✯ Mike's Site

Design Thinking Considered Harmful

Not long after the recent Fast Co article by the bigtime Pentagram designer about how Design Thinking sucks, here's that bastion of both design and progressive thinking, the... Harvard Business Review? The thing that the author is mad about does not seem to be the kind of design thinking that I have either implemented or learned.

The whole point of "human centered design" is to eliminate the concept of the designer dictating from on high. The version the author refers to, where a holy anointed designer filters the input of the unwashed masses, is something I'm wholly against as well. After all, I went to a two-year for-profit design school. Iskander has the right idea: we should be democratizing design and acting on the bottom-up, boots-on-the-ground perspective that we get from users/customers/beneficiaries and from non-designers in our organization. Unfortunately, it feels to me like she's been given a tainted version of design thinking -- one that I think a lot of other people have also received.

My cognitive dissonance here is that these articles written by people named Natasha can't both be true. Jen, highfalutin Pentagram partner, can't be right about design thinking usurping the dominance of designers like her while Iskander is simultaneously right about the methods actually maintaining that dominance.

At the end of the day, design thinking is, as Iskander says, a dumbed-down scientific method. So to my mind, what you do with that hypothesize-and-test framework can be conservative (blarg), innovative (bleh), or serve people well, depending on your hypotheses, the makeup of your team, and the projects you're working on. Keep the tools in your toolbox, keep serving the people you're designing for, and you'll be fine.