3 Problems With Design Thinking
Satsuko VanAntwerp talked with Bryan Boyer about the problems with "Design Thinking".
“Design Thinking” has overtaken “Sustainability” to become the latest business buzz word, however, there are flaws in the way it is being adapted to corporate settings. In a conversation with Bryan Boyer, Architect and Strategic Design Lead at Sitra & Helsinki Design Lab, I gained a designer’s perspective. Below are the three reasons why we need to re-think Design Thinking.
1) Thinking is important, but the biggest challenge is the actual “doing”.
Developing an out-of-the-box solution using Design Thinking followed by an inflexible execution plan to roll it out misses the whole point of thinking like a designer. Making a solution work requires tweaking and changes as-you-go to account for the unexpected and unpredictable realities of everyday life. Bryan points out that one of the key parts of being a designer is to steward something from the first sketches to the final implementation because “there is a big gap in the plans that you draw and what actually gets built”. It is not possible to plan for everything so we must adapt and improvise along the way if we wish to arrive at the desired outcome.
2) Design Thinking is inherently short term
The current literature and conversation around Design Thinking focuses on the short-term. For example, when we look at standard consulting projects by the big players (BCG, Bain or McKinsey), their mandate includes 1) analysis, 2) recommendations, and 3) a report outlining the implementation plan. In other words, sticking around longer term to smooth out the kinks and make sure it all works and is implemented correctly is seldom part of the contract. Why not? There are a lot of reasons. Some point to the financial incentives (the low-cost/high-yield nature of focussing on the front-end work) or the desire to associate with success (implementation is often blamed for failed projects). Sometimes it’s not possible to stay on a project long-term due to confidentiality or security conflicts (for example with certain public sector projects). At any rate, Design Thinking is only the beginning and must move past the short-term to reach its full potential.
3) Design Thinking is over-hyped and ignores the complexity of the design process.
“If design is like a magical seed that you can drop into the board room and after a couple of days workshop, suddenly the executive suite is transformed into a design facility that pretty significantly undervalues what designers bring” – Bryan Boyer, Strategic Design Lead at Sitra.
Understanding the design process is necessary before we can attempt to harness the kinds of innovative solutions it can create.
So what does this all mean? Design Thinking is a powerful and useful tool but it is only one part of the equation. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it is what you do with them. Plans are important but the real legwork is in the re-jigging and adjusting of ideas/solutions to make them fit with the real world.
Bryan is working to help the public sector create its own design capacity and advocates for placing designers within teams inside the ministries and municipalities. One of the main questions his team at Sitra and Helsinki Design Lab attempts to answer is: how do we help the public sector cope with the challenges it faces more successfully or more effectively? To learn more about what he is working on, visit the Sitra/HDL website.
Satsuko VanAntwerp blogs out of Toronto, Canada, where she is in her final semester of an International MBA. Having worked and studied in Japan, France, India, Turkey, Canada and recently Denmark, her passion lies where society, public service and innovation intersect. Satsuko’s blog, thinkthrice.ca, explores ideas for social innovation and systemic change.
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