Making Sense of “Design Thinking is Bullshit”
Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter posts to his LinkedIn blog:
Hello Humantific readers. Summer is winding down here in New York City and a new season peaks around the corner. This week we are sharing some reflection that we undertook during the summer regarding the near and dear slippery topic of Design Thinking. Between client projects we were reflecting on the nature of various arguments seen over the last few years. As a company we don’t actually sell Design Thinking but the founders of Humantific come from design backgrounds and the changing nature of design remains central to our practice.
Those of us who have, in addition to presenting at conferences, also been participating in community discussions here on the global LinkedIn platform, seen a lot of proverbial water pass under the Design / Design Thinking bridge since the fire-hose of discussions began numerous years ago, particularly online. As a steady stream of new people have entered the subject terrain and old-hands decide, for one reason or another, to weigh in from various directions, arguments tend to appear, reappear and rereappear. At this point, a vast avalanche of arguments pro, con, and somewhere in between are well known to many of us.
In our reflection we were thinking that a little roundup of arguments and some analysis might be useful to share at summers end when several readers directed our attention to a presentation made recently by Pentagram’s Natasha Jen provocatively entitled “DesignThinking is Bullshit”.
Forceful, critique oriented and dramatically delivered, we noticed that inside the Pentagram presentation were numerous argument streams that have appeared at various moments in the online discussion groups over the past few years along with a few not seen before. Not sure exactly what the intention was meant to be but Pentagram was now in 2017 tabling one specific set of neighborhood assumptions and the interconnected arguments in high-profile conference presentation form.
I was reminded of how diverse the design community of communities is in all its richness, certainy and uncertainty, understandings and misunderstandings, perfections and imperfections. Clearly the certainties of one design neighborhood can become very uncertain when transferred to another.
Without the understanding that different design neighborhoods, tackling different scales of challenges with different methods do now exist the picture around Design Thinking commentaries could look very confusing.
Digesting all of that we decided it might be most useful to our readers at this point in time if we published our Design Thinking Arguments Roundup as an alternate perspective on the subject. Not meant to be Pentagram vs Humantific this is more like Many Others + Pentagram + Humantific…:-)
Indeed we discovered that there was a certain cathartic relief in divergently assembling the roundup, instead of focusing on agreeing with or debating one or two arguments. We were guessing that gathering and setting multiple arguments in context might in itself bring some new perspective. We wondered what that writing on the wall might look like.
During the roundup assembly we noted that some arguments have been around for a long time while others are recently arriving. Some arguments are well known to be deeply embedded in the design community. Others are being imported from outside by various parties entering the now extremely activated subject terrain.
Some are strategic arguments while others are focused on tactics. Some suggest challenges, some deny or deflect them. Some offer critism while others suggest solutions. Many are neighborhood specific while others are universal. Some are funny, odd, or nonsensical, while others are seriously serious. Some arguments make no sense at all.
Many have significant implications for both practice and education that are not always widely understood by everyone in the moment. Some arguments have caught fire and gained traction while others were completely ignored by various constituents. Many arguments appearing here we do not subscribe to at Humantific but we are certainly aware of their presence in marketplace conversations.
What became clear in creating this Design Thinking Arguments Roundup is that the subject of Design Thinking remains quite a mess and will likely stay that way for some time as many different parties, with often-conflicting business interests are now, for better or for worse, involved in impacting the conversation.
Right now in 2017 the topic of Design Thinking seems to have evolved from the initial idealized uptake years and is now in the more difficult, more critical; lets see how the rubber hits the road phase..:-) In this phase too, the various arguments keep piling up.
It seems probable that our readers will recognize many, perhaps not all, of these arguments. Suffice it to say that if you want to be involved in a simple, tidy, straight-forward subject, Design Thinking isn’t it!
At the end of this post, as part of this sensemaking exercise we take a shot at mapping the 50 arguments along with 10 Humantific arguments in hope that the story of the arguments in total is perhaps more important then any one argument. It seems likely that many additional arguments do exist.
PS: It’s good and indeed useful to take a deep breath and have a robust sense of humor before reading these 60 argument summaries. Some are rather bumpy. Hope this is useful. Enjoy!