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Design Thinking Battle--Managers Embrace Design Thinking, Designers Reject It.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 10, 2009

Fred Collopy has a great blog item up at Fast Company on why he dislikes the “Thinking” part of the term “Design Thinking.” In essence, Fred argues that the best part of design is the “doing,” not the thinking and the focus on Design Thinking short-changes what designers can really do in education, health and other spaces outside their traditional consumer-oriented activities.

As an early proponent and major supporter of Design Thinking, I can only say “Amen” to Fred. I totally agree. It is the ability to create new options and build new products, services and experiences that gives design so much power. It is the ability to understand deeply cultures from digital social media networks to small villages in southern India that gives design its power.

And finally, it is the evolution of design into Design (with or without the “Thinking” term) to redesign large scale social systems in business and civic society that has folks moving to embrace it. In this era of melting models and flaming careers, of economic uncertainty and social volatility, Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.

Which is why MIT, Harvard, Rotman, McKinsey and dozens of corporations are moving to Design to help navigate the present and the future. It is why in Britain and the Continental governments are embracing Design to help redesign basic social services.

And it is why the World Economic Forum has invited me to join a new GAC--Global Agenda Council on Designing Large Scale Social Systems.

The truth is that despite the clumsiness of the term Design Thinking, there is no limitation to the Doing in the Design Thinking. It is a way of thinking about doing on a strategically big scale--a new learning experience for all children, a better health-care experience for older people, a more honest political system for voters.

The very best analysis of the failure of business schools and the new for management to embrace design principles is Shoshana Zuboff's remarkable essay on the failure of business school education. A professor at Harvard Business School for 25 years, Zuboff says that the focus on the company and how to make it more efficient is being replaced by a focus on the consumer, the learner, the patient, the individual.

Transaction is being replaced by relationship as the source of value in business. Design's anthropological focus (its "user-focus") and its ability to iterate and generate new things off the knowledge about from that anthropological perspective are the powerful tools attracting CEOs, NGOs, and Politicos.

It would be tragic for designers to turn their back on Design just when society is embracing it just because of a dispute over terminology. So Fred, forget the nomenclature. Call it a a banana and let's get on with helping our society redesign itself.

Reader Comments

Fred Collopy

July 11, 2009 3:44 PM

Bruce, thank you both for the kind remarks with which you open this piece, and for being comfortable enough to challenge me at the end (though I am going to fight you on the 'banana' thing).

My points go beyond terminology, though, which is born out by the unprecedented (for me) response to my recent post. It clearly touched a nerve. I think that it did so because it builds on my earlier concern about learning from systems thinking. It would be tragic if the power of design were one day reduced to "that moment back in the first decade when management consultants were all abuzz about that design thinking thing."

My point in these posts is that the roots in applying design to the professions — ALL of them; law, medicine, engineering, acting, education, etc. as well as management — run very deep. And we must wrestle with both sides. What do designers know that will be useful in affecting society as you suggest AND what do the professions already know that will help in getting the situated-ness right. So we are all on the same side here. I am just trying to look a bit further ahead. I don't want Shoshana writing in 20 years "and I was one of the professors who thrust half-baked ideas about design into the brains of executives." Let's do the hard work (dare I say research) about what the content of this area is, before we declare a movement and give it a single, perhaps inappropriate moniker (and with that a set of ideas that are taken as given, as "getting it"). In short, lets approach this with a bit more humility that we did CDSs and CDOs, the "new economy" and other recent management ideas.

Raymond Pirouz

July 11, 2009 6:02 PM

Since we're talking nomenclature and terminology here, might I suggest framing design as an 'orientation' rather than 'thinking' thereby getting closer to the root of the issue.

Those who are customer and/or design oriented will win whereas those who are shareholder and/or finance oriented will surely lose. This is the future of business -- ask GM.

Raymond Pirouz

July 11, 2009 8:24 PM

You may want to have a look at my latest post:

Design Thinking is Dead.
Long Live Design Orientation.


July 11, 2009 8:50 PM

And have been rather loudly rejecting it online for over two years now, at least, since Dan Saffer shared his thoughts ( ) and you took public issue with his position, Bruce ( ).

In your response at that time you described the situation as a "civil war going on in design education between traditionalists who want to focus on form and a new generation who focus on concept"; a comment with which I took serious issue ( ) as it effectively belittles those of us who weren't falling in lockstep with Design Thinking promoters by suggesting opposing parties were backward, form-obsessed "traditionalists" unable to operate in the broader conceptual realm. Right.

As for "It would be tragic for designers to turn their back on Design", that's once again so arrogant and so far off the mark it indicates to me a frightening lack of understanding of those operating within the profession. We're not so easily pigeon-holed, Bruce.

Dan and "traditional" designers like me aren't turning our backs on "Design". Instead, I'd suggest we're turning our backs on what many of us perceive as self-serving efforts to turn Design - in all its variable instantiations - into a marketable commodity; to package and sell it to those who believe they'll fully grok Design if they just buy some "How to Be a Design Thinker" textbook or attend some expensive, two-week Executive-Level course teaching a paint-by-numbers methodology; something which risk-averse, shareholder-centric individuals in positions of tenuous authority can implement ... mostly to save their increasingly threatened corporate careers and avoid being the latest subject of yet another "C-Level to Shoeshine Boy" article. Such an approach doesn't generally sit well with those of us who are doing something else too many business people and newly converted "Design Thinking" cheerleaders don't seem to do: think long-term.

Lastly, by flippantly stating, "Call it a banana and let's get on with helping our society redesign itself", you further belittle those of us taking issue with the "Design Thinking" meme and indicate to me a lack of understanding for the core issue: the potential miscommunication inherent in the phrase itself. Might I suggest you read the story about the Tower of Babel?

How odd to read that words don't seem to matter to a career journalist when they obviously matter quite a bit to some conceptually challenged, traditionalist Designers.

The more things change...

Sam Ladner

July 11, 2009 10:40 PM

Bruce, thank you for your post. It is important that we remember that design is doing. But I must agree with Fred -- circumspection of "design thinking" isn't just language.

Like Fred, I think it's a shame that Shoshana is lamenting the lack of empathy in business education 20 years too late. I was shocked to read her post, actually, because her 1988 book was so deeply sensitive the indeterminate effects of technological change.

"Design thinking" is getting so much attention not because of design per se but because it contextualizes, and historicizes problems. As you note Bruce, anthropological approaches to problem solving are fruitful because they look at culture and history.

But design thinking is not a panacea because it does not question something very fundamental: the profit motive. Business scholars (particularly sociologists in the UK) already train their students to think critically about their work.

Yet these scholars are all too often pushed aside because they question the very logic of capitalism.

"Design thinking" is attractive because it appears NOT to question capitalism itself. It is about "solving problems" or "contextual inquiry," instead of questioning profit, capital accumulation and wealth inequality.

But it is these very issues that are the heart of Shoshana's lament. She does not say "Oh no! We forgot about culture!" or "Oh no! We didn't do ethnography!" No, she says we focused too narrowly on reaping profit for shareholders.

Capitalism is in a crisis, I think we can all agree on that. Design cannot solve that. It cannot solve income inequality, market volatility or Ponzi schemes. Only an honest questioning of power can do that.

We have a rich history of political economy that can only improve design solutions. But this approach is frequently ignored because it questions fundamental ways we organize our society.

Gordon Rae

July 12, 2009 3:32 PM

Fred's comments, and Sam's, remind me of the anecdote in Fred's book Managing as Designing, where the architect tears up the onionskins the team have laboured over for days, and throws them in the trash. "We proved we could do it, now we can think about how we want to do it".

Business school teaching has a lot to say about optimizing, quantifying, and constraint satisfaction, and relatively little about deciding what you want to do. I used to work for a fund manager, where a major activity was to produce colored charts and graphs to tell the clients how good the fund managers had been this quarter, how they had out performed this or that index. It was a lovely little glass bead game, completely disconnected from value, or even profit.

Economic theory has little to say about where profit can be found, other than postulating 'unrealised gains in trade'. But the successful businesses haven't been about optimising, or squeezing margins. Gates based Microsoft on "a computer on every desk". Yunus lent money to people with no credit history. A prudent advisor would have strangled those ideas at birth. Frederick Smith is said to have gotten a 'B' for the term paper that described how he would later set up Federal Express.

Design thinking re-orients people's minds toward being the change we want to see in the world, and that sharp criticism of capitalism which came from the capitalists themselves: the only way to make sustained profits, unless you're a monopoly protected by the state, is to do something useful that a lot of people value, and is hard to copy.

Bruce Temkin

July 12, 2009 5:20 PM

I totally agree that Design Thinking can help organizations make major improvements and that the design community needs to loosen-up on the purity of terminology. I help large organizations understand and embrace concepts like ethnography, but it doesn't help when purists lose sight of the key goal -- creating value.

But Design Thinking alone is not a panacea for corporate overhaul. That's why my free eBook called "The 6 New Management Imperatives: Leadership Skills For A Radically Changed Business Environment" outlines these 6 items for executives:

(1) Invest in culture as a strategic asset
(2) Make listening an enterprisewide skill
(3) Turn innovation into a continuous process
(4) Provide a clear and compelling purpose
(5) Extend and enhance the digital fabric
(6) Practice good social citizenship

You can download this eBook from my blog, Customer Experience Matters (

Daniel Montano

July 12, 2009 6:44 PM

Bruce and Fred,

I am happy that we are even discussing design and thinking in the context of a business and innovation forum.

I also am very happy to see national publications and international design companies address concepts that help us raise awareness of the seemingly infinite thinking processes we have available for use. I'd like to think that this is only the beginning of a much larger awareness towards more holistic thinking processes.

I am a designer and I think that design is a great addition to the business/innovation toolbox but it is not the end-all. There are a lot more thinking processes that may be combined with processes like design to help us produce even more innovative ideas.

So, Bruce, on the business arena, lets keep talking about design but also lets continue to add new thinking processes beyond those classified as design.

From the design side, I agree with the need for research. We should also keep in mind that research requires funding. Funding requires awareness. So, thank you for bringing it up into the conversation. Hopefully as more folks agree with your proposal researchers will find funding to expand the depth of the conversation.

It's inevitable that we will need research but we should also acknowledge that the research approach would serve a different audience demographic (folks that care about the nuts and bolts).

Bruce is currently introducing new concepts to the popular business magazine audience. New concepts should function as attention-grabbers that present ideas in a form that is simple and easy to understand. Hopefully the folks that are newly introduced into design and holistic thinking processes will eventually make their way into more sophisticated, research-based material. We have to start somewhere and yes, in the popular business forum I'd say we're still just at the start of this awareness.

Fred, on the Cartesian mind vs. body split concept mentioned in your article....
The Cartesian split has been had a tremendous influence in the shaping of our past, present and will continue to have an influence in the shaping of our future.

Whether I agree with this Cartesian split or not is not the challenge we face today - this is just my 'position' on the matter.

I would like to suggest that the challenges are:
- to be able to identify it
- to be able to understand its function within the context
- to relate all these findings with more holistic alternatives and hopefully make these alternatives more attractive

Simply turning our back on the Cartesian concept because it is not something we agree with would be an act of denial that would not help us solve the type of problems we face today.

But once again, I thank you for bringing it up within the business and innovation forum. I see it as another opportunity to raise awareness about the limits imposed by socialized thinking and the possible alternatives.


Ken Peters

July 12, 2009 9:44 PM

Design is the animating principle of the creative process. Life is a creative process. The two are inextricably intertwined.

Humans are designers by their very nature. Instinctively we seek to beautify, to improve, to make easier, etc., in everything that we do. The common denominator in all of these efforts is design. Design is what adds excellence to the equation and raises the bar from mere functionality. Design thinking AND doing are hardwired into our DNA. We are creative creatures.

This instinct doesn't relegate design to a non-intellectual pursuit though. Instinct merely keeps you alive, but intellect keeps you evolving, innovating and moving forward. As every global paradigm shifts around us only those with the ability to adapt and innovate will evolve and succeed. Those with the skill to harness the power of design and use it for the greatest good – and for the greatest number – will reap the rewards.

That's not to say that design will save the world. Design's job is to add beauty and improve functionality. Smart design can fix a lot of problems. Saving the world is up to Bono.

Sergei Dovgodko

July 13, 2009 7:53 AM

The "macro" view of design thinking is interesting, but impractical. The complexity a small business (to say nothing about a large corporation, government, or market) makes any attempt to use design thinking either foolish or delusional. One does not need to go too far to see failed attempts of social engineering (e.g. communism, Nazi, or General Motors, Citi, etc). The underlying reason is the abundance of human-related factors interconnected by positive feedback loops (see Taleb's "Black Swan", for example).

Also, what's new in "cross-functional" perspectives or "it's all about customer"? HBS and others have been talking about this since forever.

For various reasons, the current economic system in the West promotes herd mentality of the management, where the use of the latest "theory" is a must. "Look, Toyota is doing it and you should too"! That is deductive, non-contextual thinking.

Deductive and analytical thinking is comforting for people in charge because of various cognitive biases and psychological comfort that simplicity, certainty, sense of control bring.

Design thinking has a chance when applied to a specific perceived challenge rather than organization-wide change. We've solve many highly complex problem/situations by using a home-grown business design methodology. Key is The socio-psychological dimension in problems of creating business value. People who figure the connection of business design and social psychology will win.

In the attempt to use design thinking for transforming large institutions, one should not forget that knowledge should match the challenge. In organizational context things that matter are tacit and subjective. Let me state that lack of true consensus indicates "false" situation. A coherent organizational action is impossible when the situation is "false".

Also, "Unknown" things are more important than "known". Even more important are "unknown unknowns". At least try to classify what you know into "Facts", "Opinions" and Guesses.

Need to remember that business strategy is a "guess" (belief) that, in principle, cannot be proven true or false.

Bottom line, you better call it "contextual inquiry" and apply it to problems, not organizations.

Sergei Dovgodko
3M Company, St.Paul, MN


July 13, 2009 10:32 AM

As always this is a very interesting discussion, still, slogans like "We put our customers in the highest priority" aren't new. The actual design solutions such as Open Source Hardware for mass customizations are still theoretical gimmicks.
I guess what I'm trying to ask is….In what way Design thinking is different from Thinking? I would be happy to be corrected that there are actual companies that practice this agenda with actual design solutions. Talking is cheap, How many of the design thinkers have actually practiced these ideas, and why there isn’t any coverage of them?

Sergei Dovgodko

July 13, 2009 4:17 PM


You are right questioning the difference between "design thinking" and "thinking".

If you move beyond a cynical perspective, the difference might be the design thinking assumes "inquiry".

I have noticed in many complex situations, people in carge are very fearful of being engaged into something one can call Socratic questionning. As a result inquiry is not possible, therefore meaningful tacit data cannot be externalized. Consequently the problem cannot be solved.

All of this is happening beucase of psychological effects of power and cognitive biases that are amplified by a bureaucratic corporate structure.

Many companies developed a matrix organization, which inherently breeds power conflict, turf battles, destructive politics. In this condition one can talk a lot of design thinking, but in reality it is simply unreacheabale without a major business trigger and external facilitation.

Sergei Dovgodko
3M Company

Sergei Dovgodko

July 13, 2009 4:21 PM


You are right questioning the difference between "design thinking" and "thinking".

If you move beyond a cynical perspective, the difference might be the design thinking assumes "inquiry".

I have noticed in many complex situations, people in charge are very fearful of being engaged into something one can call Socratic questionning. As a result inquiry is not possible, therefore meaningful tacit data cannot be externalized. Consequently the problem cannot be solved.

All of this is happening beucase of psychological effects of power and cognitive biases that are amplified by a bureaucratic corporate structure.

Many companies developed a matrix organization, which inherently breeds power conflict, turf battles, destructive politics. In this setting one can talk a lot of design thinking, but in reality it is simply unreachable without a major business trigger and external facilitation.

Sergei Dovgodko
3M Company

Diego Rodriguez

July 13, 2009 6:03 PM

Good conversation.

Five years ago, when George Kembel and I wrote the "napkin manifesto" for what has become the Stanford, we wrote that the primary mission of the school was to "Prepare future innovators to be breakthrough thinkers and doers".

Design thinking is a mindset -- or even a worldview -- ideally suited to the task of creating new choices in the world. It compliments, but does not replace, traditional modes of analytic thinking. Those folks who are fluent in the ways of design thinking understand that much of the "thinking" in the design proces happens via an iterative process of "understand, build, test, listen". It's building to think. Or as I like to say, it's about strategy that makes your hands bleed.

That napkin manifesto (yes, it's on a real napkin from Peet's, and in true startup fashion we shot the photo on George's coffee table in his living room) still informs the spirit and culture of the Stanford in a deep way. There's a lot of "doing" going on at the

You can see it here:

Paula Thornton

July 13, 2009 6:14 PM

Bjorn: Practicing the ideas are difficult because it's 'immersive' -- individuals have a difficult time understanding the value until they've experienced it. The ways in which I practice Design Thinking -- other forms of 'thinking' are leveraged -- but the difference here is that the focus is on 'possibilities' which is a morph of thinking/doing at the same time.

Sergei: Contextual Inquiry is a small portion of the ramp-up to a Design Thinking engagement (it provides the context for the conversation of possibilities).

I often find that those who have issues with the term 'design' don't really understand its breadth (often the worst offenders are design practitioners themselves).

Csven: Indeed the focus of Design Thinking is to exercise the conceptual with the possibilities of form.

Raymond: The problem with "orientation" is that it's not 'active' enough. Clearly, I understand Fred's issue about the 'doing'. But the Design Thinking phase is the kick-off to better 'doing' and includes thinking/doing. If we wanted to be grammatically correct, we'd call it "Design Thinking/Doing" or "Design Exploration", but I have no problem reframing what it is around a perfectly good term that likely communicates best to the audience that needs to 'connect' to the term: those who know nothing about the related disciplines.

So maybe the practitioners deeply involved in the subject need to get over themselves for a moment and begin to understand this problem from the perspective of those who might best be served by becoming aware of the practices.

But then wouldn't that be applying the principles over which we're arguing to the problem itself?

Ann Thorpe

July 13, 2009 8:59 PM

I agree with Sam Lander's comment that suggests an essential avenue for design thinking and doing lies outside the private sector. As he says,"Capitalism is in a crisis, I think we can all agree on that. Design cannot solve that. It cannot solve income inequality, market volatility or Ponzi schemes. Only an honest questioning of power can do that."

I would argue that design can be extremely effective in honest questioning of power. Designers as activists or social protesters can do this through visualizations, design processes, and lived experiences created by artefacts.

This questioning of power has been the purview of social protest and social movements, but design has a lot to offer. It seems that more and more designers are becoming comfortable with the idea of protesting rather than just professionalized problem solving.

Although of course not all design should be protest, we could use more of it there where it perhaps has more to offer than in improving the next "consumer experience."

Ann Thorpe


July 13, 2009 10:58 PM

I am very appreciative of Fred Collopy’s call for some humility in charting out what the field of design might have to offer the business world, in addition to the professions that tackle the big social and political issues of the day. And I am really with Sam Ladner in her critique that design cannot solve the current crisis of capitalism, of income inequality or Ponzi schemes, indeed, not only the very logic of capitalism, itself, but also problems that have been the domain of morality, of personal integrity and character. It is hubris to mislead designers into thinking that their field automatically gives them the experience and skill set to lead solutions to such problems when truly innovative and profound solutions can come from people with a multitude of backgrounds. Afterall, Muhammad Yunus did not go to school for industrial design.

Maybe profit-minded large scale business actors are new to the idea of “transaction” being replaced by “relationship” as a source of value in business, but that has not been true of all people in business, certainly not your mom-and-pop operations that very much rely on “relationships” at the heart of how they operate. And it has not been true of those in the worlds of McKinsey or other large-scale business thinking, where an inclusion of people trained in the social sciences has been widely adopted. The social sciences teach us to focus not just on the company or organization development, but to analyze the entire web of relationships that feed or can break that web or set of goals or the optimized efficiency in achieving whatever named goals.

But I think Sam Ladner is right that people have been marginalized in pursuing the question of profit for the company. So it’s time that those thought-leaders were given center-stage.

I also really appreciate Bjorn’s question here wondering what the difference is between “design thinking” and just plain old good, thorough, and even critical “thinking.” I have been wondering myself why more people haven’t caught on to Roger Martin’s “integrative thinking” as laying out an applied version of the Hegelian Dialectic, which is just really one of many useful ways of trying to understand how we think about any problem, any dynamic, any set of relationships, how it moves through time, how solutions/resolution might produce a new dynamic, etc. And I’m sure Martin is a nice man, but the efforts of Rotman to trademark “integrative thinking” and their other labels just makes it a bit laughable, like Fox News trying to trademark “fair and balanced.”

Educators of all shapes and sizes have been in a never-ending debate about what constitutes an appropriate/maximized/optimized education for whatever aims that would lead humans to the “right” solutions for quite some time. Seems to me “design thinkers” need to find out what these people have been talking about. It seems unfathomable that some of these folks have forgotten why they picked one college over the other, one major over the other—that decision is steeped in the effort to understand one style of thinking vs. another style.

But I do believe there is something there about the relationship between thinking and doing, and in the traditional analysis of Form vs. Function, that “design thinking” or “the banana” can reveal that is worth battling out.

I am about to be a student in the dMBA program at the California College of the Arts, and as a non-designer (I have a background in the social sciences and have been a non-profit slave for the last many years), I am signing up because of the opportunity to do some fascinating interdisciplinary investigation that the chair of the program, Nathan Shedroff, described as thus: The fields of design, business and non-profit or NGO work all have in common an analysis of Form vs. Function, but with differing aims—Beauty, Profit, and Social Change. (with social change you could also say “social justice” or “social responsibility”)

That part about “Beauty” is no small thing. I know designers want to be more than stylists, but philosophers and poets through the ages from all cultures have opined about the role of Beauty in our lives. Sure, it’s relative, in the eye of the beholder, etc. But it is no small thing—it is part of this “empathy” stuff that you guys are bandying about. Beauty is a very human-centered goal. We experience it in music, in art, in dance—it gives us the big “ahhh!” that makes us feel life is worth living. And so do social relationships—so the work we do, that it is connected and has resonance with others, in shaping community, gives us grounding. But being connected is no replacement for the pursuit of Beauty. And then what the discipline of business can offer is about “right-sizing” operations, management tactics/strategies that take into account the complexity of human dynamics, the hard realities of finance and accounting that sets limitations or provides opportunities, etc.

Maybe the recognition that Design has something to say to the MBA’s came from things like the iPod (because yes, that is a thing of Beauty), but it doesn’t stop there. So Design has something to say to us social change activists and educators. But we all have something to say to each other. I need to find solutions that work for the disenfranchised constituents I serve that are “right-sized” in terms of the resources I have available. But I want those solutions to be more than just functional—I want them also to be experiences where everybody gets to say “Ahhh!” – Magnificent--a thing of Beauty! (and with U2’s “Magnificent” echoing in the background as the soundtrack, hey—why not? Bono has been the real leader of the free world for the past 20 years, right?) ;)


July 13, 2009 11:27 PM

I have come to the Social Design, or Design Thinking, world via social marketing - the use of marketing to improve people lives, not market in SNS. The social marketing approach likewise starts from an audience-centric model, and then uses the tools of the marketing mix to design products, services AND behaviors; incentives and costs; access and opportunities; and communication and experiences for large-scale social and behavioral change (social change happens with individuals). More at On Social Marketing and Social Change (see New ways to think about social issues - Like Design Thinking people, we focus on doing and not conjuring. I find the overlap both stimulating and reinforcing for change agents.

John Rousseau

July 14, 2009 7:02 PM

The design thinkers, as evidenced by the typical arguments recited here and elsewhere, always seem to miss the essential symbiotic relationship between thinking and doing. The reason designers (myself included) hate the term is that it attempts to co-opt the process of design while relegating the creation of artifacts and experiences to simple execution. Design is an iterative activity, and is at its best when the thinking involved is a byproduct of disciplined process, inspired accidents, discovery and hard work. Remove the creative act, and all you have left is an alternative to analytic thinking. Helpful, sure—but it’s neither design nor Design. It’s just thinking.

Sergei Dovgodko

July 15, 2009 6:23 AM

Presumably "design thinking" should eventually produce a "design". Now, there is a huge difference between designing an object and a social system.

A business or any other type of purposeful organization is a social system. I wonder if "design thinking" is appropriate in the context of the social system?

I have never seen yet a successful attempt to design an implement a real social system. Anyone?

There are obvious examples of failures of social engineering on the grand scale (e.g. Stalin's Soviet Union, Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, Franco's Spain, Mao's China., etc. Somehow Sir Thomas More's Utopia come to mind... But even on a small scale, the stuff is so complex that that unintended consequences are always stronger that the design factors.

Take an example of simple business design task - designing and implementing a new "business model". A business model is a simple structure that outlines how a company/organization produces value for its customers and for itself (for example, see Alex Osterwalder's Ph.D thesis). Alex's framework has 9 high-level components. You would think, what can be easier?

In reality, the underlying social components distort the implemented design to such an extent that it becomes unrecognizable. Oftentimes the business model design cannot be implemented at all because of some tacit factors located in entirely different dimension (e.g. "power", "behavior","cognition", or "culture").

Yet in our practical work, we see strong evidence that induction/abduction combined with business design frameworks produces highly positive outcomes. The reason is that effective and appropriate frameworks make the decision makers aware of interconnection of things. Besides it helps people to use more than one perspective. The caveat is that people must abandon deduction and stop being carried away with the latest grand theory of things.

I don't care what you call it, "design thinking", integrated thinking", or plain old critical thinking. What truly matters is having open mind, being well educated, less arrogant and more humanistic/ethical. That really helps in conceiving and implementing great designs!

Unfortunately, as it's been shown in some studies, the chemistry of human brain changes when people obtain more power. Initially smart and caring people start behaving in stupid, risky, and selfish ways. I suspect power kills the ability of design thinking, purely due to chemical changes in the brain.

Sergei Dovgodko
3M Company,St.Paul, MN


July 15, 2009 11:07 AM

Paula: "Practicing the ideas are difficult because it's 'immersive' -- individuals have a difficult time understanding the value until they've experienced it" You could also say that on business strategies or on any other discipline for that matter except design.
design or Design are visual expressions.
The visual that designers are creating is based and supported by different interests and is expected to serve and reflect them.

This is design talking: "there is no limitation to the Doing in the Design Thinking. It is a way of thinking about doing on a strategically big scale…" I'm sorry Bruce, you've lost me :-)

I would like to return to my original question:
How many of the design thinkers have actually practiced these ideas, and why there isn’t any coverage of them?
Here is a link to an article from fast company about a User-Generated Devices (UGD)that might be a relevant example for doing:


July 17, 2009 9:29 AM

Very interesting discussions which obliges us to re-consider design education...What to teach, what to learn...?
"What responsability for schools of design ?" in

Design Crux

July 19, 2009 4:34 PM

I'm with Bjorn, this is the very quintessence of being lost in academic abstraction to the exclusion of practical implementation.

It is about where I was on this topic roughly seven years ago.

Since then I discovered methodologies, fron Kansei to Captology ...for putting the doing where the design talk is today.

Woven into a coherent strategic vision for exactly how design creates value, these techniques are what makes up design doing.

I have my technique for getting things done. Where's yours?

What ever happened with "Attunement is post-empathy, post-ethnography" and the new design talking point of the moment?

With exactly zero attunement technique, what is one left to do but talk?

Robert K. Logan

October 30, 2009 1:51 PM

Words matter. Design Thinking is a more useful term than "a banana". We at the Strategic Innovation Lab at the Ontario College or Art and Design have found that the term "design thinking" is very useful for getting business folks in start up mode to start thinking about design something that might not have occurred to them to do otherwise.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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