Design and Lean Debunked

We all love design and lean but it is difficult to be design centric and lean at the same time. Why is it? Before we understand why it is difficult to be design centric and lean at the same time, we need to understand difference between terms we are using such as Design Thinking, UX and Lean.

Comparing Critical Thinking and Design Thinking

Both Design Thinking and Critical Thinking are approaches. It helps you how to deliver certain tasks. It defines “How To Do” rather than “What To Do”.

Critical Thinking is logical and fact based. It requires a lot of research and interviews to collect data to build logic. Traditional consulting firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting has embraced critical thinking approach for long time.

Design Thinking takes more anthropologic approach. It requires observation of people for deeper insights. Design firms like IDEO and Frog Design use design thinking approach for their innovation design projects.

It is not good or bad. They are just different. One uses more right side of brain and another requires more left side of brain.

Comparing Product Design, Service Design and UX Design

If Design Thinking and Critical Thinking are “How To Do”, Product Design, Service Design and UX Design are “What To Do”. You can design product in design thinking way and you can also design service in critical thinking way. For service is business process itself, traditional consulting firms usually deliver more service design as “business process consulting” while design firms are naturally strong in product design.

The boundary between product and service becomes less important as we focus more on experience itself. Uber for example is an mobile app but it is also a service to bring people from one location to another. What differentiate Zappos from other online store is service as experience.

People start experimenting using design thinking in service design and critical thinking in product design to continue innovating in this new product-as-a-service era.

Embracing Design Thinking to Service Design

Livework is the first design studio focusing on Service Design. Unlike traditional consulting firms, they take design approach to service. If you want to improve your call center, it was traditional consulting firms you could call for help. You may ended up with CRM projects as a result. The same was true with design. If you bring the same call center problem to design firm, you might end up with new customer website or app projects as a result.

Service Design firm like Livework can be alternative to CRM or new customer web site or app.

Traditional consulting firms also start embracing design thinking approach. Acceture aquired a design frim Fjord. Even McKinsey started publishing paper on design approach.

Even enterprise start acquiring design firms to bring the design methodology to the enterprise. CommerceOne’s acquisition of AdaptivePath is a great example.

Lean as New Black for Critical Thinking

Lean Manufacturing gave inspiration to Eric Ries to start Lean Startup. Lean Manufacturing originated from Toyota Motors’ Kanban and the approach was heavily influenced by Critical Thinking.

As Critical Thinking and Design Thinking are “How To Do”, Lean is also methodology and approach to deliver certain tasks. As the name suggest, both Critical Thinking and Design Thinking emphasize “Thinking”. Design Thinking is more agile while Critical Thinking is more waterfall, but it is still thinking.

Lean Startup is more “Doing” using more left side of brain. The chart below illustrates the mapping of tools in innovation process — discovery, ideation and prototyping. Critical thinkers call the process PDCA so this is not unique to Design Thinking :p

As both critical thinking and design thinking focus more on thinking, they have more tools in discovery and ideation stage. Critical thinking has more logical tools such as MECE and 5 whys. Design Thinking has more anthropologic tools. These are the key difference.

Lean Startup has more tools to validate ideas. These tools help you test your idea and hypothesis. The approach is more “Doing” than “Thinking”.


After all, it does not matter what approach we take. Innovation matters. Idea is free. Execution is priceless. Understanding what tools are available to us help us moving forward. When we stack with tools we feel comfortable, we should be able to switch to alternative. I am more left brain person, but I am happy to try right brain approach.