Is the the buzz around Design Thinking buzzworthy?

I’m really excited and anxious for the opportunity to attend a workshop at Stanford d.Schools K12 Lab this week.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to network and learn how to truly make design thinking actionable in a k12 classroom.  Be looking for notes from the workshop and in a follow up post (part 2 of making DT actionable).

In the meantime I’m curious of different opinions regarding how relevant DT really is.  DT is one of those terms that seems to be reaching a saturation point.  It’s a buzz word.  While I’m cautious of the buzz around DT, I’ve also observed tremendous demand.  The Design & Thinking movie was funded entirely through kickstarter and had its premier this spring.  Resources like  IDEO’s educator toolkit and offerings from Stanford d.School are gobbled up with continued ferocity.  d.School now has a heat map to track interactions with their virtual crash course and twitter buzz.

Design Thinking is not without critics, though.  I was struck by a recent blog post by William Storage on The Multidiciplinarian entitled Design Thinking’s Timely Death.  The article is a  thoughtful criticism on DT…one that gives me pause.  After reading Storage’s piece I found Cameron Norman’s response: The Hyberbole and Exaggerated Demise of Design Thinking.  Please consider reading both.  They are excellent point-counterpoint examples that include recent and relevant literature reviews on design thinking.  The heart of the debate is whether all the buzz around design thinking is indeed buzzworthy.

My response to Storage’s post on whether we should bury the term “design thinking” below:

Defining DT is a bit of a conundrum. From Harvard Business Review Blog: Start-ups, Skunkworks, and Your Next Big Product:

“Much of this confusion stems from applying one term to too many contexts. Most businesses are actually pursuing two types of innovation; product innovation and process innovation. Product innovation focuses on the experiences the company offers to the customer and process innovations refer to the internal improvements to improve operations and delivery. Both are important, but organizations should approach the two types very differently.”

The “letter” of DT is the process proposed by Stanford d.School and Ideo.  The “spirit” of DT is making positive change.   The DT process itself is more conducive to product development in my opinion.  I use DT in a high school environment and it is very difficult for students (and adults!) to apply DT to a process or experience.  So, going through the DT iterations is not necessarily the best route for organizational or process innovation.  By the way, I think DT is often misinterpreted as a linear approach…it is most definitely iterative.

On the other hand, I do feel that designers have a knack, namely creativity, for affecting change.  So the spirit of DT can indeed benefit organizational or process change. It’s a willingness to look for alternatives to the status quo.

Ultimately, I appreciate your willingness to challenge design thinking. I’m squeamish about the way design thinking has been thrown around as a panacea for all our ills, but I don’t think it needs to die…we just need to be real about what it is and what it isn’t.

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