A show worth watching (OITNB)

Design Thinking Is The New Black.

How might we protect its soul as it gains in popularity?

Integration, synergy, leverage, influencer, pivot, engagement, alignment, closing the loop…

Dreaded buzzwords.

We’ve all heard them right? Probably even said them a time or two? You know you have… you’ve done it… you’ve got your favorite… come on, admit it… it’s ok.

Let’s talk about a newbie that’s recently joined the list — Design Thinking.

Everybody I meet these days is a “Design Thinker.” A quick look at google trends and you can prove it; the term Design Thinking has been published in 700% more news headlines and blogs since 2005 (that’s some serious growth).

On one hand, this growth is a beautiful thing. It directly reflects a recognition of the need for a better way to solve problems — most importantly, putting specific human needs at the center of the discussion. Kudos Tim Brown and co. — thank you for inspiring an army of Design Thinkers to put people first, always.

But there’s a problem brewing.

Like any other great methodology that found traction, there are risks. I’ve seen it play out a number of different ways in the past, but the most common risks (what I fear happening to design thinking) are the following; The Fad, and The Imposter.

The Fad

A rather recent example of The Fad is Mobile First. (To be clear, I’m a HUGE fan of Luke W and the Mobile First approach. I love it, I preach it, I practice it). Not more than a year ago though, I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing about Mobile First. The core idea is to design for mobile devices first, then bigger screen sizes and devices. In doing so, you’re working with a lot less screen real-estate, forcing you to make some really hard decisions about content/feature prioritization. It’s a fantastic concept. However, we the industry aren’t talking about it anymore… What happened? Even something rather simple to learn and practice, with a pure and valuable place in the world, is falling off our radar. It’s unfortunate.

The Imposter

As a child of the 80's, I can’t help but think of Vanilla Ice, the ultimate imposter. Talented, arguable. But, giving credit where it’s due — he did write the cultural phenomenon Ice Ice Baby, making him one of the biggest one hit wonders of the 80's. He reached a level of success and fame that the majority of us will never realize, impressive. But, when I compare Vanilla Ice to a group like Run-D.M.C., it’s pretty obvious to see who lives, breathes, and dies Hip Hop, and who faked it for fame and fortune.

The same is true with successful methodologies like Design Thinking. As they gain in popularity, more and more people participate. Some are pure in their intent and have a clear purpose, others are simply trying to find success and fame — riding today’s hot trend.

How might we all be more like Run-D.M.C.?

There’s more to Design Thinking than you can learn on the surface, or by reading a few books (which I strongly suggest you do). Like any great methodology, it takes time, effort, and practice to do it well. Get Design Thinking right and we can do amazing things for our world, get it wrong and we’ll lose Design Thinking to the wind.

A Call To Arms

  • How might we protect design thinking as it gains in popularity?
  • How might we ensure the core tenants are maintained as people make it their own?
  • How might we empower the future change makers of our culture with the tools and talents they need to drive the needed change?

Jeremy Utley of Stanford’s D. School says it best in his article, Drop The Design Thinking Crutch:

It’s not design thinking that the world needs; it’s design thinkers who continuously evolve the practice as they encounter new constraints and cultures.
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