Implementing Design Thinking 3: What Kind of Design Thinker are You?

By Brian Ling October 10, 2012

Expanding on some of my ideas covered in my first post: Implementing Design Thinking 1: Focus on the Outcome not the Process, my next most frequent observation is that Design Thinkers tend to silo themselves by classifying the type of Design Thinker they are.

So let me ask you do you consider yourself a:

A Business Design Thinker?
A Visionary Thinker?
A Service Design Thinker?
A Sustainable Design Thinker?
An Experience Design Thinker?
An Environmental Design Thinker?
An Innovation Design Thinker?
A D.School Design Thinker?
A Rotman Design Thinker?
An Industrial Design Thinker?
A Strategic Design Thinker?
A Communications Design Thinker?
A Design Design Thinker?

Does it even matter?

I’m sure you could come up with a bunch more. But the reality is that it does not matter what kind of Design Thinker (or just Thinker for that matter) you are or the type of process you use.

Arne van Oosterom says it best at the closing roundtable at the D.Confestival. “I hope we don’t get religious about this [design thinking]”. This statement was a result of the entire service design community not turning up to this conference. Though before you jump to conclusions, much of it was their own decision not to come. Unfortunately as Design Thinking searches for a place to anchor itself, especially to familiar business terms, the activity of Design Thinking is fragmenting into camps with many planting a flag in the ground and taking sides.

This is an often-misunderstood conception of what design, especially strategic design, can do and occasionally found with people that do not have a design background. The trick is when you just view design (thinking) as just design, the processes and disciplines all fall away and distills down to quality content, output and results. In other words, great design content delivers awesome results and meaningful solutions for your customers.

Do designers stick to a fixed process? Of course not!

Tired of research? Not a problem. Lets work with the tacit knowledge of the people around the table, and then validate it the ideas. Want to jump into a solution or love to work with your hands? No problem, make a prototype out of chairs and paper plates and then learn from it. Knowing when to break away from process AND being comfortable with doing so is where the boys are separated from the men.

Implementing Design Thinking is a regular series of posts, where I share my thoughts and experiences in helping companies implement Design as a tool for business success and achieving Design Leadership. Check out the rest of my articles here.


Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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6 Comments on "Implementing Design Thinking 3: What Kind of Design Thinker are You?"

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Dexter Francis
BTW – With respect to what kind of design thinker I am; I graduated from the Product Design program at Stanford in 1981. While I wasn’t there at the very beginning and didn’t take classes from Robert McKim or James Adams personally, “Visual Thinking” and “Conceptual Blockbusting” were my first exposure to what would later be called d.thinking from the I’ve been applying those principles to product and process design in a wide variety of environments, including ten years with Apple Computer, ever since. I’ve continued to learn and refine the techniques, supplementing them with an MBA in 1999.… Read more »
Dexter Francis
Brian – It is unfortunate that some of the material which has been published about the process of design thinking gives the impression that it is chaotic. (I’m thinking of the graphics which show a spaghetti bowl flow in Tim Brown’s “Change By Design”.) There is no question that the thoughts which occur when design thinking can seem chaotic, particularly during the first time thru the early phases This is because d.thinking is both fluid and flexible, both broad and deep, ranging across dissimilar concepts before discovering the hidden details and narrowing down to the most applicable ones for the… Read more »
Dexter Francis
I have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that one should focus on the outcome and not the process, particularly with regard to “design thinking”. This idea simply supports the notion that design thinking is a messy, incomprehensible thing which is difficult to learn and do and that its outcomes are unpredictable. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is possible to apply design thinking principles in various ways, to a wide range of problems, the methods of design thinking have been developed over decades – if not centuries – of practice and can be taught, learned and… Read more »
Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
@Dexter: Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Design IS messy and chaotic, but it is NOT difficult to learn. The difficulty is being comfortable with this chaotic process. The point I tried to make was that if you focus too much on the process, something people learning something new often do, it becomes a crutch. The best ideas don’t come at the end of the process but anywhere within it. Do check out my other article: Focus on the Outcome not Process, for more of my thoughts on this. On a last note, about design thinking being… Read more »
Lim Len Lun

Design, “Keeping it Real” Thinker!
Marketing brings you to a distance
Talent takes you on a journey


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