A Little Magic For You …

Why Design Thinking Will Fail Again (Part 1)

Design thinking is the new elephant in the room, a concept many describe according to their own perceptions, but that few call out as an incomplete description of the essential methodology of design.

(First of a 3-part post that looks at the current state of Design Thinking, its promises and pitfalls, and the road ahead.) Go to Part 2 >>

Business investments are either tied to revenue generation or expected to result in cost savings. Will Design Thinking investments yield either? Or even, can they? Ouch!

Understanding the state-of-the-art (sic) of Design Thinking

The following conclusions from GK VanPatter’s brilliant post paint the landscape in full colour.


Difficult subject: Many factors have contributed to the massive confusion around the subject of Design Thinking. Here are five streams in play that have significantly added to the present marketplace confusion mess around the subject:

INFLATEGATE: The aggressive, ongoing, widespread respinning, redepicting and overstating of Product/Service/Experience Design as organizational and societal transformation by numerous high profile graduate design schools as well as many of their graduates.

AMATEURGATE: The aggressive rewriting, narrowing and constant dumbing down of Design Thinking by outside amateur’s positioning themselves not as participants, learners, supporters or champions of Design Thinking but rather as instant industry experts.

DISCONNECTGATE: The aggressive, deliberate strategy to separate Design Thinking from Design and the design community represented most prominently by the enforced strategy (Rule #1: Design & Design Thinking are two unconnected subjects) of the largest Design Thinking” group on LinkedIn from its founding in 2007 through 2014. (Good News: This list now has a new moderator who is redesigning the list “Rules”.)

ENTRENCHGATE: Failure/Slow Change on the part of deeply entrenched forces within the design community to allow Design Thinking to significantly evolve and change beyond their own traditional skillsets.

EDUCATIONGATE: Failure/Slow Change on the part of many high profile graduate design schools to significantly adapt to the vastly changed landscape of needs beyond Product/Service/Experience Design (Design 2.0). Redepicting Product/Service/Experience Design in their marketing materials is not effective, program level changemaking….:-)


VanPatter’s Linkedin post is worth its weight in gold in sizing the elephant in the room. Do read it. Remember my problem with the pitch in my post 3 problems in Design Thinking?

The d.school at Stanford, which brought Design Thinking mainstream (thanks also to the Internet), somehow has people thinking of it as a templatised recipe (no fault of theirs). Actually it’s more about business folks always being in a hurry and wanting formulae that guarantee success, than any confusion around the value of Design thinking.

Carissa Carter explains it nicely …

From process to ability

At the d.school we endeavor to enable our students in eight core design abilities so that they might develop their own creative confidence and also inspire others, take risks, and persevere through tough projects throughout their lives. We want our students to be their own unique chefs. We don’t want to churn out individuals that only know how to follow a recipe. Remember when Michael drove the car into the lake?

Read the whole piece here … Let’s stop talking about THE Process!

The article is a MUST READ!!

Another problem with design thinking is simply its label. Sure, David Kelley and Tim Brown must have their reasons, but it seems to have played out in a way that muddles the import of the discipline.

For one, Design is a noun and a verb at the same time. And second it’s a right-brain PLUS left-brain way of thinking as well as a specialist profession.
Image source: What is Design — Lecture 01

I remember this from way back in the early 1980s; the entrance test we took to get into design school had a list of occupations — engineering, finance, commerce, milkman, cobbler, sportsman, etc. etc… maybe 30 such and you had to tick off only those ones that were related to design. We lucky few who ticked all, yes ALL, passed the test. That should tell you something! More than anything else, it tells us that the warm comfort that specialists enjoy, is missing from a designer’s life.

Design is chaotic.
Design is rigour.
Design is being able to thrive in unpredictability.

Which brings us to the final deliverable of Design Thinking, viz. value concepts.

What now matters is the design and delivery of value. That needs design thinking. That needs creative thinking. Judgment thinking alone is not going to be enough. Most people, in business and elsewhere, have done very well on judgment thinking. Such people are rarely aware of the need for ‘design thinking’. They find it difficult to conceive that there is a whole other aspect of thinking that is different from judgment thinking. It is not that such people are complacent. It is simply that they do not know that there is another aspect to thinking.

— Edward de Bono, Why So Stupid? How the Human Race has Never Really Learned to Think, 2003


I’m @sunilmalhotra on Twitter.

Go to Part 2 >>