Is your Design Thinking programme a waste of time? – 10 ways to tell. Part 2 of 3.

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

  • Lots of ideas, not much practicality

The other Design Thinking vortex is the realm of endless ideation. Especially no-judgement ideation that goes wide and when it should be reined in. Either people don’t want to call bullshit on some ideas or the team can’t find a way past the fragile, sketchy glimmer of a concept to the gem that lies beyond. 

Our friends at IDEO will tell you to get some T-shaped people. Others will say get a cross-functional team. They’re right – that’s exactly what you should do. But there’s more they’d say. Teams that land in the vortex frequently haven’t figured out what the insanely great little thing is that you can do for the user that they never saw coming but that they’ll thank you for. It doesn’t take a design thinker to remember that. Find your most sensible and experienced team member and ask them to keep asking for that little thing. 

  • A process to get to an obvious conclusion

There are two variations of this one. The first is that teams follow the design process so diligently that they lose sight of the product they’re trying to design. So we have painstaking maps, journeys and Miro boards all amounting to something stunningly obvious. It happens because people think that they’re supposed to be doing design thinking – momentarily forgetting that they’re designing a product. The other one is the “here’s something I made earlier” syndrome where a strong willed team member dusts off a pet project to panel beat into a new form. The design process is being used to legitimise and disguise. 

Let common sense prevail. If the answer becomes obvious at any point, call it and stop the train. Interrogate that assumption and if it stands, change course to delivering the obvious answer. I’m all for holding things lightly during the process and letting happy accidents occur but an experienced artist knows when to walk away from the canvas. If your organization has trouble with that, appoint an editor or call SuperUltra. 

  • Focus on customer value not business value

This is another overly user-centric problem. In 23 years of doing this, I’ve found a lot of ways to create user value that will never ever amount to value for anyone else. That’s what makes business hard – both the customer and the business have to get something out of the deal. Anything else is charity. 

We follow a kind of mantra: What can we offer to a person that is so valuable and new that they’ll pay us to get it? That sounds so dumb but I could entertain you with a string of anecdotes, all featuring competent business adults, where someone forgot it. Don’t elevate design ideals above business ideals. Decades ago when I studied Industrial Design, it was called the helper of industry. The same applies here.

By Tasos Calantzis