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‘Design thinking alone is not going to help you get a good product onto the market’. It was a statement on LinkedIn that received a lot of support. I wondered what people based this judgment on. My suspicions were proved right.

These people had experienced too many so-called Design Thinking workshops, for example, in the form of cool, fun hackathons that produced no results.

That really touched my design heart. The very purpose of Design Thinking is to get (good!) products and services onto the market. A hackathon is not the equivalent of Design Thinking. But I, too, have had terribly bad experiences with Design Thinking and can unfortunately understand how they came to that conclusion.

New client

There I am, sitting down ready to work with a client to design a new curriculum for safety professionals. My client had taken a course in Design Thinking. And Design Thinking, yep, that was what we were going to do next.

My enthusiasm was crushed when, without any explanation of the context, I had to start coming up with ideas for a solution to a problem that I was not familiar with. It didn’t make any sense to me at all, I had no idea what we were doing there. It was not Design Thinking in any event.

My immediate colleague on the job was an emphatic Design Thinker. And I started this collaboration full of good intentions. The first alarm bell went off when she proudly told me that she had been developing her own Design Thinking methods based on Design Thinking. One more time for the sake of clarity: she had Design Thinking methods based on Design Thinking.

Sick and tired

I became giddy from the repetitive, convoluted reasoning that went against the grain of all design skills and design approaches. Feeling sick and tired of swimming against the tide, I came to the conclusion that she was emphatically not a Design Thinker.

It seems so easy. Take a course in Design Thinking and boom, you’re a Design Thinker. But take care. Design Thinking has been kidnapped by consultancies and marketed expensively as a five-step plan with the help of the following terms:

  • Creative workshops
  • Customer journey
  • Empathy mapping
  • Context mapping
  • User experience workshops
  • Talking to the customer workshops
  • Design sprint
  • Hackathons
  • Visual facilitated workshops
  • Creative problem solving
  • Fast prototyping workshops
  • Creating minimal viable products

All of it nonsense. Design is a profession.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Eugène Franken, PG Kroeger, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla, Willemijn Brouwer and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.