Design Thinking or just Thinking?

Edit 1: Tim is from Frog! Sorry Tim!
Edit 2: Completely forgot to highlight, original seed concept “Just Plain Old Thinking” is from csven of rebang.
Edit 3: Lesson: Blog when awake! Duh!

Tim Leberecht, Frog Design’s VP of Marketing, has written about Design Thinking and how it is the new Marketing “Buzzword”. He goes on to describe how Marketing people have even managed to trick themselves into embracing this next big thing, especially after how he defines Design Thinking according to Wikipedia as: “Design thinking is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.”
So…by Wikipedia’s definition, it looks to me that Design Thinking is just plain old “Thinking”. Nice to know that till today the only people thinking all the time are designers!
But seriously, what is Design Thinking, especially when every management guru seems to be claiming to know or wanting to teach it?
Honestly, I don’t really know what it is all about and I’m in the business. Well actually I have an idea and here is my hypothesis:
“Design Thinking is a thinking process that anchors your decision making with multi-disciplinary influences”.
Otherwise how would we, as designers, are able to come up with designs that are meaningful and relevant to consumers?
Over to you dear reader, what is your definition of Design Thinking?

  • csven

    November 13, 2008 at 1:09 am Reply

    fwiw, I stopped by the Core77 forum and noticed Chris (“CG”) had posted a thread “Democratizing design at P&G” – with a link to a relatively old BusinessWeek article about Design Thinking. Nothing new there and I’m somewhat disappointed that he would post that article at this relatively late date as if it were new, but the next comment links to a new Wall Street Journal article, “Businesses Take a Page From Design Firms – which is worth a read.
    All this, however, led me back to the BrandWeek article and there’s a comment posted which I thought well worth reading since it touched on some of the mistakes in these articles and on the idea of “designing companies” (which is the same idea I discuss in the Steve Jobs entry linked above). Unfortunately I’m not seeing *any* comments on the article now so I can’t be specific, but I’d recommend people stop by to read the comments (there were only two at the time).
    And agree with Brian … who will have decide if “DT” is something he can leverage for his own nefarious gain 😉 … the comments here have been good to read.

  • DT

    November 12, 2008 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Absolutely great comments guys, I am reading it all and love your feedback! Thanks for taking the time.

  • soumitri

    November 11, 2008 at 11:32 am Reply

    as designers we borrow ways – or import ways of thinking that we encounter elsewhere – in the world
    so design thinking – as an act – need not be unique. but what may be unique is the way we function in a situation where uncertainty abounds; so design thinking is the ability to visualize realities/ situations/ solutions where problems miraculously disappear. ( only to reappear when the product needs redesign)

  • Gunter

    November 10, 2008 at 8:39 pm Reply

    Design Thinking – Designers are Thinking – Behaviour of Designers Thinking…
    i def. think we have a different behaviour in our projects and works than business managers…at least myself in the xxl urbanism field it has a lot to do with idealism –
    “how do i make a change in my projects”
    “taking in different disciplines, sharing them and using them to get to a fast result” “projectdriven”
    “borders are not counting”
    i really think we as Designers should FIRST define ourself better and than speaking about how this could influence the Business side and making this much more clearer, cause all this buzzing makes it worse than ever and leaving just a hot bubble – same with words like “sustainability” or “ecocity” – as long as we dont fill these words with visible projects and bottom up design activism it will keep like this

  • asango

    November 8, 2008 at 2:00 am Reply

    At what point are we going to admit that PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT is about detailed oriented people with the ability to look at the big picture working hard to make good products?
    Its not about a easily packaged ‘process’ that managers/director/trend-whores can shelp to any firm/company/oem that buys into their wiz-bang words.
    I agree with Marc about management grasping at straws.

  • Marc Rapp

    November 7, 2008 at 10:02 pm Reply

    * no traditional form…

  • Marc Rapp

    November 7, 2008 at 10:01 pm Reply


  • larry Rosenthal

    November 6, 2008 at 7:03 am Reply

    case in point– “are being” -;)

  • larry Rosenthal

    November 6, 2008 at 7:02 am Reply

    Problem solving via thoughts tempered by a process and editing.
    unlike blogs..;)
    PS. Papanek was a leader of ideas that too many are being “inventing” over and over in the google warped world of 15 minute genius.

  • damon

    November 6, 2008 at 1:13 am Reply

    Design Thinking = The publishing industry’s attempt to create demand for a repackaged product, with a big fat starburst surrounding the word “NEW!”

  • Raghuraj Ananthoj (Raj)

    November 5, 2008 at 6:51 pm Reply

    Hi DT,
    The word “DESIGN THINKING” refers to the process of design inclination in your thinking of creating creative solutions to the problems or tasks, faced by designers or in general humans, its not just limited to product making, but also can be applied in various facets.
    I agree with DT, your hypothesis seems true, however design itself is multi- disciplinary, but in the end the buzzword is created to make a new content in design? or showing a new path of creativity in thinking process? I think there is more to it.

  • DT

    November 5, 2008 at 10:45 am Reply

    *slap slap*
    That was me giving myself 2 slaps! Many apologies Tim.
    Also thanks Michael for pointing this out!
    This is what I get for blogging when I’m half asleep! Grrrrr.

  • csven

    November 5, 2008 at 4:25 am Reply

    Caught this via a LinkedIn group that posted a link to the BrandWeek article. Since not everyone will be a group member, I’ll just paste in my response to that thread:

    Thought this interesting [from the BrandWeek article]:
    (Around 2000) “DT was powered by ‘direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold and supported. … During that time, researchers and designers followed about 30 young consumers on their daily living paths…”
    At Rubbermaid, we were already doing “encounters” of the sort discussed here. And the effort was led by a former P&G person; not Claudia Kotchka, who is often credited with implementing it (she may have been doing it at P&G much earlier and thus influenced a fellow employee).
    I wrote about the chronological disconnect in “Did P&G Rewrite History Here?” – (and here’s a link to the marketing research paper written by the former P&G individual which pre-dates the later/2000 P&G claims upon which I’d venture some/much of “design thinking” gets its validity – ).
    And Roger Dean’s response – “the answer lies in the blindness of business conformity” – exactly mirrors my own, but is why I don’t subscribe to “design thinking”. It’s a skewed perspective in my opinion, and I’ve laid out why – using a “conformity” argument – in another post, “Why ‘Design Thinking’ Makes No Sense To This Designer” – .
    So thanks for the link to the article (it’s nice to see I agree with Tim Leberecht on something; though as a group the frogdesign folks still seem to be coming over to my way of thinking regarding product “narrative” – – note comments). But even though as a designer I’m put in a better situation from the elevation of this “design” meme, I can’t in good conscience support it. (D)esign is bigger than my profession (the basis for this documented LinkedIn response, “The Steve Jobs Dilemma” – – which also touches on “vertical” conformity and the lack of “horizontal” thinking in the traditional business community).

  • Tim Leberecht

    November 5, 2008 at 2:03 am Reply

    Thanks for the post and a quick correction: I’m VP of Marketing at frog design 😉

  • Michael

    November 5, 2008 at 12:21 am Reply

    I’m pretty sure Tim works for Frog (not IDEO) – you should change this! (no need to publish this comment…)

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