Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Why Design Thinking Works (hbr.org)
218 points by helloworld on Dec 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

I do not understand what Design Thinking is. Can someone explain in plain English without the business verbiage?

Every time I come across Design Thinking, it just smells like bullshit - get a bunch of people together, give them post it notes and open walls. IBM’s DT website does not help nor do videos on YT.

What is Design Thinking?

Basically: research, hypothesize, prototype, test, iterate, deliver. It's not new, but here we are with new terminology.

It is good because if you're a design firm you sometimes need an HBR-approved buzzword to get your client, the VP of Marketing, to let you do any kind of user research. But ultimately, like any business concept used primarily to sell in client work and justify it up the ladder, it will be replaced by "whatever the stakeholder wants" when push comes to shove.

Sorry, but you completely missed the mark on this one. Are you in UX or have you led design thinking sessions? It's successful because the product stops being something the designer created and starts being a product the whole team created. It gives everyone, no matter your role, a voice in the product and the creativity to build what you think the product should be.

It also centers the process, meaning how problems and solutions are validated, on your users.

How's that different than "lean startup" ?

If you are working for an established consultancy and selling for example a marketing project to a large incumbent I don't really think there is obvious place to sell you services using the term "startup".

Crash course on Stanford's D.School page:


Juul serves as a foundational example of design thinking. In the words of the founders, both grads of the Product Design masters program, the concept was not to create an "electronic cigarette" but to annihilate the concept of cigarettes altogether in favor of a true 21st century innovative delivery system. Regardless of your position on the societal ills of underage nicotine dependency, it's a fascinating case study to see how a niche product (Plume, I believe it was called?) for loose-leaf cannabis and extracts dubbed the "iPhone of vapes" evolved into a $15B household brand.

How Juul, founded on a life-saving mission, became the most embattled startup of 2018


I think the real skill involved is Visual Thinking. Good old fashioned pencil and paper flow state ideation. If there is one practice I wish I had spent more time acquiring it would definitely be illustration / drafting ;)

I find in interesting that, to the question of "can someone explain in plain English what is Design Thinking?", your answer is a link to a Stanford crash course, and some story about a company that produces vapes, with a link to a long-winded article about them.

This makes me strongly suspect that Design Thinking is indeed BS.

I would argue design thinking had less to do with Juul's success than, say, quality product design from multiple product iterations, quality hardware, and quality electrical engineering that can be mass produced like an Apple product.

Quality that starts with the electronics and ends with an appealing form factor and sleek fit and finish. Of course the UX needs to be thoughtful and as least frustrating as possible, which arguably has more to do with your typical interaction design and usability testing methods in the realm of UX design and research.

Juul combined great product design, engineering, product iteration, and support from management from the top down to make the best product possible that is typically seen in design driven companies such as Apple.

I think design thinking definitely has the power to break down silos in organizations with heavy engineering culture but you need the right org chart and executive support to create game changing products no matter how much 'design thinking' goes on behind closed doors. I agree it is a hot marketing buzzword sold to clients to win business as mentioned by others, and that we need to acknowledge the fact that you need executive management support at the highest levels or you're dead in the water.

Was design thinking responsible for the Tesla Model 3, or was it more about innovation in tech and manufacturing combined with quality electrical and hardware engineering + funding driven by a leader with a vision hell-bent on creating a game changing product and fostering a culture conducive to that end goal.


> explain in plain English

doesn't generally mean 'download a deck of cards' from Stanford.

Yeah I'm not so sure Juul is that special.

There are tons of competitors in what is effectively a new and disruptive space with tons of potential upside by re-legitimizing nicotine addiction.

For whatever reason, they're winning, but there are so many factors beyond design that I'd be very reluctant to postulate this was the decisive factor.

Marketing, branding, operations, access to large markets, talent, social proximity to 'free press', soft lobbying (i.e. close relationships to various institutions through hiring or serendipity etc.).

Nicotine delivered through e-cigarettes is not even remotely as addictive as classical cigarettes. I also know 3 people that stopped using cigarettes using vapes, 2 of which stopped altogether.

It's the same nicotine, and a nearly identical delivery method, and it's just as addictive - if not more so in some cases. The reason I believe it can more addictive is because of the constancy of vaping for some: with cigarettes, you 'have a break' and go out now and again. With vaping it can be 'all the time'. The higher frequency makes for ready addiction.

Using people who are 'trying to quit smoking and using vaping as a mechanism' is a poor measure of determining the addictivity of vaping because people are already trying to quit.

Personally, I quit 'light smoking' with vaping rather easily.

But then I took up vaping for about a year, and quitting was brutally hard. I was not even a heavy vaper. It consumed my entire body.

Quitting smoking I would get 'pangs' or 'acute' points where I wanted to have a cigarette - if I could get past that, it would be fine. With vaping ... it was like a constant pain. I think this was related to the nature of usage.

And I was using a log mg vape, I could have easily moved up.

Vaping is a really, really bad idea. Though the nicotine addiction is not nearly so hazardous alone, it's far worse or addicting than say, a coffee addiction - particularly for young people this is a bad idea.

I've quit smoking involuntarily thanks to vaping: A friend told me to try vaping since he thought I might enjoy the 'manual part' (wrapping coils, mixing liquids).

After 2 weeks of vaping I wanted to smoke a cig again. It tasted so awful that I instantly stopped smoking cigarettes and continued vaping (I still never intended to stop consuming nicotine, but the positive effects of not smoking were showing pretty immediately)

My coils drifted into the subohm range pretty fast, mechmods and 100W+ boxes was what I needed to produce cubic meters of vape. But upping the volume of vaped liquid allowed me to reduce the relative nicotine contents (improving the taste of the liquid further) up to the point where I started asking myself whom for I'm consuming nicotine.

Stopping to vape was pretty easy at that point.

Never looked back.

Fully concur with both comments - for those who actively want to quit smoking, vaping can really help.

It just opens the pandora's box to youth vaping. And also full-on vaping addiction as well.

If I was king I would ban advertising for vaping other than as smoking cessation. In Quebec where I live , you can't even have vaping products in the window. All of the signage and rules are strictly limited, much like the limited packaging on cigarettes.

It's amazing to see that if you separate brand and advertising from a product, how hard it is for companies to be successful. Tells you a lot about human behaviour!

It's great if you want to quit and it helped me too. But it's not great if you just start, it's not great if you are a teenager who will dismiss parents or older people's advice to not get into it, just because it's cool and they know what they're doing.

I agree that it's not a good habit to start, but my wife quit smoking by switching to a vape and gradually reducing the nicotine to zero (over years). So all I can say is mileage varies on that.

Anecdotes are fun, but we observe higher degrees of nicotine use among young people now than we did before vaping exploded.

> relegitimizing nicotine addiction

You should visit Europe where smoking doesn't have nearly the amount of stigmatization it does in America.

There are smoking rooms within my office in Germany, and the rooms smell like an American restaurant circa ‘95.

Yes, I lived in Germany, it's a throwback. But your comment makes it seem as though the Euros have some bohemian progressive outlook in the issue; this is not nude sunbathing, this is smoking, it kills people for sure :).

Don’t generalise Germany to the whole of Europe. As a Swede that just came back from a visit to Germany I was actually appalled by how much you smoke there.

I'm not sure whether you can generalise over Europe that easily. There's quite the stigma on smoking in the Netherlands, which has for the largest part gained a foothold after banning smoking in working places (including cafés and bars). I haven't heard of a Dutch workplace offering special smoking rooms so far.

Can you smoke in Dutch bars? One thing that I was horrified by in the Netherlands was people smoking right at entrances to buildings. In the US, you have to be 20 ft (~6 meters) from entrances when you smoke.

Smoking in general has been prohibited for a few years. Many bars still have special smoking rooms, but they are on the verge of being prohibited as well. Smoking near entrances is, indeed, still often allowed, but that too is getting more and more pushback, and the number of places that allow it is clearly decreasing.

Point being: there's a clear stigma against smoking here, and wherever we're "behind" in terms of pushing back against smoking, we are heading in the same direction.

> I think the real skill involved is Visual Thinking. Good old fashioned pencil and paper flow state ideation. If there is one practice I wish I had spent more time acquiring it would definitely be illustration / drafting ;)

You hear a lot about design in corporate discourse these days. Visual art tools like mind mapping, whiteboard animation, and even storyboards are getting prime time in the context of business.

This is partly legitimate. Sketching is one of the best ways to understand complex concepts and come up with new ideas. Both are valuable skills. But organizations also love to boast about how much design-oriented they are. Talking about "design thinking" or "mindful design" and so forth doesn't mean anything changed. Fads come and go.

Today techniques like boards, graphs and sketches are making a comeback within companies. How much is hype versus how much is due to people unwilling to focus for a long time on something? Visual concepts tend to get the point across fast. It's great as long as it is not to the detriment of in-depth analysis.

As an illustrator/designer, companies saw you as a disposable executant who made things pretty. That is, versus a writer who was more on the conceptual side of things and understood the overarching strategy. Not sure the designers gained any more respect in the process but that is another story. It will change again.

I can tell you speak from deep experience, great insights thanks!

I do not mean to attack you, but my initial reaction is similar to OP - this just reeks of BS.

> How Juul, founded on a life-saving mission, became the most embattled startup of 2018

A life-saving mission? They are currently being banned by the FDA, the organization that Trump just defanged, for their sale of questionably safe products targeted at children.


Did they really target children, or just create flavours that were desired by both adults and children?

What flavour should they make that don’t (theoretically) appeal the children? Beer? Anchovies? Broccoli? Mesquite BBQ?

Adults can like bubblegum or sweet and fruity flavours. I know I ask for them from my dentist for my cleanings instead of mint.

You have a point on the flavors but the problems with the marketing in Juul’s early years we’re pretty evident... https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2018/11/16/t...

The SRITA archive is pretty damning

It doesn’t seem any more damning than typical alcohol advertising.

> His archived Juul ads are filled with attractive young models socializing and flirtatiously sharing the flash-drive shaped device, displaying behavior like dancing to club-like music and clothing styles more characteristic of teens than mature adults.

In a country where you have to be 21+ to get into a club, what club music is characteristic of teens instead of adults?

> It doesn’t seem any more damning than typical alcohol advertising.

That strikes me as a pretty low bar. People used to say the same thing about cigarette ads. Which in retrospect were horrific. I once chatted with some people researching at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library: https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu/tobacco/

They had story after story about the depravity of the tobacco advertising industry. The one that stuck with me was the advertising campaign targeted at developmentally disabled adults. Once hooked they were very loyal consumers.

Yeah it's odd that Green Apple Smirnoff Ice can continue to exist and yet flavored JUUL is banned.

The differences in addictivity between alcohol and nicotine seem like a pretty significant difference

Except alcohol is directly harmful, nicotine is barely harmful.

And nobody has ever died from nicotine withdrawal. Or smashed their car after inhaling nicotine.

Literally tens of millions of people have died because of nicotine addiction, so your comment is so frankly ridiculous it doesn't even deserve a more considered response.

That's not entirely fair because there's a distinction between nicotine and smoking.

The method of delivery killed those nicotine addicts. None of those nicotine addicts died as a direct result of what nicotine does to the body. Combusting tobacco and inhaling the smoke is what killed them (ignoring chewing or snorting).

If I used a patch, I can continue my nicotine addiction without fear of lung disease. I can't do the same with smoking.

There's no method of delivering a habitual psychoactive dose of alcohol that doesn't cause harm.

But all said and done, I'm not sure vaping nicotine, with all those flavours, has been proven safe. There's a lot of talk about popcorn lung.

I read their comment as making a distinction between nicotine intake of arbitrary delivery system vs smoke inhalation of a tobacco + MAOI panoply ('cigarettes'). I can envision a world where nicotine addicts don't have to hurt themselves nearly as much to get their fix. I say that with the disclaimer that I don't think that makes it good, per se - just pragmatically a lot better.

Maybe ban advertising for that as well?

Culture is complex and produces inconsistent behavior. That doesn't mean we should try to do better.

I hate that moniker and I hope it dies in a fire but it's nothing more than using the same thinking devices used by designers (contextual inquiry, making assumptions explicit, mapping journeys and outcomes) by people that are not professional designers. The thinking is teaching the fundamentals can help teams of non designers achieve better outcomes in collaboration with a designer.

IMHO design thinking is just... thinking.

I would agree, but unfortunately it's not a common kind of thinking. Especially at larger companies. So I think it's useful to have a defined name and a set of practices so that people who aren't used to thinking that way can start to grapple with it.

For example, I got to sit in on a 3-day design thinking class at a large financial company. The attendees were from all over the company, from programmers to back-office people to account reps. Many of them had never met a customer in the course of their jobs. The design thinking concepts were deeply alien their normal work. But by half-way through they had a bunch of real users in for the attendees to interview. By the end, they were forced to produce new product ideas and mock-ups.

It was really a revelation to a lot of the people there. Three days was only enough to give them a taste. But it was clear from the talk afterwards that a lot of them could now see why it was worth thinking beyond their designated jobs and really understanding what they were doing from the user's perspective.

> thinking beyond their designated jobs and really understanding what they were doing from the user's perspective

if a company treats their (low level) employees like replaceable cogs, and never involve them in decision making, then yes, this does seem like a revelation!

However, this just goes to show that having trust, and empowering employees to be more autonomous and self-directed (with the appropriate amount of compensation based incentives of course) will achieve the same kind of results imho.

It doesn't help allowing employees to be autonomous and self-directed if they never see or get feedback from real users.

A large part of design is validating whatever tool it is that they produce with the people for whom you're building it, and do it again at every step of the process with the intermediate designs - not just as a single upfront gathering of requirements. This is not something that you get from an eat-you-own-dog-food approach.

Exactly. At a startup, it's easy to get outside the building: there aren't that many people inside, so you'd have to be pathologically insular to avoid it.

But when a company grows, I think of it like a sphere. The average distance to a customer keeps increasing. At the beginning, most people have contact with the outside world. But when it's large, most people's lived reality is about other people who work at the company.

And historically, that worked fine for large companies for quite a while. They were doing relatively stable, simple things that could be easily scaled. But things are hopefully changing. There are a lot of people who have spent their lives inside of large companies. Whatever it takes to rehabilitate them is fine by me.

Design Thinking is a way of integrating user feedback into the development process. When your product is iterative it almost always works. When your product is outside the comfort zone of the current users - that is when it is a problem. At least it is good to know what the user perception is and experiment.

It is one reason why I encourage my s/w dev colleagues to go and spend time in customer support. The environment of what your users experience can be fundamentally different to what you imagined during the development phase.

My eyes were opened when I worked on one product. We added scriptability and for 3 years we assumed that would cover a multitude of user requirements. Until I actually tried to implement a customer's solution using it and realised how crap the experience was. 3 years late.

How do you sell thinking outside the box to people who only think in boxes? Make a new box.

Yes, exactly. Idiots guide to thinking.

As Steve Jobs put it: “you have to start from the customer experience and work backwards”

Coming from consulting and having the same initial reaction to design thinking, here is the key elemento IMHO:

1. A simple way to reqllly focus with many stakeholders or team of people to really think problems thru with the minimal structure possible to get some ideas or potential projects.

2. It is refreshing is a big 4 consulting company used to charge you 6/7 fissures for a strategy you then needed your people to buy in. You are maki g it with them in a day or couple of days. (Iterate caster) 3. Gives a low risk model of getting people to really think customer first, with the problems and potential solutions.

From my own point of view it really works, especially in big traditional enterprises where people have trouble Channing. I hate to say it but is almost magical.

My 0.02 cents.

I like the summary given by Jeff Sussna in “Designing Delivery”. In a nutshell, Design Thinking consists of these elements:

- abductive thinking

- an iterative process

- ethnography

- empathy

...so it's just plain old thinking then.

Virtually all methodologies like this boil down, in the end, to an attempt to codify "be smart and do the thing."

When I was younger I (foolishly) derided software engineering as 'a way to get code out of people who aren't smart enough to program'. Now I see it like any other power tool - something which lets you do work that you wouldn't otherwise be able to tackle. No matter how smart you are, there's always some problem that's out of your intuitive reach, but which you could solve with a structured approach.

No, it's not plain old thinking then.

Far too much software has almost no concept of user empathy.

Example: yesterday I installed a new webcam. I was supposed to use a captcha to create a new account, and the captcha kept not working.

After roughly half an hour of searching I discovered that the captcha didn't work in Europe, but it did work if you set the locale to US.

Coincidentally, charges for the webcam cloud backup are much higher in the US.

Did a manager decide to ban the EU and force everyone to use the US pricing? Did they tell the developers to make the change as quickly as possible? Did the developers and the sales team forget to inform users? Did something go wrong somewhere else?

Who knows? As with many products, the user experience was irritatingly hostile and irrational, and the result was a firestorm of one star reviews on the App Store and Amazon.

I have no idea if design thinking could have fixed this problem, but more empathy, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail from the industry as a whole can't possibly be a bad thing.

I am a designer (and a programmer), and yes: a lot of what (good) designers do is plain old thinking, but it is a certain kind of thinking.

It is a question of focus. A designer will be all about the users, their experience etc. If they manage to make manufacturing/servicing/etc better at the same time – great! But in doubt they will go with the user.

A sysadmin would be focused on what is easy to maintain and won't create more work down the road.

A lazy person would try to find a solution, that movers the workload to a different entity altogether.

A engineer would mostly be concerned about reusing things that already exist in a clever way, with a aesthetically low standard: "Why are you complaining? It looks just like the thing company X made". It might be more durable, cheaper and a tiny bit more inconvinient to use.

A business person is mostely focused on how much it costs and how much potential sales there are.

A marketing person is mostly focused on the emotional visual part (see bad designer) and if they are good they will figure out what it is the customers like about the product (and if they are bad they make it pink for ladies and metallic with racing stripes for blokes).

All of these "thinking hats" have a reason to exist, but only one is really focused on the details of how the customer will interact with the thing you sell them in a day to day basis. Good designers on top of that will try to take the thing in a historical context: just because it is the way it is right now, doesn't mean it is the way it should (or could) be. The iPhone is a good example.

"People Think They Are Thinking When They Are Merely Rearranging Their Prejudices" -author contested

Try selling books and convincing others that you are a thought leader with plain old thinking though.

Taleb does.

Everything seems common sense except ethnography. An understanding that there are people who think differently than me is difficult for almost everyone.

Ethnography was created because mass marketing started to break down. It broke down because people are not the same.

In my opinion, having taken 2 design thinking courses for my Masters in Product Design:

"Design Thinking" = Bullshit

"Design" + "Thinking" = Designing using modern techniques and practices.

You are better off paying attention to the specific techniques and practices than paying attention to the overall philosophy of "Design Thinking". Some of these techniques are very high leverage.

- Learning how to do proper user interviews is really powerful and a very hard skill to master

- Multidisciplinary groups for design sessions are very effective

- Creating a positive, playful, open environment boosts creativity

- Iteratively converging and diverging on the problem leads to non-trivial solutions

Ultimately, and in addition to many existing "innovation" or "time and motion" tools, Design thinking is in-depth analysis of the customer and desperately hoping that somehow a "new idea" comes out of it. Roll in billions of consultancy dollars.

Nothing at all to do with a professional design process however.

The sessions help people to focus on what they need out of context.

It’s isn’t bullshit... I’ve seen people who were close to blows about how to approach a problem come up with a good solution a few hours later through the exercise.

I would say that novelty is powerful, not sure how effective it is after 100x.

Thinking + doing, rebranded to confuse engineers.

It's just a structured process. I find engineers are the ones that often benefit the most in Design Thinking workshops, or sessions, or whatever it is you call them.

What would otherwise be some roadblocked, upset situation with several engineers feeling like they aren't being heard, ends up somehow moving forward through discussion.

At least in my experience, which may be uncommon.

design thinking is a method that helps justify management opinion with a process of processing people's input so long until it is diluted/lost enough and replaced by the view of ppl in power.

Just another useless, empty, void attempt to formalize common sense.

Perhaps this video could help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrdSkqRypsg

This feels like all the "innovation acceleration" programs coming from corporate in my my company. Combine a few buzzwords with the obvious. I think corporate types are into this stuff because they often kill any kind of improvement with the strict control they like to exert but then they have to do this stuff to make people more "creative". I am sure it's also better to have an open workspace so diverse teams can collaborate the whole day.

Natural innovation within an organization depends entirely on rewards and it's been my experience that having multiple different innovation 'programs' with different life-cycles is a good way to foster an innovation culture. Having multiple different programs also right-sizes the opportunities for different ideas. At the very least it gets people talking to each other which in my experience has always been a prerequisite for innovation.

The downside of innovation programs is that they may be just an ineffective attempt to patch over the strict control policies that idiot managers put into place in order to protect the organization from its problem employees.

I wouldn't be surprised if a company sent it's managers on mandatory vacation for 4 weeks every other month and saw an increase in morale, worker productivity, and meaningful innovation.

Structured process towards coming up with plans and decisions on actions that provides improved outcomes.

I've been a part of several Design Thinking workshops, and they always go better than workshops in other formats in my experience.

Design Thinking is just solving problems (and creating new solutions) from the end-user's perspective. Some people are naturally good at it, but others need some structure to make it happen.

My wife went on a workshop at a Big 4 about Design Thinking.

Everyone sat through it and then one of the ladies turned about and blurted out "it's just thinking! Why is it called Design Thinking?"

Yeah... an acid test for these things is often, "what are you telling me not to do?"

In my encounters with design thinking, the controversial "don't" has actually been frequent, iterative release. For some folks, design thinking is a defense of a "measure twice, cut once" waterfall-y approach to product development.

That might make a lot of sense for some things, like physical consumer products, where a ton of branding and manufacturing go into each release. I think it's a bad idea for most software, where the ease of distribution means that you can learn from your market much more dynamically.

The times I've been a part of it, it's been in time boxed proof of concept situations where you're outlining a customer's desire, and then coming up with solutions for it, then delivering on them with an iterative process.

It's worked out better than any other process I've been apart of, but it may just be some other factor than it's value. The companies that were open and interested in using it, were often... of a generally higher quality of talent, and perhaps better outcomes is natural no matter what process is used.

What was the response? I’ve wondered the same thing at times but never had the nerve to ask so bluntly.

I think it was one of those situations where the attendees didn't want to rock the boat so they just kept their contempt to themselves.

For the people who are reading this and going "well, duh?" I think that's actually a very instructive reaction.

The analysis/brainstorming/prototyping/testing cycle (usually what "design thinking" refers to) is burned into many of us just because that's how we've been doing/aspiring to do things for years.

However, you have to remember that's not how a lot of people were doing things, and many of those people (I won't claim all of them, no process is universal) could probably benefit from judiciously adopting the practices.

A lot of people say "duh" but when was the last time they actually prototyped anything in the work or personal lives before doing it?

A lot of people may be "aspiring" to do it but few people actually do it.

I worked at a relatively progressive, design-centric company and even there "design thinking" tended to be relegated to a handful of projects and wasn't the norm/default.

I do this for everything I do. Always did. Sometimes the prototype evolves into the product/service to save time but everything starts as a prototype. I don't know how else you could successfully deliver anything?

I never really understand the goal of comments like this. Since we don't have access to your entire work history, it is impossible for us to judge a claim that, literally, every single feature you've ever built in your entire career -- even that one about allowing people to export to CSV -- involved you following the steps of:

"[On immersion] identify hidden needs by having the innovator live the customer’s experience."

"The final stage in the discovery process is a series of workshops and seminar discussions"

"In the next step, articulation, innovators surface and question their implicit assumptions."

And so on. Design thinking isn't "building a prototype". That is but one small part among many.

You have workshops for everything you build? You do contextual inquiries, sitting in a customer office all day to see what their interactions are like, for every feature you build? You sit down with paper prototypes (not even code yet) with actual customers?

For every single feature you build? Even when a customer just wants a button to sort Column X?

I guess I'm dubious but if you've managed to create a work environment where that's the expectation, then more power to you.

Design thinking is time consuming and expensive. That is why it is rarely used.

That's not what design thinking is for. Design thinking is one level up. You are creating a new product or large feature not some small aspect of a feature of said product (ie CSV export).

I'm sure that if you tried, you could come up with good faith exceptions. The parable of Chesterton's fence comes to mind.

I think that all these "happy meeting room" type of methods seem very biased towards extroverted people which feels like a bad idea and a major missed opportunity. Of course I don't find it shocking to read this article in HBR since business schools (and Harvard in particular) have very extroverted-centric cultures.

"Design Thinking" is a semi-recent moniker for design methodology centered around product design. Its real value is for younger and inexperienced designers. It is easily accessible even by high-school students. [1]

If you are a product designer who has 10 to 15 years experience bringing products to market, then IMHO there's not much in design thinking that you have not already seen. But if you are an undergrad or MS student with little work experience then it is a very useful structured thought process centered around product design.

If you are a mechanical design engineer in the sense of Shigley design thinking does not have a lot to offer your work product.

    [1] http://www.thedfarm.org/s2/?page_id=1009

Might work, otherwise just a word pitch on past "business improvement" protocols and snake oil

If I remember correctly, the key case study in Change By Design (that started he whole Design Thinking movement) was Nokia Ovi. So even ‘might work’ needs to be put into a time bound context. At the point when Brown wrote the book it was ‘working’, and there were claims in the book how Nokia is reinventing itself driven by design thinking, but then the whole ship sank soon after.

my understanding (without research) was that one of the founders of IDEO created the concept so they could broaden their client pool from traditional design to finance / business consulting.


Design Thinking doesn't "work" it works for those who sell it sure. But for everyone else its all based on whether the people who have the power in the organizations understands the value and is able to formulate that into useful tasks.

One of the biggest differences between a person like Jack Dorsey who really do understand the value of design and is able to formulate at the C Level and then someone like McKinzey who might just claim they are (or parts of them are) design led but don't really mean it because they don't really understand it is the ability to use sesign as a strategic parameter.

Design Thinking doesn't solve the fundamental issue which is transcendence between analysis and outcome. Someone have to be able to take the insights and turn them into something of value. The analysis is not the value in itself.

Or put another way what Design Thinking doesn't solve is transcendence between idea and execution.

So don't buy the BS and I say that as someone who consult companies on how to use design and design thinking strategically.

Can you dive in a bit deeper... what do you mean with 'Don't buy the BS?'

Design Thinking to me essentially is user centered design, I don't think you're saying UCD is BS.

What I'm reading is that without getting buy-in from execs, engineering etc - 'design thinking' is useless.

What did you do, so the 'design thinking' piece transcended into execution / desired outcome.

Or did you only work on projects where the value of 'design thinking' was already understood, i.e. design was seen as an executive priority.

EDIT: typos

User Centered Design doesn't have to be BS but mostly is because it's used mostly as a get out of jail card more than as an actual tool.

Here is a critique I made of UCD back in 2010,


UCD still have the same issue which is that it requires transcendence between insights and solution which is much less solid than what people suggest.

So what I mean with don't buy the BS is don't think that design thinking as a process is going to improve anything for you if you don't have the right people at the right places implementing it and even then it's not actually clear how much value it provides.

I think that using ethnography just to sell more stuff (because that's what "know your customers better" actually means) should be the subject of an ethnographic study about our present-day society in a couple of decades, when (hopefully) we won't be so fixated anymore on selling stuff that presumably most of the people don't need.

An excellent article.

> To be successful, an innovation process must deliver three things: superior solutions, lower risks and costs of change, and employee buy-in. Over the years businesspeople have developed useful tactics for achieving those outcomes. But when trying to apply them, organizations frequently encounter new obstacles and trade-offs. <

It is of extreme importance to realize that any proposed solution will have its trade-offs and it will be highly depend upon context and actual implementation.

It’s worrisome to see how many people nowadays, who are in positions of power, jump on the bandwagon of conventional “wisdom”, failing to realize that down the road, adopting blindly current solutions might trickle down into unwanted consequences.

Perhaps social media and the indiscriminate sharing of information, without proper scrutinization and analysis is not helpful either.

Furthermore, people who are critical, are not always expressing their views publicly, out of fear of being labeled a certain way.

I took an executive education course a few years ago through Darden which was led by the author of this article, Jeanne Liedtka. She co-wrote a step-by-step guide called "The Designing for Growth Field Book". I've found it useful.

I work in the public sector of Scandinavia, and I've seen design thinking work. A muniplacity wanted to do something about the high degree of long-term-sickness, with a goal of getting people back to health sooner. They set down a task force filled with design thinkers by education, with that goal, but no specific anything else (pretty unheard of in the public sector where everything is typically measured and weighed and only approved after the analysis and planning is over). After around 6 months, the task force changed a few things.

One of them was the changing location of the waiting room. It had previously been in a pass-through corridor, making it very busy and noisy, something that wasn't good for people with long-term-sickness such as stress. In fact it was terrible, and such an obvious small fix, but nobody had thought about it before they asked people what could be improved.

The biggest thing they did, was make a cardboard tool for your long-term-sickness plan and journal. In short terms, it's a plan with all the meetings and appointments you're required to go to filled in, with room for comments. Every time you go to an appointment, the case worker and you write down what you discuss and agree on during the meeting, and the case worker fills in the time and place for your next appointment before you leave.

This muniplicity is now significantly better at getting people with long-term-sickness back to health (and work) than every other muniplicity in the country. I can't remember the exact numbers but it's somewhere around 30% which is an insane amount of life quality increased (and money saved). I've seen it in action and I think Design Thinking can be absolutely brilliant. In most cases it's not though. Successes like the one I just describe lead other people to want the same thing, in fact, there is a now national program to utilise Design Thinking in every muniplicity of Denmark. Which is all well and good, except change management isn't easy.

Most muniplicities send one or two employees on a three day course to learn Design Thinking. It's employees who work with lean and other process/project management types, so they're certainly suited, but you don't really learn Design Thinking in three days. That the first problem, the far bigger problem is that nothing changes in the project models we utilise or the way management orders projects. I mean, sure, you can commit your citizens and do a few prototypes and that'll probably improve every project, but you're not really doing Design Thinking if you are still doing the full analysis, the full planning and the full requirement specification for what results you want from a project before you start doing your Design Thinking. This lack of commitment, ownership and focused change management is why Design Thinking is failing in most muniplacities. It's not just Design Thinking, it's also Enterprise Architecture, Digitisation, Benefit Realisation and a wide range of other brilliant tools that fail.

I prefer examples of Why "XXX Thinking do not work". Why ? Because learning from failures will shape correct lessons. That's how AI works, too.

The convergence rate on learning from "x didn't work" is much slower than from "x did work".

If you're looking for a peak, most of the time you want to climb the gradient rather than descend it. That statement is true even if you suspect there are multiple peaks in the landscape.

Learning from negative examples can be more effective when we can conclude that all inputs didn't work. The problem with positive examples is that we don't know which of the inputs was responsible for the positive result.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact