Half full or half empty?

March 31, 2010 — 6 Comments


Kevin MucCullagh has written a challenging, and long, piece explaining his questions and concerns about design thinking and you can see it posted on Core 77 here.

I support much of what he has to say. Design thinking has to show impact if it is to be taken seriously. Designing is as much about doing as it is about thinking. Designers have much to learn from others who are more rigorous and analytical in their methodologies.

What I struggle with is the assertion that the economic downturn has taken the wind out of the sails of design thinking. My observation is just the opposite. I see organizations, corporate or otherwise, asking broader, more strategic, more interesting questions of designers than ever before. Whether as designers we are equipped to answer these questions may be another matter.

I sympathize with Kevin’s frustrations but I wonder how many of them stem from a business culture that struggles to see the opportunity in change.

Tim Brown


6 responses to Half full or half empty?

  1. I do agree with Mr.MucCullagh’s suggestions that encourage designers to learn more others. – I think it is a never ending curve. And yes, designers should continue to make positive impact.

    As of the topic on “vision vs users”, many comments have suggested that there seems to be a misunderstanding on “getting close to the consumers” and co-creation.

    I do not feel the term design thinking leaves us cold. I do feel it is a great challenge to live up to its definitions when different types of problems are constantly added under this umbrella.

    After all, like what Mr. Kenya Hara said on the very first page of his book, “Verbalizing design is another act of design.” I agree on all the actions that need to be taken, but I also see the value of this “new story” as it does broaden, at least, my view on what design is and can be.

  2. “Whether as designers we are equipped to answer these questions may be another matter.”

    And no small matter, at that; especially when some vocal “design thinking” boosters are busy promoting non-process “thinking” as being the same thing (for obviously self-serving purposes), thus further complicating the situation and putting off those of us who – while otherwise agreeing with the substance – have difficulties opening the questionably named package.

  3. I think one of the biggest issues is that everyone automatically assumes they know what consumers think and want, rather than researching, qualifying and then developing solutions. This is what separates the wannabes with those truly in a position to make a positive effect.

    The ultimate role of almost any profession is to solve problems, real or perceived.

    Furthermore, I am seeing a vast number of companies that categorically refuse to be questioned on direction. Company wants this, consumers want that and company cannot understand why sales are down. Furthermore, when they seek out organizations to answer that question, they refuse to even consider the answers. What I think is the hardest to accept, it is the fact that these companies have the ability to better, but mindset, dollars and structure put a chokehold on any progress they could achieve.

    But, then on the flip side, I am forced to ask if the above just says we are not being effective communicators of ideas. I am likely to believe it is a combination. Clearly, there are organizations that are doing great work, IDEO is one of them. So, even if the thinking is sound, but the message fails to convince, the failure is on us.

  4. I don’t know if this is what you meant in the end, but your title grabbed me for one major reason. I honestly believe that it comes down to this: Are we creating, or reacting?

    Too much of design is about solving problems, addressing consumer needs, etc. The most “creating” that happens seems to be a drive to produce new niches in the market. Whatever happened to thinking beyond solutions, and becoming propositions for innovative ways of living and thinking? An obvious example is to shift the focus from “reducing waste” to redefine what it means to be green, and to provoke audiences into participating in a larger, positively-oriented sustainable design movement.

    Maybe this is too broad here, and as a design student, I’ll be the first to admit that I need to do more research on specifics. But the foundation of our thinking is something that can be addressed at any level of technical understanding.

  5. Interesting debate…. maybe DT was shipped too soon, or maybe as Mr. it’s not new news- just a story rewritten for a wider audience. In the end, at least for me, what distinguishes an organization that is truly practicing the substance of design thinking is in how it engages risk. Every organization is on a quest for certainty. Most organizations are still trying to get in touch with their customers or end users as a way of reducing risk by merely asking customers what they want and reacting to what they ask for. These types of activities are the fossilized remnants of business school thinking that characterized product development management throughout most of the late 20th century. Sony and Apple as well as a handful of entrepreneurial organizations stood out, but only a few who studied product development could see or would acknowledge that it was vision, leadership, culture, knowledge creation, wisdom, inspiration, creativity supported by analysis, informed intuition, courage and scrappy hard work that made the difference. The product development community responsible for determining the “body of knowledge” was on a search for the divine process- too make order out of chaos, which is another quest for certainty. I’m glad they did too, quality is up, costs are down and the product development community is working at the speed of fright.

    Thankfully, we are moving on from a total focus on that now and looking for something more. What separates the high performing DT organization from the rest is the ability to seek insight, ponder what could be, move forward with evidence and learn what works by rapidly implementing and testing ideas. Talented and insightful teams that are inspired by their customers are leaning into the future and reducing uncertainty by experimenting with risky ideas. The organizations that support these teams fundamentally believe that there is a risk in not taking a risk……

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