in design thinking

More thinking about “design thinking”

I have a… complicated relationship with the phrase “design thinking”. Over 4 years ago, I wrote a post, “The Dark Side of Design Thinking” that looked at the shortcomings of the designer’s perspective, and even earlier, lamented how the phrase “design thinking” was being used to mean “thinking that I like,” and not really about design.

But then I also co-wrote a book that addresses the value of design approaches (and I’ve been known, in person, to say that it’s a book about “design thinking” that never uses the phrase “design thinking”).

I most recently blogged on Harvard Business about “Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You”, because I find myself, again, fed up with how people use this phrase in such a way that it’s essentially meaningless, and it seems to serve little more than helping sell design firms trying to be more strategic, or sell business magazines in desperate need of appearing hip.

The problem I faced in that post is that there’s no good alternative term for the kind of thinking I promote, which is a wildly multi-disciplinary approach. Dev tried with “hybrid thinking”, but I found that phrase too limiting. I considered “integrated thinking,” but it’s too vague, and too similar to Roger Martin’s integrative thinking. Perhaps the best term I found was “post-disciplinary,” ironically enough from IDEO’s Jane Fulton Suri (ironic because the rise of the phrase “design thinking” is pretty much all due to IDEO).

Something I don’t address in my post, but where I think there’s a real opportunity for exploration, is to identify how this wildly multi-disciplinary thinking actually does contribute to organizational success in the 21st century.

  1. Hi Peter,

    Which definition of the phrase “Design Thinking” is it that you have a ..complicated relationship with?

    The one you are referring to in your previous post is not a definition of the term, unless I have massively overlooked something, and you do not strike me as a person who would resort to a rant, only to repeat it after four years. So there must be some sort of concrete sentiment that you are reacting to in this …complicated manner?

    Best regards,

  2. Peter
    i understand you and its also my own “problem” of where to fit in. Seeing myself as inbetween different design disciplines (coming from urbanism) i see the current designthinking discussions very much focussed only on products, strategies etc…
    but even most of my colleagues and friends in the wider urbanism field have no clue at all what i´m speaking about…

    Greetings from Shanghai,

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