I thought design thinking was nonsense

Jelmar van Voorst
Mar 26, 2020 · 4 min read

I’ve worked at multiple agencies before switching to an in-house design job. Working at those agencies I was surrounded by a large pack of seasoned designers. Delivering great design was the primary craft we delivered as an agency. It was our reason to exist.

At the time we made a fool out of the design thinking revolution. We felt it was overrated, it was nothing new. We didn’t understand why product managers talked about design thinking on conferences like it was magic. Ridiculous, we’ve been doing this for ages, this is what we’ve always done!

I thought it was nonsense.

Making things pretty

Design is so much more than just making things pretty. I struggled with the fact that this is how our business was seeing and using us. I felt the need to explain that our design tools and methods can drive innovation strategies and business viability in their projects. People with a background in design can probably relate to this.

But how do you convince colleagues to use design when they don’t (fully) understand what it can do for them?

I needed to sell design.

Adjust the angle

While first having the dilemma that I believed design thinking was nonsense I decided to let go of that (arrogant) mindset. I discussed the topic with colleagues and design leaders and tried to understand why design thinking seemed to work with product managers. And I got it.

The term ‘Design’ has an artistic vibe. It feels like it’s about colour, shape and style. Telling product managers that they need design involvement often results in a mismatch. That’s often not what their challenge is about.

Instead, design thinking is focused on process. A process to solve complex business challenges. This definition is a lot more specific and easier to understand for stakeholders no matter what their background is.

In order to sell what design can do for your organisation, you need to understand the point of view of your stakeholders you're trying to sell design to.

How to sell design thinking

Develop relationships

After a few meetings, I started to see these chats as a way to empathize with product managers to learn more about the challenges they faced, what’s important to them and what they’re trying to achieve.

Use words that your stakeholders can relate to

Be flexible about the process

Build a track record

Do a roadshow

Develop a training program and create a toolkit

To solve this issue, start to create a toolkit with practical guides on how to e.g. conduct interviews, create customer journey maps or develop prototypes. Next to that, set up a training program where colleagues can experience the design thinking tools and methods. Think about the setup of your training based on the experience and interests of your audience.

Is it magic?

I hope this article can help you with your journey to spread what design can do for your organisation.

Reflecting on my time working at design agencies I’ve transformed from being a sceptic (arrogant) designer into someone that is able to look at things from a different point of view other than my own. This enabled me to move forward in involving design in strategic decision making.

Maybe there’s magic in design thinking after all…

Thank you Thijs Kuin for taking this journey together at Jumbo.

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