Is your Design Thinking programme a waste of time? – 10 ways to tell. Part 1 of 3.

If Design Thinking has raised your hopes only to dash them, this is your way out.

The Design Thinking fatigue is real. Join me in heaving a mighty sigh. At SuperUltra, design thinking pays a lot of bills but I’ve never loved the term. I prefer design. Whatever you choose to call it, having kickass design skills that improve, transform and move the business forward is worth it. If you’re one of the minority who can get it right. Here are the signs that a Design Thinking programme went down the wrong road and some suggestions on how to get back on track. 

  • Just another hype event

Many of our Design Thinking gigs kick off with a one-off Design Thinking 101 event. Heck, you need to start somewhere and it may as well be with a whizz-bang launch. I’ve seen the most jaded veterans light up at the prospect of something that just might change the business for the better. Done right, a good event sets expectations at a suitably high level. The problem comes when there’s no commitment to follow through. If the business is not prepared to take the time to really embed good design, it poisons the water and good luck resurrecting Design Thinking in your business. All the expectation and goodwill evaporates, the veterans return to being jaded and the young ones wonder if this might be a pattern. 

The fix is simple; just follow through or don’t even start. 

  • Just another training course

I wish I could joke about how many times we’ve been hired to do a 2 hour Design Thinking training session where the client thinks that’s going to change the business. That’s not how it works. We offer Design Thinking training because someone has to get the people up to speed and I’d rather it was us. Then they can have a great time working with SuperUltra – all of us singing beautifully from the same hymn sheet. We can train a talented person to high school athlete level in two days. We can bring them to college level after a few full projects together. It’s worth it to develop the skills within our clients’ people – the chances of creating awesome products just go up. 

Some companies think that the training is the main event. In reality people need to be trained for the job of building killer products. That’s the main job. And sometimes you will need Olympic-level athletes to do the job with your team. That’s when you call SuperUltra. 

  • Endless user research without progress

We’re often called in when a design process is stuck in a death spiral of research and speculation. I know we’re supposed to use empathy, be human-centered and user-focused, but sometimes teams get lost out there in the userverse. Sometimes it’s because the team isn’t sure how strong the insights they’ve gathered are. Sometimes it’s because the team believes that the more insights, the better. 

The truth is that this happens when the user research is too design process-focused and not business-focused enough. In other words, the team doesn’t have the business confidence to back the insight and they don’t have the design confidence to abort the process. Weeks can drift by, even months. The answer is simple – make sure the team has the right combination of business acumen and design skill and that those two aspects are gelling. That last bit is important and they can only exist with a competent team that trusts each other because they’ve been here before. That’s the team that we’ve built and I encourage you to do the same. 

By Tasos Calantzis