Design thinking is “kind of like
syphilis,” wrote Lee Vinsel of the
Stevens Institute of Technology in
a recent widely shared article [ 1].
Other popular critical perspectives
on design thinking include designer
Natasha Jen’s “Design Thinking Is
Bullshit” [ 2] and, as far back as 2011,
Bruce Nussbaum’s “Design Thinking
Is a Failed Experiment. So What’s
Next?” [ 3].
If you aren’t familiar with design
thinking, Tim Brown, CEO of
design consultancy IDEO, defines
it as “a human-centered approach
to innovation that draws from the
designer’s toolkit to integrate the
needs of people, the possibilities of
technology, and the requirements
for business success” [ 4]. It’s taking
the process designers have used to
make chairs, cars, and toasters, and
applying it to business strategy and
large systems problems.
That sounds pretty good. So
why the syphilis and bullshit? In
this article, I want to explore the
split between the value of design
thinking and the backlash, and see if
there’s room to reclaim the value of
this powerful way of working. Bear
with the history lesson—it’s useful
in seeing how design thinking has
warped into something superficial.
DInsights → Design thinking has a rich and meaningful history. → Design thinking has become vapid and empty. → It’s impossible to separate design thinking from aking things.
Jon Kolko, Modernist Studio
INTERAC TIONS. ACM.ORG MAY–JUNE 2018 INTERACTIONS 29