Why Design Thinking isn’t a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Design thinking and digital transformation have been thought to be a dynamic duo. Design thinking acts as a catalyst to propel digital transformation forward, grooming and tweaking each step with its “five-step, user-centric design methodology that does not present a solution upfront but examines both present and future details of a problem and explores alternate solutions.” (according to Forbes).

However, the practical application is a little different once digital transformation is involved.

Over the years that I’ve worked in this industry I’ve come to realize that design thinking may not be all it’s cut out to be. The five-step method seems like a great out-of-the-box strategy, but in reality, it takes too long to implement to be effective. Specifically during a digital transformation when the digital adoption strategy must be crafted to meet the specific company’s needs immediately.

While design thinking is useful in user experience design, it can often hinder progress within other industries, instead of accelerating it, which is what I’ve observed about its impact on digital transformation.

I came across Randy Pennington’s well-written article. He shares his opinion that despite the fact that design thinking has not yet proven to help improve digital transformation, there still could be some hope for the future of the duo if a series of challenges are tackled.

This struck a chord for me, as I have often thought that design thinking is quite limited in the impact it is able to make on the digital industry.

So, I just had to put this question out there…

Is a philosophy that requires time to nurture worth the investment in our fast-paced society of constant change?

In order to open the conversation, I compiled some of the points from the article which touch on my question…

“Design thinking takes time. Empathy with the customer experience, ideation, prototyping, testing, and revision require a time and resource commitment that can be at odds with a deadline-driven environment.”

It is well-known that design thinking takes time to implement and generate results, but how much time do we really have in a world where software updates are as frequent as the seasons?

At the end of the day, the harsh reality is that our strategies are centered around achieving growth and success, and these goals don’t wait for anyone.

“The culture gets in the way. There is a leadership mandate to embrace the collaboration, iterative development process, and customer focus that are the hallmark benefits of Design Thinking. There is even public acknowledgment that using this approach could lengthen the development process and ultimate adoption of a new application. That doesn’t mean, however, that your company is ready to operate differently. ”

Design thinking shouldn’t override the operation process of a company. It should complement, not control, the way people work.

“We’re not as human-centric as we think. TetraVX’s Pipes strongly believes that successful digital transformation requires understanding people and their experience. Unfortunately, goals and incentives are structured around productivity, profitability, meeting deadlines, and cost control. It is easy to lose the human element when the person to whom you report, such as the COO or CFO, tends to manage by dashboard metrics associated with finances and efficiency.”

There is only so much time and energy someone can put into one project in a day. Ultimately the human-centric mindset gets pushed to the bottom of the list when prioritizing things like deadlines and cost control.

Randy’s article concludes with the message that using design thinking to improve digital transformation is possible by “bringing the human-centric voice to the table, and connecting the bottom and top of the organizations”.

While I do see how focusing on user-centricity and presenting alternative solutions could be beneficial, I think it’s important to focus on what we’re trying to achieve by implementing this philosophy.

A company looking to digitally transform is consumed with digitizing its processes, which requires an effective change management strategy, in addition to a digital adoption strategy. Both of these strategies should already contain high-quality tactics to engage the employees while focusing on the past, present, and future — two of the major parts of design thinking.

I’d like to leave you with some food for thought…

Is a methodology that requires time to nurture worth the investment in the long run?


What is your take on the article, or on my opinion? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!

You can read the full article here.