Design Thinking is not a Silver Bullet


In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Natasha Iskander, NYU Wagner Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Service, declares that “Design Thinking is Fundamentally Conservative and Preserves the Status Quo”. Understandably, the article drew some pretty strong reactions. Iskander makes some good points and highlights some of the misgivings of many pragmatic design thinking practitioners i.e. design thinking is not clearly defined, design thinking is a re-branding of old methods, many of the benefits of design thinking are anecdotal. None of these concerns are new and have been shared many times before including here. However, what concerns me most is the assertion that Design Thinking preserves the status quo and protects the powerful. Both of these assertions undermine the philosophy and goals of design thinking which seeks to democratise the design process through values of participation, equality, and, most importantly, challenging “what is?” and asking “what could be?”.

My experience has been that design thinking has allowed me to engage with people and organisations regardless of status. I’ve worked with hierarchical, conservative organisations where tools such as journey mapping and stakeholder mapping provided the ultimate level playing field. Design Thinking is a challenge to the status quo. Sure, we don’t change the world every time but normally everybody walks away with a much deeper understanding of the people they are designing for. As a researcher who places a premium on engaging with industry, DT has provided an effective collaboration framework. There is no doubt that we are experiencing the equivalent of Design Thinking’s very own “Dutch Tulip Mania”. Going forward we will see lots of examples of Design Thinking being offered as a solution to problems which it is ill equipped to deal with. We’ll also see misappropriation of the method and countless failed projects. None of these development undermine Design Thinking but perhaps they will engender a more pragmatic approach going forward.

The International Service Design Experience Cork

Yesterday marked Cork's first Service Design Conference. The conference was organised by ServiceRepublic - a joint initiative by Cork Institute of Technology and Cork County Council. The lineup of speakers was diverse. The UK has led the way in service design for many years and the UK public sector was well represented with Louise Downe (Head of Design, UK Government Digital Services), Cat Macauley (Head of User Research and Service Design at the Scottish Government) and Samantha Jones (Former Director of New Care Models Programme, NHS) who all provided great examples of how service design can be used to transform people, organisations and government. Simon O'Rafferty's presentation on design at the Environmental Protection Agency was another highlight of the morning session. I was really looking forward to hearing him talk again after his excellent presentation at the Service Design Masterclass in Cork in 2015. 

Michelle Nelson (UCC) and Heather Madden (CIT) did a great job of describing how service design is being used to transform the student experience in Cork.  Great credit must go to Heather and Catherine Murphy at CIT for all their efforts in making Cork a hub for service design excellence in Ireland. 

Dave Sammon and Paidi O'Reilly's presentation on the "Messiness of Design" warned against the use of design for the design's sake, and made an impassioned plea for designers to learn from the design process. This pragmatic view of design was echoed by Lorna Ross of Fjord design which for me was the highlight of the day. Lorna's warts and all view of design was a breath of fresh air. She warned against the fetishisation of design artefacts and rise of "design by the yard". One only has to look at the countless Pinterest sites collecting Journey Maps and Service Blueprints to realise that we have become as obsessed with the artefacts of service design as the practice itself! 

More Evidence for Design ROI

Over on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network Jeneanne Rae, CEO of Motiv Strategies, presents another study that demonstrates the value of design investment.  Motiv Strategies and the Design Management Institute created a tool called the Design Value Index, which demonstrates how 15 design-oriented companies beat the S&P by 228% over the last 10 years. I have become something of an advocate for ROI-led design and these latest findings confirm my earlier postings about the importance of ROI and forecast that further studies would follow. 

by Andrew Pope


Design Delivers Value

The Design Council's latest research report "Leading Business by Design" investigates the strategic use of design in a number of UK and global business including: O2, Barclays , Virgin Atlantic and Diageo. In this video, Ailbhe McNabola describes some of the findings from the research and discusses the link between business success and design investment. The full report is essential reading and feeds into some of my earlier posts on ROI and design. 

Culture is Innovation's Secret Sauce

No surprises here - culture is a fundamental determinant of a creative enterprise. Despite what you may have heard, culture is not an immovable object over which we have no control. It can be changed and shaped. Adopting some guiding principles and core values for the organisation is a great place to start. So what core values shape an innovative powerhouse like IDEO? Check out the Slideshare presentation below to find out.