Design Thinking Blog

listening in on the conversation


Design Thinking: Are We Making Progress?

Posted by @dTblog under IMHO, Process
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progressIt has been a several years now since I launched the Design Thinking Blog. At the time, I felt that Design Thinking was poised to jump onto the business/management/innovation stage in a significant way. As I write this, I must admit that it has not happened with the intensity that I originally envisioned. Don’t misunderstand me, there is a great deal of conversation on the topic of Design Thinking…everything from seminars, videos and books to conferences. What I don’t see happening is Application.

It seems that most organisations are still deeply entrenched in “single disciplinary” approaches to bring innovation and solutions. But why?

In my consulting work with various groups and leaders, I try to bring the Design Thinking concepts to the forefront. I explain the goals, the processes and the quality of results that Design Thinking can bring. I honestly cannot remember any group or leader saying that they disagreed with what I was presenting. In the seminar settings, I see a great deal of excitement and acceptance of the principles. The participants readily join in on the “non-traditional” exercises and are even effective in getting positive results during the role playing and mock projects. However, the long term impact seems to be falling short.

When I have been employed by an organisation to walk with them through an actual project, I have been able to see where the breakdown occurs. Generally, it comes down to people being entrenched in the “ways of the past that worked in the past” (or at least seemed to). Very often, there are a few key stakeholders that will loose validation or position if the “innovation” process changes. At other times, the organisation struggles with leaders who tend to roll out “new ways” every year or so…and they have now become immune and resistant to new approaches.

In some of these cases I have been able to help them achieve enough success with Design Thinking to at least give it a fair chance. But honestly, there are too many that seem to be content to simply go into the conference room and try to brainstorm the “Next Great Thing!”

My hope is that over the next several years, we will see the change that I believe can happen. Design Thinking is more than just a strategy for innovation…it is an approach to viewing challenges and obstacles in a way that brings the best options and solutions to the forefront.

And the way things are going in this world….that is something we desperately need.

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Overview of Post: A quick thought (with links) on some of the growing questions regarding  the definitions  and differences in the areas of Design Thinking.

Thoughts on Post: I agree that we are in need of some clarification and perhaps differentiation in the various worlds that Design Thinking is being used.  Most of my experience has been that each area mentioned below is using the skills of Design Thinking to impact a specific problem or system.  It can be a product, service, or position.  The process of Design Thinking is not limited or defined by any one field..

Recently, there has been a flurry of activity around some new terms, Design thinking and Design leadership. I think they are interesting terms, and describe some new directions for design. Design thinking, suggests to me, that designers have a different way of thinking – visual, abductive etc, which means that they have relevance outside of the product sphere (meaning also services).

Design leadership means two things to me. One is to achieve a leading position in the market through the strategic use of design (Apple comes to mind here… again). The second is to use design thinking in your role as a leader – that is – using design qualities in your leadership role. These are both exciting terms and a useful development from the design management term that has been around for quite some time. Read the rest of this entry »

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Overview of Article: There is a distinct skill called “Design” that is getting lost in all of the focus on Design Thinking.  As schools try to create multiple options for students, they are getting away from actually training the classical Designer.

Thoughts on this Article: I like Gadi and his insights. He is a hand’s on, real world designer that understands the demands that come with clients who expect quality.  This article reminds all of us that the whole Design Thinking movement is not simply the progression of Design, but rather the cousin of Design (I would say the brother of Design is the CAD). It is important that we do not diminish classical Design as we engage the growing world of Design Thinking, and that our schools find a clear way to distinguish between the nuances that are emerging.

Original article and discussion HERE at FASTCOMPANY.COM

American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates

Famed designer Gadi Amit laments the lackluster quality of job applicants and their portfolios and wonders: Are design schools failing their students?

As head of a major Silicon Valley industrial design studio, I review hundreds or even thousands of portfolios every year. It is an essential part of my job as I look for the best people to join our growing team. Because the right mix of talent is so crucial to our success, I make it a principle to review every portfolio sent to us myself.

That commitment puts me in a bit of a tight spot, as I struggle to find the right way to say the right things to people whose high hopes I’m forced to dash. Despite the recent surge in interest in design careers, the quality of candidates’ portfolios seems to have stagnated or even diminished.

The problem has become increasingly acute. I’m eager to hire the next great class of designers, but to my dismay–and the dismay of many young hopefuls who’ve often spent many years and thousands of dollars preparing to enter the industry–I’m finding that the impressive academic credentials of most students don’t add up to the basic skills I require in a junior designer.

The quality of recent grads has stagnated or even diminished

Simply put, the design education system today is failing many aspiring young students. Read the rest of this entry »

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Overview: This addresses the ongoing conversation about the term “Design Thinking”

Thoughts: In all honesty, it really doesn’t matter, does it?  If people get the concept, and are able to be more effective in their processes, then who cares what it is called?  I do think the links in this post are worth following .

Original Post HERE at Peter Merholz site

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.


Design thinking tips from the masters

Posted by @dTblog under Articles
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Overview of Post: A quick background to set up the links to 2 very good articles from someone who KNOWS what he is talking about.

Thoughts on this Post: I appreciate the desire that Jimmy Guterman has to get the rest of the articles out there.  We are often limited to how much space we have in writing and it causes some really good things to get cut.

Jimmy Guterman at 5:47 AM Tuesday, Mar 9, 2010

As Mark noted in his post introducing me, I’m winding down a stint as executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review. One of my greatest pleasures during that assignment was developing a special report on design thinking. Most of what gets published about design thinking focuses on getting analytical types to think more creatively. Usually there are a bunch of examples from Apple and IDEO, leaving CEOs and CFOs more confident about arguing over which shade of mauve to use as the background on a web page. Instead of taking that approach, we wanted to deliver some more practical and global lessons. Thanks to my fellow editor Sean Brown, two of my favorite elements of that special report, usually locked behind a paywall, are now available to all.

In How to Become a Better Manager … By Thinking Like a Designer, I talk to two of the smartest people on the planet when it comes to presentations, Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, and we talk about how to influence and persuade in different ways than executive usually do, regardless of whether you ever have to communicate via PowerPoint.

In How Facts Change Everything (If You Let Them), I sit at the feet of the information design giant Edward R. Tufte. He explains how businesses would think better, make better decisions, and present themselves more powerfully if only they would learn to talk — both internally and externally — in facts. (Late-breaking Tufte news: he has just been appointed to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. In other words, someone whose whole career has been about promoting accountability and transparency will now be able to do so in the context of public service. We’re lucky to have him.)

I hope you enjoy these newly freed articles. And I hope you learn something from listening to Duarte, Reynolds, and Tufte. I know I did.

Jimmy Guterman (website, blog, twitter) writes, edits, and produces things.

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Overview of Article: This is a recap of a conversation about what ‘Design Thinking” is supposed to do for a business and where it came from.

Thoughts on this Article: I like the thought process that is represented here.  It reflects a positive view of changing the way things are done and a collaborative approach to solving business challenges.  I agree that it makes sense to pick the best from various fields and integrate those things.  That is how we have some of the best things we have (including dogs).

Original Post HERE at

This is an attempt at articulating the implications of using design thinking as an approach to innovation. It emerged from a conversation this afternoon at the Aalto Design Factory with Mikko Koskinen and Lotta Hassi.

If, indeed we are to take the concept of design thinking as a potential toolkit for innovation, let us step back from it and consider its roots. It emerges from the fields of business and design, broadly speaking, and attempts to blend the best aspects from both of dealing with unknowns (which innovation certainly is, in a way). We won’t look at the weaknesses of each, but instead at the strengths – these allow a complementary set of methods or tools which counterbalance the weak spots of each individual approach. Read the rest of this entry »


5 Ways Design Thinking Can Help…

Posted by @dTblog under Articles
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Overview: This is a quick look at the ways that a business can effectively utilize a Design Thinker in the ranks.
Thoughts on this Article: Way too simplified!  And again, there is an ambiguity on what a “designer” is.  For IDEO, the Design Thinking process and skills revolve around the Industrial Design world.  There are good points – PowerPoint for example- that we can all consider.

5 Ways Design Thinking Can Raise the Collective IQ of Your Business

Original Article HERE at Fast Company

BY Michael Cannell

Business executives love stability and the cold imperatives of logic. Ambiguity gives them fits. Designers, by contrast, can’t abide the status quo. “That tension never goes away between inventing the new and preserving the old,” Sam Lucente, vice president of design for Hewlett-Packard, said yesterday at a panel discussion conducted by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum during its National Design Week. “It’s like navigating no man’s land,” he said.

The panel, entitled “The Business of Design,” addressed ways to integrate designers, and design thinking, into organizations that usually resist change. Here are some of their observations:

The most effective designers know instinctually how to navigate bureaucracies. They handle matters “often in subversive ways,” Lucente said. “They quietly figure out how to end run the system and get things done. They know how to work it.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Thinking through Design Thinking

Posted by @dTblog under Articles, Ideo
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design thinkingOriginal Post and Comments HERE at

Overview: The author is taking on the idea that Design Thinking is actually part of  Design as the Design discipline actually is and historically has existed.  Several different areas of thought are introduced, and contrasted with each other.

Thoughts on this: I would have to agree that the general notion that Design Thinking is simply a by product of Design is an incomplete/incorrect one.  Design Thinking is more like a child that has been born to a parent.  It is a young discipline that has the DNA of several established disciplines (most notably Design, (specifically Industrial Design) and Psychology/Sociology.

Thinking through Design Thinking

IDEO /Tim Brown, Bruce Nussbaum and Stanford call it Design Thinking.

Michael Speaks, Michael Shamiyeh, Bruce Mau talk about Design Intelligence,

Nigel Cross writes about Designerly ways of knowing (one of the best books i’ve read so far on design thinking).

All these ideas deal with design as process rather than object. They all articulate and confirm the idea that there is a ’specific way of thinking that is unique to design’ and ‘that this way of thinking is applicable on any problem’ It is a way of seeing, understanding and making the world, and the ‘design way’ is a universal way, there is no problem that can not be solved, … or so it seems (this is one of the claims of Bruce Mau’s Massive change exhibit and book anyway).

Although one has to acknowledge a certain naivety behind this idea, it is non the less very appealing, especially for a designer, or well … an architect like myself.

Read the rest of this entry »


On Design Thinking and Beyond

Posted by @dTblog under Articles, Social Innovation
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Overview: A blog/article from a Design Thinking student

Thoughts: This article brings a collection of resources on the topic of Design Thinking to a good conclusion that Design Thinking is more than design.

On Design Thinking and Beyond

Of late there has been a sudden rise in interest in the propagation of Design Thinking. The impetus  to this has been hugely due to some articles in the Harvard Business Review(last year), and  Businessweek (this year).

If the need of the hour is to think innovation and think beyond the obvious, Design Thinking is definitely an essential tool. A lot of companies like Apple, who are driven by Design, have been doing it for years now. A few more have joined the bandwagon, as mentioned in this another post by BusinessWeek.

Apart from these above, there has been the recent publicly available talk by Tim Brown at the TED conference this year. Brown is evangelizing that Design Thinking needs to go to a much larger scale and also that designers should start to think big.

Everyone seems to be acknowledging it. A few seem to understanding it, and a fewer seem to be to be understanding it. The interesting point about Brown’s talk is that he looks at going beyond the notion of consumerism with which Design has been traditionally associated with.

One of the other great design thinkers, who I admire, and have been a student of myself, Erik Stolterman also talks about the notion of Design Thinking in his blog Transforming Grounds. He also makes the very valid point that Design Thinking is been there since a long time and has found its applications in numerous fields.

I strongly believe that one of the areas where Design can play a huge role is Design for Social Impact. This also happened to be the topic of my Masters thesis at Indiana. The challenges are immense, and the solutions are rarer to find, and that is why Design Thinking becomes important.

The outcome of the application of Design Thinking to create Design Models, to create actual solutions for a social cause, is not been explored much. Therefore in the Design Research Company that I have started, Deskala, we are primarily aiming to achieve this. The questions that we ask day in and day out, in due course of our field studies, is how Design can be used to bring about the Social Change. Being in a country like India, where there is a certain amount of Social Innovation happening at the Base of the Pyramid, we stand a good chance to see the applicability of Design Thinking and its measure its success.

Design Thinking however need not be culminating in Social Innovations in the form of  products only. The outcome could be an interface, it could be a service that is designed, it could be a model etc. Because Design Thinking itself tends to see its application in different areas, the outcomes vary.


Design Thinking + Doing

Posted by @dTblog under Uncategorized
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Overview of Article: This is more or less an interview with Alex Bogusky.

Thoughts on this Article: This reads a bit like a commercial for CPB, but offers some very good insights into what they are doing and why.

Original Post HERE at

CP+B product innovators John Winsor and Neil Riddell
CP+B product innovators John Winsor and Neil Riddell

“I’m a frustrated industrial designer,” says Alex Bogusky, one of the world’s best known advertising men. “I originally wanted to be a designer and my dad told me, ‘No, it’s too hard, you won’t be able to do it.’ So a little of this is a way for me to say to my dad, ‘Yeah? Really?’”

“This” refers to a burgeoning design discipline at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the agency known for its award-winning, culturally penetrative, category-charging brand campaigns. And while paternal comeuppance is doubtless a satisfying incidental perk, becoming the designer he always wanted to be is really just Bogusky’s next necessary step in making CPB the complete brand creativity factory. Read the rest of this entry »