when teams mechanically follow the process the results are not as good as intended.

In addition to the implementation issue there is also an expectation issue. Design thinking is widely celebrated as a ‘magic’ method, simply hire a UX designer and they will produce an innovative result to any situation. However, there is no such ‘magic’ one-size-fits-all solution and when the person, team or area fails, the blame falls and the framework rather than poor execution.

Back to Basics

The principles behind design thinking are still as relevant as they ever were. An approach of empathy with users is critical in ensuring product market fit for existing and future products. With the resurgence of industrial design and the Internet of Things, we are returning to an era of physical product development where the costs of production are higher than digital making the emphasis on customer needs even more relevant. Fundamentally, design thinking is a way of thinking - it is about understanding the needs of a customer and delivering the best product for that user. While the rigid framework is dead the principles will continue…

Design Thinking is dead, long live design thinking!

Design Thinking will be featured and discussed in more detail at UXDX in November. Learn from Doug Powell, Design Principal at IBM U.S., and Brian Stephens, CEO, Design Partners who will delve into why design thinking is useful for companies and how to implement it to your own business.